A full bench of the Bombay High Court has examined two questions of law that were referred to it by a division bench:
(i) Whether Article 110 of the Limitation Act, 1963, has any application to a suit for administration of the estate of a deceased person?
(ii) What is the period of limitation for filing of a suit for administration and partition of the property, both movable and immovable left by deceased?
The bench of Justice SC Dharmadhikari, Justice AA Sayed and Justice KR Shriram carefully examined all aspects of the law of limitation and held that there is no straightjacket formula for determining the period of limitation for filing an administration suit.
The suit was filed regarding the administration of the estate of one Roop Sakraney in accordance with her will and testament dated May 14, 2001. The deceased’s husband was a defendant in the suit and plaintiffs were beneficiaries under the will.
The executor of the said will is also one of the plaintiffs. It was the case of plaintiffs that though the deceased died on October 24, 2007, the existence of her will came to be known in April 2012 as it was suppressed by the defendants. The said administration suit was then filed in March 2015.
The defendants raised the issue of limitation and contended that under Article 113 of the Limitation Act, the period of limitation was three years and it would begin from the date of death of the deceased.
The plaintiffs argued that the suit falls under the provisions of Article 106 of the Limitation Act, which provides period of limitation to be 12 years when the legacy or share become payable or deliverable and hence is filed within the period of limitation.
Thus, in an order dated September 26, 2016, a single judge framed a preliminary issue which was- Whether the suit is barred by limitation?
Thereafter, a division bench SA Bobde and RG Ketkar recast the question framed earlier and looked at a judgment of another division bench in the case of Sadbuddhi Brahmesh Wagh and Ors. Vs. Sheela Mahabaleshwar Wagh and Ors.
In the said judgment, it was held that suit for administration of the property of a deceased is a suit “by heir excluded from joint family property to enforce a right to his share and that has to be filed within 12 years under Article 110 of the Limitation Act and when exclusion becomes known to plaintiff”.
The bench, however, did not agree with the said judgment and found that Article 110 does not deal with a suit for administration of the estate of a deceased but deals with a suit by a person excluded from joint family property to enforce a right to share therein. The bench also observed that Article 65 was not brought to the notice of the division bench which decided Sadbuddhi Brahmesh Wagh.
Thus, the bench referred the question to a larger bench.
At the outset, the full bench noted that the period of limitation in a suit will depend on the cause of action and nature of the relief sought in the suit.
After examining the limitation Act, the court noted:
“If one considered the Limitation Act, 1963, it does not prescribe a specific article for determining the period of limitation in an administration suit. The period of limitation for a suit for administration would depend on the basis of the nature of the suit and also plaintiffs before the court. This is because an administration suit could be by a creditor for recovery of his debt or legal heirs as done in this suit. Thus, an administration suit is not a type of a suit which would be governed by a fixed or designated article but is one in which the Article to be applied for determining the period of limitation would depend entirely on the nature of the reliefs claimed therein.”
The court looked at the applicability of Articles 106, 110 and 113 of the Limitation Act in the said case and also examined various judgments of the Supreme Court. It concluded:
“In the circumstances, there cannot be a straitjacket formula to determine the period of limitation for filing an administration suit. The pleadings and the prayers of a suit for administration would have to be analysed and thereafter, the relevant Article is to be made applicable. The onus will be on the party claiming benefit of shorter period of limitation to establish that the case fell within the special rule limiting the period of a shorter time.
If in a situation two articles of the law may be wide enough to cover a given right of suit and the Court is unable to come to a conclusion that one applies more specifically than the other, then it should lean in favour of the application which would keep the right of suit alive in preference to that which would destroy it.”