Sunday, October 16, 2016

Maintainability of civil suit against Steamer Agent: Plaint returned for non-compliance of sec. 20 CPC.

(V.M. Syam Kumar, Advocate, High Court of Kerala)

Mere issuance of insurance policy at a particular place does not confer jurisdiction on the civil court at that place to entertain a suit against the steamer agent when neither the port of loading nor the port of discharge or the place of delivery are within the jurisdictional limits of the said court. The requirements under sec. 20 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 have to be satisfied before such a suit can be entertained. 
A civil Suit filed against the steamer agent by the insurer & the shipper at the latter’s place of business was recently rejected by the Civil Court pointing out that noncompliance of sec. 20 CPC is fatal.
It was contended by the steamer agent that the Contract of affreightment as evidenced by the terms and conditions of the bills of lading was entered in to in Mtwara and the contract was to be completed in Tuticorin. The defendant had no office and does not function from within the jurisdictional limits of the Munsiff’s Court, Kollam. No part of the cause of action has arisen within the jurisdictional limits of the Munsiff’s Court, Kollam.. Thus neither the contract of affreightment was entered in to between the parties within the jurisdiction of the Munsiff’s Court, Kollam nor was any part of the contract performed or to be performed within the said jurisdiction. Hence only the Courts at Mtwara or Tuticorin have jurisdiction to entertain any action pertaining to the relevant the Contract of affreightment. In the circumstances the above suit was liable to be dismissed; or in the alternative the plaint is to be returned for filing before the appropriate forum. Further in view of the specific provision contained in the Contract of affreightment as evidenced by the terms and conditions of the bills of lading, issued by the Carrier, the Munsiff Court, Kollam has no jurisdiction to try the matter, that being a condition agreed upon between the parties to the contract of affreightment. All persons claiming under the respective parties to the contract of affreightment are bound by all the terms and conditions contained in the contract.
The learned Judge accepted the contentions put forth by the steamer agent and held as follows:
“Merely because the office of the plaintiff is situated within the jurisdictional limits of this court it cannot be contended that this court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit especially where the plaintiff has no case that any part of the transaction took place in the office of the plaintiffs. As pointed out by the learned counsel for the defendant, the plaintiff has no case that the contract was executed within the jurisdiction of this court or that the contract was for transit from or to a place within the jurisdiction of this court. On the other hand admittedly, the contract was for carriage of goods from Port Mtwara Tanzania to Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu and admittedly the office of the defendant is situated at Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. Hence it is found that this court has no jurisdiction to entertain the suit.”
Many a time the carrier or their agent and the discharge port are compelled to defend suits initiated in places which have no relevance or collection with the contract of carriage. Such suits are filed on the pretext that the goods carried are covered by an insurance policy which had been issued at the particular place were the suit had been initiated. Notwithstanding the fact that neither the carrier nor the steamer agent are privy to such insurance policies, they are compelled to defend civil action at such places which are alien to them.
The judgment rendered by the presiding judge Smt. Prasanna Gopan reiterates the well settled law that mere issuance of an insurance policy does not confer jurisdiction upon the courts at the place of such issuance to entertain a damage claim against the carrier or its agent if the requirements under section 20 of the code of civil procedure are not satisfied.
The Judgment of the Hon’ble Court rendered by Smt. Prasanna Gopan can be accessed at: