What is meant by Cause of Action in a Civil Suit?

Cause of action means

What we term as cause of action is a bundle of facts which forms the ground for a civil suit. The plaintiff must have to prima facie convince the court as to the existence of the facts relating to cause of action for the court to proceed with the suit. Cause of action is the foundation of a suit. It is the pivot on which the issues of the suit revolves.  The cause of action must have occurred prior to the institution of the suit. The cause of action is the basis of filing the suit.

The expression cause of action is not defined in any statute but judicially it has been settled that it means the circumstances forming the infraction of some legally sustainable rights of the plaintiff.

The cause of action is the legal wrong allegedly suffered by the plaintiff leading to the infringement of some of his claims or rights the law provides for. The cause of action presupposes and must show that substantive right exists for the plaintiff and the defendant has violated it. The cause of action is the key central spot around which the issues of the suit revolve. The evidence is taken on things arising out of the cause of action and the plaintiff must prove the occurrence of it well.

Cause of action gives rise to claims

The cause of action gives the plaintiff the right to obtain relief against the defendant in the judgment. It is the cause of action that sets the ground for the plaintiff to pray for relief. In other words, cause of action means every fact which the plaintiff has to prove in order to obtain a judgment in his favour.  

The plaint shall contain the facts constituting the cause of action, as per Order 7 Rule 1(e)) of the Civil Procedure Code, 1973 (CPC). The plaintiff must state specifically when such cause of action arose, as well.

Every suit shall include the whole claim which the plaint is entitled to make in respect of the cause of action (Order 2 Rule 2). This provision is intended to prevent further litigation concerning it.

Some examples of cause of action

In a suit for possession against the tenant on the ground of non-payment of rent, the plaintiff must state the period for which the tenant has not paid the rent.

In a suit for recovery of money on the basis of a promissory note the plaintiff must state that no payment was made despite the demand being made.

In a suit for breach of contract it must be stated the date of contract and the date of the breach of contract.

If the plaintiff claims distinct reliefs based on distinct causes of action he should state them distinctly.

Everything alleged as cause of action need not constitute material or integral part of the cause of action in the eye of the court. The court must decide whether the facts narrated in the plaintiff constitute essentially the cause of action in the eye of law.

Same cause of cannot be split

When there is one entire cause of action the plaintiff cannot split the cause of action into parts so as to bring separate suits. But when several causes of action arise from a single transaction the plaintiff need not sue for all of them in one suit. Separate suits can be files in such a case.

Every suit must include the whole of the plaintiff claims in respect of the cause of action. All matters in dispute between the parties based on the same cause of action must be disposed of in the same suit so as to prevent further litigation.

If the plaintiff omits to sue for any portion of claim based on a cause of action he cannot afterward sue for the portion so omitted. The defendant should not be vexed twice for the same cause of action. If the omission so made is with the permission of the court, the subsequent suit is not barred at all.

Joinder of causes of action

Joinder of causes of action in one suit is possible in some cases. The Order 2 Rules 3 deals with the joinder of causes of action. Such joinder of causes of action is subject to the Order 2 Rules 4 & 5, and Order 1 Rules 1 & 3, of the CPC. Different scenarios of combing causes of action is as follows.

When there is only one plaintiff and one defendant, the plaintiff can unite several causes of action in one suit. The court can separate the trial or make some other appropriate order in the interest of justice if it appears to the court that the joinder of causes of action may embarrass or delay the trial, or is inconvenient otherwise.

When there are two or more plaintiffs and several causes of action, the plaintiff can join several causes of action against the same defendant if all the plaintiffs are interested in joining them. In this case the causes of action must have arisen from the same act or transaction and there must have been a common question of law.

When there is one plaintiff and two or more defendants and several causes of action, the plaintiff may unite in the same suit several causes of action, if all of them are interested. In this case also the relief must have been arisen from the same act or transaction and there must be a common question of law binding them together.

When there are two or more plaintiffs, two or more defendants and several causes of action, the plaintiff may unite the causes of action in the same suit against the defendants when all the plaintiffs and defendants are jointly interested in the causes of action.

If the above stipulations are not followed in combing causes of action, the suit will be bad for misjoinder of plaintiffs/defendants and causes of action.

Objection to misjoinder of causes of action

Any objection on the ground of misjoinder of causes of action must be taken at the earliest opportunity. Otherwise it will be treated as waived by the parties and the aggrieved party cannot raise it later.

Misjoinder of causes of action means joining causes of action which do not have common question of law to be resolved.

Non disclosure leads to rejection of plaint

If the plaint does not disclose a cause of action the court should have to reject the plaint. Therefore every suit pre-supposes the existence of a cause of action meted out by the plaintiff in the plaint. To reject the plaint on this ground the court must look at the plaint and nothing else (Order 7 Rule 11). That means nothing else other than the averments in the plaint is material in rejecting a plaint.

A clever drafting of a plaint by a ritualistic repetition of words by a plaintiff in such way it produces an illusion of having a cause of action cannot be treated as having some material cause of action in the plaint. Some plaintiffs do so.

The court must reject the plaint when it comes to the conclusion that even if all that is stated in the plaint is proved, the plaintiff will not be entitled to any relief. Filing a plaint without disclosing any cause of action is a clear abuse of the process of the court.

In short, cause of action is a cardinal issue in the making, proceeding with and getting relief from a suit.

The author is an advocate at Thrissur, Kerala State. He can also be reached at rajankila@gmail.com

 

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