Characteristics of Valid Cause of Action

The term “cause of action” has not been defined in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It has been left for the Judiciary to interpret. But in simplest terms, a “cause of action” can be defined as a legal claim that an individual or entity can bring against another person or entity. It broadly consists of two elements: cause (existence of a legal right and violation of a legal right) and action (a right to file a civil suit for violation of a legal right).

Let's understand these elements with the help of an example: Suppose, ‘A’, a plaintiff is residing peacefully in his house. ‘B’, the defendant commits a nuisance against him. Here, ‘A’ has the legal right of peaceful enjoyment of his property which has been violated by ‘B’. Hence, ‘A’ can file a civil suit against ‘B’ for violation of his rights.

In the case of M/S. Sonic Surgical v. National Insurance Co. Ltd., it was held that the cause of action means that bundle of facts which gives rise to a right or liability and which enables a party to file a civil suit. Cause of action is a sine qua non for the ultimate success of the suit. The burden of proving cause of action lies upon the party who asserts the cause of action. Therefore, the cause of action is the pivot of the suit and the entire suit revolves around it.1

In another case of Coke v. Gill, it was held that cause of action means every fact which would be necessary for the plaintiff to prove if traversed to support his right to the judgment of the court in his favor.2

Some of the general characteristics of a valid cause of action are as follows:

  • Legal rights: A cause of action must be based on legal rights that are recognized by the law. These rights may be derived from statutes or regulations.
  • Legal duties: A cause of action must be based on a legal duty that the defendant owes to the plaintiff and that duty must be breached to create a valid cause of action.
  • Injury: a valid cause of action requires that the plaintiff should have suffered some injury as a result of the breach of duty by the defendant. Moreover, the injury must be identifiable.
  • Causation: for a valid cause of action, the plaintiff is burdened to prove the causal link between the injury and the defendant’s breach of duty.
  • Damages: if the injury to the plaintiff is quantifiable and identifiable and forms a valid cause of action, the plaintiff is entitled to damages for the physical loss, emotional distress, or any other harm.

Ramana Dayaram Shetty vs. International Airport Authority of India and Ors.

In this case3, the International Airport authority put up the tender to put up a restaurant, etc at Bombay Airport. A tender was accepted but later on found out that he did not fulfill one of the conditions of the tender. Hence, the concerned authority asked the respondent to submit the documents to recheck its eligibility. The respondent submitted the concerned documents and he was reconfirmed for the tender even though he partially fulfilled the condition. The other party (appellant in this case) wanted to apply for the bid but did not as they did not fulfill certain conditions. Hearing that the tender had been given to somebody who did not fulfill the conditions, the appellant proceeded to Bombay High Court u/a 2264 but the case was dismissed. Later, it was appealed in the SC u/a1365 of the Constitution. Therefore, the constitutionality of the acceptance of the tender of the respondent was the major issue in this case. The Court held the tender invalid on the grounds of the violation of A. 146 of the Constitution as the conditions laid down by the airport authority were the basic eligibility criteria and cannot be disregarded by them. This case has been the most celebrated in the field of administrative law.

Non-disclosure of cause of action and Rejection of Plaint

Order VII rule 117 requires the plaintiff to incorporate in the plaint the facts and constitute the cause of action.8 The cause of action (existence and violation of a legal right) is the main substance of the suit as the entire suit revolves around it. Disclosure of the cause of action is vital for a comprehensive and just decision by the court as it enables the courts to frame the issues efficiently and fulfill the requirement of natural justice to appraise the defendant about the actual cause of action in the suit so that he can prepare his defense effectively. The court has to settle the issues based on pleading only. Therefore, the more concise and precise the pleadings, the more accurate the issues. On the first hearing, the court shall examine if the cause of action has been properly disclosed in the plaint or not by examining the pleadings and even orally examining the witnesses if the need arises. If the cause of action has not been explicitly disclosed then the court may ask the plaintiff to amend its pleading and disclose the cause of action properly. The court normally takes a liberal approach and will not reject the plaint for non-disclosure of a cause of action per se but if the court is of the view that the plaintiff is acting malafide then certainly the court will reject the plaint on the face of it.

However, it is really important to note that for examining the cause of action the court will never examine the defendant, written statement, or the witnesses of the defendant.

Cause of action and Res judicata

Res judicata refers to the principle that a final judgment on a matter by a competent court is conclusive and binding on the parties involved. It serves the purpose of promoting finality and certainty in legal proceedings and preventing parties from endlessly bringing the same issues before the courts. This principle plays a crucial role in the legal landscape by ensuring that disputes are resolved and concluded with finality, avoiding repeated litigation that may cause unnecessary delay. In the context of cause of action, it means that once a particular cause of action has been litigated and decided, the parties cannot bring another lawsuit based on the same cause of action. Thus, it promotes finality and efficiency in resolving disputes.

In the case of State of U.P v Nawab Hussain, it was held that “Res judicata is the broader rule of evidence which prohibits the reassertion of a cause of action. This is based on two theories- 1) the finality and conclusiveness of judicial decisions for the final termination of disputes in the general interest of the community as a matter of public policy, and 2) the interest of the individual that he should be protected from the multiplication of litigation. It is the cause of action that gives rise to an action, and that is why the courts must recognize that a cause of action that results in a judgment must lose its identity and vitality and merge in the judgment when pronounced, it cannot survive the judgment or give rise to another cause of action on the same facts.” 9


To conclude, the significance of cause of action in proceedings for filing claims, computation of the period of limitation, determination of proper forums, etc cannot be denied. A well-drafted pleading revealing the cause of action through proper facts may lead to a positive outcome for the one seeking the relief. The cause of action is substantive to any suit and to claim a legal relief exhaustive elaborative cause of action plays an important role.10 Therefore, while drafting pleadings the cause of action shall be drafted and disclosed in a manner that the one seeking relief becomes entitled to it from that stage itself11 . It is the dimension of natural justice that the defendant should get the exact information about the contention of the other parties so that he can prepare a proper and effective defense.

Authored by Uniqua Singh, a Ph.D. Student from IIULER, Goa

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