Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal

Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal case (1975)

Case name and citation: Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal (AIR 1975 All. 132)

Year: 1975

Jurisdiction: Allahabad High Court

Learned Judge: Justice Hari Swarup

What is the case about?

The case of Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal throws light on the maxim of damnum sine injuria. It also discusses whether malice is relevant in determining liability under the law of torts.

Facts of the case (Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal)

In the instant case, the plaintiff constructed 16 shops on the old foundations of a building. In this regard, neither a notice of intention to erect a building was given under Section 178 of the U.P. Municipalities Act, 1916 nor necessary approval was obtained under Section 180 of the said Act.

Town Area Committee, the defendants, demolished the construction. The plaintiff initiated an action against the defendants to claim compensation for the demolition of the building.

The plaintiff contended that the action of the defendants was not legal because it was mala fide (carried out in bad faith). He contended that the municipal commissioner was an enemy of his.

Issues raised

Can the defendants be held liable for causing harm to the plaintiff?

Is the contention of the plaintiff that the act of the defendant was done maliciously valid? On such grounds of malice, can he claim compensation for damages?

Relevant maxim or principle

It may be important to note that in order to constitute a tort, the following general conditions must be satisfied:

1. There should be a wrongful act or omission on the part of the defendant.

2. Such an act or omission should cause some legal damage to the plaintiff, i.e., it should result in the violation of a legal right vested in the plaintiff.

3. Lastly, there must be some legal remedy available in the form of a civil action for damages. Damages are the main remedy and other remedies such as an injunction are additional only.

These conditions are essential to give rise to tortious liability on the part of the defendant (wrongdoer).

By reference to the second condition, to determine the liability under tort law, it is important to see whether any legal right of the plaintiff has been violated or not. If his legal right is violated, it does not matter whether he has sustained any actual loss or not. This view is given by the maxim “injuria sine damnum”. The term “injuria” means infringement of a legal right, “sine” means without, and “damnum” means substantial harm, loss, or damage. Thus, infringement of a legal right without causing any harm or loss to the plaintiff is actionable as a tort because it is the behaviour that is actionable, i.e., the violation of a right.

By virtue of another similar maxim “damnum sine injuria, sometimes it may happen that the plaintiff may suffer an actual or substantial loss without any violation of his legal right and therefore, in such cases, no action lies in tort. This can generally happen when the exercise of a legal right by one person causes consequential harm to the other. In such cases, no action lies even though the damage is intentional. An example of this can be a loss inflicted on individual traders by competition in trade.

Judgement of the Court in Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal

In the given case, the illegal construction of the plaintiff was demolished by the municipal authorities (the defendants). The plaintiff contended that the demolition was not legal because some of the officers of the Town Area Committee were acting maliciously to demolish the building.

It was observed that merely because some officers have malice (or evil motive) against a citizen who has already committed a wrong, the action of the municipal authority will not be rendered invalid when it is otherwise legal. In such a case, it is not required to investigate whether the action was motivated by malice or not. Because there is no civil wrong.

Hence, in this case, it was held that a legal act, even though it is motivated by malice (or evil motive), will not make the defendant liable. The plaintiff can be entitled to claim compensation only if he has suffered a legal injury owing to an illegal act on the part of the defendant.

The Court further held that the defendants were not liable since there was no “injuria”. That is, no violation of a legal right could be proved. It was observed that if a person constructs a building illegally and without obtaining appropriate sanctions, the demolition of such construction by the municipal authorities shall not result in an infringement of a legal right (injuria) of the owner of the property.

And since there is no legal damage to the plaintiff, he cannot claim compensation for damages under tort law.

Thus, the plaintiff’s contention was rejected.

Relevance of Malice

As a general rule, malice or improper motive is not relevant in the law of torts. What is important to consider is merely what the defendant has done, and not why he did it. A good motive will not justify an act that is otherwise illegal and similarly, a bad motive cannot make wrongful an act that is otherwise legal.

But of course, exceptions are there. And in some cases, the malice or evil motive also becomes relevant to determine liability under the law of torts.

Case summary in brief (Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal)

In the instant case, the construction of the building by the plaintiff was prima facie illegal since it was contrary to the municipality’s sanctions. The plaintiff did not suffer any injuria (legal damage) because no one has a right to illegal construction and thus, the question of damages does not arise. Thus, it was lawful to demolish the construction. Considering this, it was observed that malice on the part of the officers of municipal authorities was not relevant in deciding the question under Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal.

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