By Nihit Nagpal and Zahra Naqvi
The Latin phrase dominus litis, or, the master of the suit/plaint, is a reference to “the person who derives the benefit of a favourable judgment and is liable for the effects of an adverse judgment, including expenses”. The Plaintiff is the one to come up with the litigation having been vested, by law, the right to choose the persons against whom he wishes to litigate, the prerogative to put a valuation to the reliefs claimed by him, to choose the remedy, and the a right to choose the Court or forum in case more than one court has jurisdiction to try the suit/plaint in accordance to the law. The doctrine of dominus litis has been relied upon in plethora of cases by the Constitutional and lower Courts across the country.
Plaintiff’s discretion with respect to valuation of suit
That the Plaintiff, being the dominus litis, is given a discretion to set a valuation to the remedy prayed by him in matters where the “market value” of the subject matter is not open to a proper estimation, the nature of such reliefs having been specified in Section 7(iv) of the Court Fees
Act, 1870, the reliefs in the nature of declaration and injunction particularly falling in the said class. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court, in Gobind Gopal v. Banwari Lal held as follows:
“6….The plaintiffs had a discretion to put their own valuation as the relief for purposes of the court-fees and under section 8 of the Suits Valuation Act the value of the suit for the purposes of jurisdiction would be the same as has been determined for the purposes of the court-fees…”
However, the said discretion to set a valuation to the reliefs sought by him is not an absolute right of the plaintiff. The valuation pleaded by the plaintiff is open to objections by the opposite party. However, such objections are subject to the proviso that the exception to the over-valuation or under-valuation must generally be taken before the court of first instance, and at or before the hearing at which the issues were first framed, and further upon the prejudice or failure of justice consequentially caused being established by the opposite party. The same was held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Meenakshisundaram v. Venkatachalam,
“7. …If on the materials available before it the Court is satisfied that the value of relief as estimated by the plaintiff in a suit for accounts is undervalued the plaint is liable to be rejected. It is therefore necessary that the plaintiff should take care that the valuation is adequate and reasonable taking into account the circumstances of the case. In coming to the conclusion that the suit is undervalued the court will have to take into account that in a suit for accounts the plaintiff is not obliged to state the exact amount which would result after the taking of the accounts. If he cannot estimate the exact amount he can put a tentative valuation upon the suit for accounts which is adequate and reasonable. The plaintiff cannot arbitrarily and deliberately undervalue the relief. … there must be a genuine effort on the part of the plaintiff to estimate his relief and that the estimate should not be a deliberate under-estimation…”
The Hon’ble Delhi High Court, in Subhashini Malik v. S.K. Gandhi and Ors., while discussing the plaintiff’s discretion to set a value to his suit, held as follows:
“70. Whilst there could be no quarrel with the proposition that law confers upon the plaintiff the discretion to put valuation to the relief (declaration or injunction) claimed by him, such valuation as is put is open to judicial scrutiny. The law conceives of possibility of incorrect valuation not only by it being under-stated but also on account of excessive assessment. If objections in this regard were raised – of course, at the first instance before the commencement of the trial – the civil court is bound to subject it to inquiry and reach appropriate conclusions. For present discussion what needs to be flagged here is that the discretion to state the valuation may be of the plaintiff’s initiative but it cannot be arbitrary, whimsical, unguided or merely his ipse dixit. Further, want of jurisdiction, territorial or pecuniary, strikes at the root and vitiates the proceedings.”
Plaintiff’s right to choose remedy and forum
The Plaintiff, as the dominus litis, is vested with the right to choose the remedy and the forum, if more than one remedy or forum is available, and the opposite party cannot claim that the matter be tried in a specific forum convenient to him. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the plaintiff’s right to choose the forum is an absolute one and that the opposite party cannot ask such case to be tried by another court. The Hon’ble Supreme Court, in Dr. Subramaniam Swami v. Ramakrishna Hegde, observed that the paramount consideration for transfer of a case must be the requirement of justice, and the plaintiff’s right as the dominus litis to choose the forum cannot eclipse the requirement of justice. The relevant paragraph of the aforementioned judgment is reproduced as follows:
“10 … The paramount consideration for transfer of the case under Section 25 of the Code must be the requirement of justice. If the ends of justice so demand, the case may be transferred under this provision notwithstanding the right of dominus litis to choose the forum and considerations of plaintiffs convenience, etc., cannot eclipse the requirement of justice. Justice must be done at all costs, if necessary by the transfer of the case from one Court to another…”
Hence, it cannot be construes as an absolute rule that once the plaintiff approaches a particular forum properly instituting a suit within its jurisdiction a right to continue the proceedings in the said forum vests which right cannot be taken away.
Plaintiff’s right to choose the parties to the suit
The High Court of Calcutta, in Titan Engineering Co. Ltd. & Ors v. Pradip Kumar Sengupta & Ors., observed that the plaintiff is the dominus litis and, hence, the “best Judge of his own interest.” Further, it was held that the plaintiff should be left to choose the opponent(s) against whom he wishes to claim relief in the suit/plaint. Further, he cannot be forced to add party against whom he does not want to fight unless it is the compulsion of the rule of law. In other words, he may choose the persons against whom he wishes to litigate. However, the same is subject to the riders of the Order I Rule 10(2) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, which provides for the impleadment of necessary or proper parties. Hence, the courts should take into account the wishes if the plaintiff before adding a third person as a defendant to his suit.
The Plaintiff is the dominus litis, that is, master of the case. He is the person who has carriage and control of an action. The plaintiff is vested with the prerogative to choose the remedy, and the forum, as also put appropriate valuation to the relief. However, the doctrine is not absolute in nature and the same cannot be exercised in an arbitrary or capricious manner and the same is open to objections by the opposite party and, therefore, subject to judicial scrutiny and the requirements of justice.
 Subhashini Malik v. S.K. Gandhi and Ors., (2016) 233 DLT 83, [CS (OS) No. 1416/2009, Delhi High Court]
 Section 7: Computation of fees payable in certain suits.—The amount of fee payable under this Act in the suits next hereinafter mentioned shall be computed as follows:
(iv) In suits—
for movable property of no market-value.—(a) for movable property where the subjectmatter has no market-value, as, for instance, in the case of documents relating to title,
to enforce a right to share in joint family property.—(b) to enforce the right to share in any property on the ground that it is joint family property,
for a declaratory decree and consequential relief.—(c) to obtain a declaratory decree or order, where consequential relief is prayed,
for an injunction.—(d) to obtain an injunction,
for easements.—(e) for a right to some benefit (not herein otherwise provided for) to arise out of land, and
for accounts.—(f) for accounts— according to the amount at which the relief sought is valued in the plaint or memorandum of appeal :
In all such suits the plaintiff shall state the amount at which he values the relief sought
 AIR 1983 Delhi 323
 Section 11 of Suits Valuation Act, 1887
 Section 21 CPC
 AIR 1979 SC 989
 (2016) 233 DLT 83
 Nahar Industrial Enterprises Ltd. v. Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation, (2009) 8 SCC 646
 AIR 1990 SC 113.
 Suresh Khiyani v. Jassi Apartment Welfare Society, AIR 2020 All 176
 Mumbai International Airport Private Limited v. Regency Convention Centre & Hotels Private Limited & Ors., 2010 (7) SCC 417
 Dhannalal v. Kalawatibai & Ors., AIR2002SC2572