A Time-Barred Suit Must Be Dismissed Even If Plea Of Limitation Isn’t Raised As Defence

Posted On - 28 June, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva


[1]A Two-Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta, while deciding the instant matter, emphasized the effectiveness under Section 3 of the Limitation Act, 1963, requires the court to dismiss any suit filed after the expiry of the prescribed limitation period, whether or not the defence of limitation is invoked. The case concerned a partnership which was automatically dissolved in 1984 following the death of one of the partners, meaning that the suit for dissolution and publication of accounts filed in 1996 was time-barred. The High Court reinstated the decision of the single judge and dismissed the suit on the grounds of limitation.


The Supreme Court of India has given a verdict on two civil petitions resulting from an Andhra Pradesh partnership dispute. The dissolution of the business, and the payment of bills following the death of a partner were discussed.

In the first appeal (Civil Appeal @ SLP(Civil) No(s). 4237 of 2015), the appellants, heirs of S. Shivraj Reddy, contested the High Court’s decision in LPA No. 47 of 2002. This appeal was centered on the dissolution of a partnership firm named “M/s Shivraj Reddy & Brothers” initiated by respondent No. 1, S. Raghuraj Reddy. At first, the trial court had ruled that dissolution would be allowed and ordered the partners to make accounts. Nevertheless, on appeal at the High Court, the lower court’s decision was quashed for being barred by limitation in bringing up this suit. The Supreme Court concurred with this decision by stressing on section 42(c) of Partnership Act, 1932 which prescribes that upon death of any partner, partnership is automatically dissolved. According to established principles of law however, limitation plea not raised before should have led to dismissal.

In the second appeal (Civil Appeal @ SLP(Civil) No(s). 23143-23144 of 2016), the appellants challenged another High Court judgment concerning the dissolution of a different partnership firm named “M/s Shiva Reddy & Brothers, B. Arjun Reddy & Co.” Respondent No. 1, S. Raghuraj Reddy, had sought dissolution and accounts in O.S. No. 121 of 1997. The trial court granted a preliminary decree in favor of dissolution and accounting, which was affirmed on appeal by the High Court. The appellants contended that the decree was erroneous, arguing against the findings of the trial and appellate courts. However, the Supreme Court responded negatively to the appeal and upheld the dissolution of the partnership firm with the assertion that there were fact finding by different tiers of jurisdiction.

Therefore, in both appeals, the Supreme Court has dismissed dissolution of the respective partnership firms due to death of partner and also dismissed the appeals challenging the rendition of accounts on ground of limitation. The Court highlighted the legal requirement to stay cases when they are statute-barred, regardless of whether the plea of ‘limitation’ was taken at any previous stage of the case. Thus, both appeals were dismissed, and no award of costs was made to either of the parties.


Whether the suit for dissolution and rendition of accounts filed by the partners after the death of a partner, were barred by limitation under section 42(c) of the partnership Act though no plea of limitation was taken during the trial?


In these appeals arising from the High Court of Andhra Pradesh at Hyderabad, the Supreme Court of India considered the contentious issues of partnership dissolution and the applicability of limitation periods under the Partnership Act, 1932 and the Limitation Act, 1963. The appeals were filed by the legal representatives of S. Shivraj Reddy, deceased, challenging the judgments of the High Court which had upheld decrees for dissolution of partnership firms and rendition of accounts in favor of S. Raghuraj Reddy and others. The main question of law that was under consideration of this Court included the provision of Section 42(c) of the Partnership Act that imposes the dissolution of the partnership firms on the death of a partner, M. Balraj Reddy in 1984. Here the Court had to consider whether the suits filed in 1996 seeking dissolution and rendition of accounts have been brought when they were barred by limitation even though defence of limitation was not taken in the trial. Following the mandatory provision of Section 3 of the Limitation Act, the Court observed that the suits, filed after the legal period of three years from the event of dissolution in 1984 were barred by limitation.

Reiterating the legal maxims the Court held that non-suit of plea of limitation operates as a bar if the suit is ex facie a barred suit. Hence in view of these conclusions and legal authorities, both appeals were rejected, thereby endorsing the High Court’s judgements ordering the dissolution of the partnership firms as well as accounts. Preparations for decrees were made to follow this judgment and applications pending before the court were dealt with in this way. None were allowed in the situations of the case under consideration.


The Supreme Court reiterated the importance of following statutory limitation periods and also, it cannot be said that an action is time-barred just because statute of limitations has not been pleaded as a defence at the trial in question. This re-emphasizes that death of a partner automatically dissolves a partnership at common law irrespective of whether or not it continues trading, this is enshrined under Section 42(c) of the Partnership Act, 1932. In this regard, the court’s reasoning reflects on the relationship between fairness in law and adherence to formalities and therefore reminds us about judicial discipline which is preserved only by keeping to timeframes prescribed by legislations when matters get before courts.

[1] https://webapi.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2014/30596/30596_2014_3_1503_53366_Judgement_16-May-2024.pdf