Contract Act-'Undue Influence' Can't Be Inferred Merely Because Family Member Was Taking Care Of Elderly Person: SC [Read Judgment]
"If certain members of the family are looking after the elderly and others by choice or by compulsion of vocation are unable to do so, there is bound to be more affinity between the elder members of the family with those who are looking after them day to day."
The Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered on Wednesday, observed that 'undue influence' in execution of contract cannot be inferred merely because a family member was looking after his family elder.
In a suit between brothers, it was alleged that the defendants obtained the sale deed from their deceased father fraudulently, by undue influence because of old age and infirmity of the deceased and who was living with the defendants. The Suit was dismissed. Though the First Appellate Court reversed and decreed, the High Court restored the dismissal.
The bench comprising Justice Navin Sinha and Justice Indira Banerjee observed thus while dismissing an appeal [Raja Ram vs. Jai Prakash Singh] filed by the plaintiffs alleging undue influence exercised by their siblings on deceased father to execute sale deed.
Before the Apex Court, the physical condition of the deceased and his capacity to execute the sale deed was questioned. Another issue was regarding the undue influence by defendants over the deceased in having the sale deed executed in their favour because of the physical infirmity of the deceased on account of his old age.
The court observed that, though their conduct in looking after the deceased and his wife in old age may have influenced the thinking of the deceased, but that per se cannot lead to the only irresistible conclusion that the original defendants were therefore in a position to dominate the will of the deceased or that the sale deed executed was unconscionable. The court added that the onus would shift upon the original defendants under Section 16 of the Contract Act read with Section 111 of the Evidence Act, only after the plaintiff would have established a prima facie case. The bench said:
In every caste, creed, religion and civilized society, looking after the elders of the family is considered a sacred and pious duty. Nonetheless, today it has become a matter of serious concern. The Parliament taking note of the same enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. We are of the considered opinion, in the changing times and social mores, that to straightway infer undue influence merely because a sibling was looking after the family elder, is an extreme proposition which cannot be countenanced in absence of sufficient and adequate evidence. Any other interpretation by inferring a reverse burden of proof straightway, on those who were taking care of the elders, as having exercised undue influence can lead to very undesirable consequences. It may not necessarily lead to neglect, but can certainly create doubts and apprehensions leading to lack of full and proper care under the fear of allegations with regard to exercise of undue influence. Law and life run together. If certain members of the family are looking after the elderly and others by choice or by compulsion of vocation are unable to do so, there is bound to be more affinity between the elder members of the family with those who are looking after them day to day.
Old age cannot be equated with complete loss of mental faculties
The court also noted that there can be no presumption with regard to the same only because of old age to equate it with complete loss of mental faculties by senility or dementia.
Except for a bald statement in the plaint that the deceased was mentally impaired there is no evidence whatsoever of his mental status. There can be no presumption with regard to the same only because of old age to equate it with complete loss of mental faculties by senility or dementia. Ageing is a process which affects individuals differently at distinguishable ages. The sale deed executed by the deceased in favour of one Babu Ram and Munshi Lal two years earlier in 1968 has not been assailed by the appellant on the ground that the deceased was devoid of the power of reasoning, because of mental impairment. There is no evidence of any such rapid deterioration in the condition of the deceased in these two years.