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Court of Appeal cannot indulge in fact-finding of first instance in any given case: Delhi High Court

It is undisputed that a court that acts under an appellate jurisdiction cannot indulge in the fact-finding procedure of trial courts. This accepted provision was reiterated by the bench of Rajiv Shakdher J. and Talwant Singh J. of the Delhi High Court in the case Hapag Lloyd India Pvt. Ltd. v Hotel Needs India [FAO (COMM) 51/2021] surrounding issues of agency and the right to lien.

The appellant no.1 is a Shipping Line, engaged in transporting goods through sea. The agent, appointed by respondent no. 1, had appointed Freight Forwarder/Agent, who in turn engaged the services of the appellant no.1. When the goods were loaded on the ship, the Bill of Lading dated 18.01.2020 was issued by the present appellant no.1 in the name of respondent. Since necessary certificates could not be produced by the Shipper and/or Consignee, the cargo was required to be re-shipped to its place of origin, i.e., India, and accordingly, it was loaded on board by the present appellant no.1 by issuing Bill of Lading dated 30.07.2020 and it reached in October, 2020 at JNPT Port, Uran, Raigad, India. The appellant company refused to issue delivery order of the cargo as well as refused to hand over the Bill of Lading to respondent no.1 till all its dues in respect of detention, demurrage and other charges at the port of destination as well as Indian port are cleared.

It was clear to the bench upon the submissions of either parties that the Ld. Trial Court had failed to appreciate even one single argument of defendant while passing the impugned order. The said order, at its best, could be termed as an ex-parte order solely based upon the submissions of the plaintiff; passed without caring for the reply or the written submissions filed by defendant nos. 5 and 6, who had no option but to challenge the said order before this court by filing this appeal.

It was also to be noted that merely stating in the impugned order by the Ld. Trial Court that plaintiff hadn’t been able to show a prima facie case in his favour therefore the balance of convenience was also in favour of the plaintiff and irreparable loss and injury would be caused to the plaintiff if interim injunction is not granted to him; does not satisfy the sacrosanct test of law and equity, where stand of the contesting defendants was totally ignored.

Since, no findings had been given by the Ld. Trial Court on the stand of the contesting defendants as detailed above, the bench refrained from arriving at any findings on the same s well, since a court of appeal cannot indulge in fact-finding of the first instances. The only option left was to remand the matter back to the Ld. Trial Court with a request to consider all the documents and pleadings qua the interim application as well as the written submissions filed by both the parties, and thereafter, decide the interim application under Order XXXIX Rule 1 and 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, afresh by passing a detailed, reasoned order.

Hence, the court ruled that, “Both the parties shall appear before the learned Trial Judge on 12.05.2021. We request the Ld. Trial Court to make every endeavor to dispose of the interim application at the earliest after giving sufficient opportunity to the contesting parties to address arguments. Till that time, impugned order dated 19.11.2020 shall remain suspended.

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