The Scope of Amendment of Pleadings in a Civil Suit

Our Associate, Vishesh Kumar discusses ” The Scope of Amendment of Pleadings in a Civil Suit”

On March 16, 2020, a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, in D&H India Ltd. v. Superon Schweisstechnik, decided a highly contentious question of amendments to complaints filed in suits for trademark infringement and passing off.  By this order, the Court clarified the scope of amendments to complaints in civil proceedings, and placed limits on the scope of powers of the Joint Registrars in deciding requests for such amendments. Lastly, the Court also called out the ambiguity of the provisions of law that led to confusion on these issues in the first place.

The Plaintiff in the original suit, Superon Schweisstechnik, filed a suit against the Defendant D&H India Ltd., alleging infringement of the trademark SUPERON.  The Plaintiff alleged that it has used SUPERON for its business of manufacture, marketing and exporting of welding electrodes since the year 2004. The Defendant, who was using the trademark SUPERCROME, claimed that it was the prior user of the mark, owing to use since 2001. The Plaintiff then filed a request for amendment of its pleadings claiming that, even though it was incorporated in the year 2004, a sister concern had been using the mark since the year 1994, which clearly establishes the Plaintiff as the prior user. The Plaintiff’s request was allowed by the Joint Registrar of the Court despite opposition by the Defendant. The Joint Registrar observed that since issues had not been framed no prejudice would be caused to the Defendant as it had every opportunity to rebut the contentions put forward by the amendment.

Aggrieved by the above order, the Defendant filed an appeal with a Single Judge of the Delhi High Court.  The Single Judge affirmed the order of the Joint Registrar. The Defendant then appealed the order of the Single Judge before a Division Bench of the Court. 

The Division Bench decided the following issues in the manner set out below:

Whether the appeal was maintainable?

The Plaintiff contended that The Commercial Courts Act, 2015 (“Act”) specifically excludes appellate jurisdiction in questions of amendments of complaints, barring in specific instances quoted in the Order XLIII of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.  

The Court held that the provisions of Act are enabling rather than disabling.  In other words, the Act specifies orders against which appeals shall lie, but does not specify orders against which appeals shall not lie. The Court further stated that excluding the jurisdiction of this Court may amount to rewriting the relevant provisions of the Act. Notwithstanding the above, the Court went on to state that the present appeal is maintainable, even it is not specifically enumerated in Order XLIII of the Code of Civil Procedure, under the Delhi High Court Original Side Rules, 2018. While deciding the present issue, the Court also went on to do a lengthy analysis of prior rulings in this regard and held that such rulings were not applicable to the present case because they did not pertain to commercial cases.

Did the Joint Registrar act within jurisdiction while deciding the application for amendment of plaint?

The Court stated that, as per the Delhi High Court Original Side Rules, a Joint Registrar is empowered to decide applications for amendments of pleadings where the amendment sought is formal in nature. However, the Court was also quick to note that the provision does not define the scope and ambit of the word ‘formal’ and what exactly constitutes a formal amendment.

Further, the Court went on to state that the amendment in the present case was clearly not ‘formal’ in nature since it sought to introduce a substantive change and not a change of form. Accordingly, as per the Division Bench, the Joint Registrar exceeded the jurisdiction vested in him. However, since a Single Judge had already heard and decided an appeal from the order of the Joint Registrar, the significance of the Joint Registrar’s order ceased to be of any significance.

Whether the amendment requested by the Plaintiff ought to be allowed?

The Court, while affirming the decision of the Single Judge, held that by allowing the present amendment, no prejudice would be caused to the Defendant since issues had not been framed in the present matter. It follows that the Defendant has every chance to rebut such claims. On the other hand, if such an amendment is not allowed, the Plaintiff will suffer irreversible prejudice as the date of the use of trademark is very relevant to decide the controversy between the parties.

Further, the Court held that whether the claim was justified or whether the Plaintiff had adduced sufficient evidence in support of its claim, were issues to be adjudicated in trial and not while deciding the present appeal.