A plaint is a document filed by the plaintiff whereby he/she states the facts and circumstances of the case, the acts or the omissions done by the adverse party that compelled her/him to move the court and the relief that the plaintiff is expecting from the court. In the daily courts, there are several instances of return and rejection of the plaint. There is a certain way to file the plaint and there are certain essentials that need to be followed as laid down by the law. This article aims at laying down the requisites that should be present in a plaint and the grounds and procedure for return and rejection of plaint in the absence of such requisites.
Meaning of Plaint
The term plaint has not been defined by the Civil Procedure Code (hereinafter ‘CPC’) or any other law for that matter. We are acquainted with the term ‘complaint’ which basically means a statement of facts showing that something wrong or unauthorized has been done by a person. In the Indian legal system, the word ‘complaint’ is used in criminal jurisprudence while the word ‘plaint’ is used in civil law; but both mean statements of essential facts that reveal the commission of an overt act or omission of a legal act that has resulted in an injury to the victim.
Order 6 Rule 1 of the CPC defines pleadings as “a plaint or a written statement”. It means that plaint is the pleading filed on behalf of the victim, i.e. plaintiff. It is the first step to initiate a civil suit in a court of law. The plaintiff, after employing a counsel, files a document in the court which contains the facts and circumstances that gave rise to the cause for filing the suit. This document is called plaint.
Return of Plaint by the Court
The CPC empowers the civil courts to return the plaint to the plaintiff if the court believes that the plaint is not properly filed.
Return is different from rejection and it needs to be noted. Return of plaint does not connote that the plaint had mistaken or that the rules for drafting the plaint were not conformed to. It simply means that the court is not empowered to try the suit for which the plaint is filed.
On the contrary, the plaint is rejected if the essential requirements of a plaint are not provided in the plaint or if the certain elements are vague and ambiguous.
- Grounds For Return Of Plaint
According to Order 7 Rule 10(1) of CPC, a plaint is returned on the sole ground of lack of jurisdiction with the concerned court. For instance, a plaint is filed in the city civil court by A against his employer for unlawful retrenchment from the job. Since there are specific labour courts to deal with these cases, the city civil court does not have the jurisdiction to adjudge and hence, plaint can be returned by the court.
Under this rule, the court can return the plaint for lack of jurisdiction but the plaintiff has every right to file the plaint again in the appropriate forum.
The court can lack jurisdiction on three occasions
- Territorial Jurisdiction
Every court has a specific territory under its control and it can take cases when disputes have arisen in those territories only. Territorial jurisdiction is determined according to the law. For instance, under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, a divorce petition can be filed in the place where the married couple resided during the marriage or where they last resided before separation or where the wife resides after separation. Thus, all these courts have territorial jurisdiction. Nevertheless, if a plaint is filed outside these places, it can be returned.
- Pecuniary Jurisdiction
The term pecuniary means related to money or monetary. Every suit is required to be valued according to the compensation that is claimed and the value of the property which is in dispute if any. This is called suit valuation and it is decided according to the State Suit Valuation and Court Fees Acts. Now, every court has been allotted a limit which means a suit which is valued within the limits of that court’s pecuniary jurisdiction is admissible and rest is returned.
In general, Small Causes Courts have jurisdiction for suit valued between INR 1 to 2,00,000. Junior Civil Judge exercises jurisdiction for suits valued between INR 2,00,001 to 10,00,000. Senior Civil Judge can exercise his jurisdiction in cases valued above INR 10,00,000 and up to 20,00,000 and any case above 20,00,000 is taken to the High Court. However, the pecuniary jurisdiction differs from state to state and was also amended by the Commercial Courts Establishment Act in Delhi.
- Subject-matter Jurisdiction:
As explained before, every court has been established to deal with cases of specific nature. For instance, civil courts deal with civil cases, criminal courts deal with a criminal matter, family courts deal with personal laws and so on. If a plaint is filed before a court that does not deal in that matter, the court is empowered to return the plaint to be filed before the competent court.
Procedure for Returning the Plaint
The procedure for returning the plaint depends upon two circumstances. First, where the court in the initial hearings identify that it does not have the jurisdiction to try the case and it feels that the plaint needs to be returned. Second, where the defendant has appeared and after which the court believes that plaint needs to be returned for lack of jurisdiction.
In cases where the defendant has not yet appeared and the court opines to return the plaint, Order 7 Rule 2(2) mandates the court to endorse the following particulars on the plaint:
- Date on which the plaint was initially presented by the plaintiff,
- Date on which the plaint is being returned by the court. The returning date is not the one where the court formed the opinion but when the court actually returned the plaint.
- Cause title, i.e. the details of the party which presented the plaint.
- Reasons that compelled the court to return the plaint.
Rule 10A of Order 7 applies to the situation where the plaint is returned after the defendant(s) has/have appeared before the court. The following list summarises the procedure that needs to be followed while returning the plaint:
- The court must intimate the plaintiff through registered post or any authorized manner that the plaint is to be returned for lack of jurisdiction.
- The plaintiff needs to appear before the court either personally or through his counsel.
- The plaintiff is required to inform the court as to where the plaintiff proposes to file the new plaint after it is returned by this court.
- The court may fix the date of appearance of the plaintiff and defendant before the competent court where the new plaint is filed.
- The court may, at the request of the plaintiff, serve notices to the plaintiff and defendant requiring them to appear before the competent and intimating them of the return of plaint.
- This notice shall serve as summoning and no new summons will be required to be issued by the court where the returned plaint is filed.
In ONGC ltd. v. Modern Construction and Company, the court held that when an incompetent or court without jurisdiction returns the plaint and it is filed before a court that has the requisite jurisdiction, such plaint must be considered a fresh plaint and there needs to be a de novo trial that should be conducted for the new suit even if in the original suit, trial had completed.
Rejection of Plaint by the Court
Order 7 Rule 1 lays down the contents of a plaint and some of these contents cannot be missed by the pleader. If such content is missed, the court is empowered to reject the plaint and the plaintiff has to resubmit the plaint after making necessary modifications.
Rejection, however, is not the first option before the court. Law is not to humiliate the victim, it is to give an opportunity to a vigilante and bona fide victim to claim remedies. Therefore, CPC allows amendment of the plaint at any time before the judgment is passed so that the court does not have to reject the plaint.
- Grounds for Rejection of Plaint
Order 7 Rule 11 lays down the specific grounds for rejection of the plaint. There are six grounds for which a plaint can be rejected under this provision and they are as follows:
- When the plaintiff has omitted or abstained from unveiling the cause of action, i.e. the overt act or omission by the defendant that led the plaintiff to file this suit.
- When the plaintiff has intentionally or unintentionally undervalued the plaint. Undervaluation means showing that the value of a property is less so that the valuation of the suit is at a lesser amount and the court can exercise jurisdiction on the matter which, otherwise, could not have exercised if the suit was correctly valued.
- Under the Stamps Act, every legal document is required to be drafted on a stamp paper of the requisite value which depends on several factors such as nature of the document (whether it is plaint, rent agreement, etc.), valuation of the suit, etc. If the plaint id not filed on the stamp paper of the value specified by law, the court may ask the plaintiff to submit the stamp paper and if he fails to do that, the plaint can be rejected.
- When the filing of the suit is barred by law and it is evident from the statement of the plaint, the court shall reject the plaint. For instance, under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, when a company is unable to pay its debts, its creditors can initiate an insolvency process. It means the company is given time to revive, make profits and repay its creditors. This period is called moratorium and under Section 13 of the Code, every suit is barred against the company during the period of moratorium.
- Plaint, under CPC, is required to be filed in duplicate. It means the plaintiff has to file two copies of the plaint, one for the court and other for the defendant. If the plaintiff has not filed the plaint in duplicate, the court is empowered to reject it.
- Order 7 Rule 9(1) requires that the plaintiff submits as many copies as the court asks for to be submitted to the defendants. It is usually the number of copies as there is a number of defendants and such copies have to be submitted on a plain paper. If the plaintiff fails to submit the required number of copies of plaint, it becomes a ground for rejection of plaint.
- Order 7 Rule 9(1A) requires that the plaintiff submits the requisite fees that will be incurred by the court to serve the summons to the defendants. In a criminal case, the summons is served at the cost of the state. However, in a civil suit, the fees need to be paid by the plaintiff. If such payment is not made within 7 days from the date of order of payment, the plaint is liable to be rejected.
Other Additional Grounds for Rejection
The courts have expounded few other grounds which are in addition to the grounds laid down in Rule 11. These grounds have been created by instances in several cases and as the court found necessary. These are:
- In Radhakishen v. Wali Mohammed, the court allowed the rejection of plaint by the senior civil court because the person whose signature was present on the plaint was not the authorized signatory of the entity but someone else. The court allowed the error to be amended within 7 days but since, the plaintiff to do so, the plaint was rejected.
- In Arivandanam v. T.V. Satyapal, the court held that the intention of the plaint has to be understood from its wordings. If the plaint is exasperating and the court believes that it is filed with a malicious intention to irk the defendant and that it lacks merit, it can be a valid ground for rejection of a plaint.
- Takwani C. K., Civil Procedure with Limitation Act, 1963, 7thEdition, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 2013.
- Sir D.F. Mulla, The Code of Civil Procedure, 19th Edition, Vol. 3, Lexis Nexis, 2017.
 Order 6 Rule 1, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
 ONGC ltd. v. Modern Construction and Company, (2014) 1 SCC 648.
 Radhakishen v. Wali Mohammed, AIR 1956 Hyd. 133.
 Arivandanam v. T.V. Satyapal, (1997) 4 SCC 467