Facts Of The Case:
The Plaintiff and Defendant were brothers. Their father, since deceased, used to
live with the defendant. The father executed a sale deed dated 2nd March 1970 in
favour of the defendant. Thereafter, he expired on 21st April 1971, just ten
months after the sale deed was executed.
The plaintiff alleged that the
defendant made their father sign the sale deed in his favour, fraudulently,
taking advantage of the old age and sickness of the father which placed the
defendant in a position to dominate his will. Thus, the plaintiff challenged the
validity of the sale deed on grounds of undue influence.
Judgments Before The Appeal
The suit was dismissed by the Trial Court.
The first appellate court allowed the appeal and held that that the defendant
was unsuccessful in proving that he did not abuse the position of dominance he
had over the old-aged father and that the sale deed was not signed by the father
under undue influence.
In the second Appeal, the High Court agreed with the decision of the Trial Court
and dismissed the suit.
Aggrieved by the decision of the High court, the Appellant approached the
The appellant pleaded that their deceased father was unable to move and walk and
had a weakened eyesight due to cataract because of which he was bedridden for
approximately the last 8 to 10 years. He further claimed that the mental
capacity of his father was also impaired due to old age and sickness. Thus, he
was totally dependent on the respondent with whom he lived and therefore, the
respondent was in a position to dominate his will and exercise undue influence
The appellant further pointed out that the only witnesses to the sale deed were
his mother and the respondent's wife who were related to the respondent and thus
their testimony was not credible.
The respondent claimed that the first appellate court had erroneously placed
the burden of proof upon him as the appellant was not able to establish a prima
facie case of undue influence against him. He pleaded that just because their
father was suffering from old age and infirmity, the appellant could not assert
that he was deprived of his mental abilities to not be in a position to
determine the nature and consequences of the agreements entered into by him. He
did have a deteriorating eyesight, and was unable to move freely due to his old
age but there is no credible evidence that he was bedridden as claimed by the
The respondent further pointed out that just two years earlier in 1968, the
father had effected another sale deed in favour of some third persons and no
proof of any rapid worsening in the health of the father during this period, had
been provided by the appellants. Based on this fact, the respondent claimed that
his father still possessed the necessary foresight and knowledge required when
entering into such transactions and his mental capabilities were not affected
due to old age.
The respondent claimed that his mother and wife though related to him, were the
only witnesses to the signing of the sale deed and therefore, their account of
the series of events which took place before the Sub-Registrar have to be
accepted. According to their account, the father was present in front of the
Sub-Registrar for registration which goes contrary to the claim of the
appellants that he was bedridden. After confirming the terms of the sale deed ,
he put his thumb impression over the document.
The Sub-Registrar also did not
find his mental and physical condition to be so deteriorated so as to lack the
capacity of giving consent, at the time of registration. Relying on the
observation of the apex court that unless rebutted, a registered instrument has
a presumption of accuracy, the respondent pleaded that his father had signed
the sale deed out of his own free will and he was not unduly influenced by the
respondent to do so.
The Supreme Court evaluated the following concerns to arrive at a judgement in
- Were the father's physical and mental capabilities so badly affected so
as to not be able to know the nature of the transaction he was entering into?
The court refused to accept the appellant's claim that the father was mentally
impaired as no evidence was provided regarding his disturbed mental status and
old age cannot lead to the presumption of complete loss of mental faculties of a
person as ageing affects each individual differently.
The court considered the fact that the father had entered into a similar
transaction involving a sale deed with a third party just two years prior,
without any evidence of his condition deteriorating over this period which shows
that he was capable of taking decision to enter into such transactions. Also, he
was present before the Sub-Registrar for registration which means that he was
He put his thumb impression on the sale deed and accepted the
entire consideration in front of the Sub-Registrar which led the court to
conclude that he did not lack reason and was mentally sound. He was capable of
making his own decisions while fully understanding the nature of transaction he
was entering into.
- Had the respondent unduly influenced the will of the father to make him
sign the sale deed in his favour?
The apex court pointed out that to establish a case of undue influence, the
appellants must lay out the exact nature of the influence exerted, in what
manner the other party was influenced, and what unfair advantage was gained by
the respondent as a result . But it observed that in this case, the arguments
made by the appellants were wholly devoid of any description with regard to the
nature, manner or kind of undue influence they claim was exercised by the
respondent over the father.
The father and the respondent were no doubt in a
fiduciary relationship and his conduct in looking after the father in old age
may have influenced his decision to confer some benefit upon his son, but this
alone cannot give rise to the assumption that the respondent was in a position
to dominate the will of the father and he abused this position to make him sign
the sale deed.
The court relied upon the Subhas Chandra  case which distinguished between
influence and undue influence and stated by if the parties were related to each
other by blood , an unquestionable presumption of undue influence cannot arise
automatically unless there is some evidence of abuse of such relation. It was
further observed by the court in this case that imposition could not be presumed
merely because one of the parties was old and sick.
The court also did not find the sale deed to be unconscionable per se. Thus, it
concluded that the appellant was not able to establish a prima facie case
against the respondent which would have then shifted the burden upon him to
disprove any such undue influence.
Since the court found that the requisites of undue influence were not
established by the appellants, it reaffirmed the decision of the High Court and
dismissed the appeal.
When two parties enter into an agreement it may happen that one of them is in a
superior position in relation to the other in terms of authority, knowledge,
mental capacity or any other factor, which places that party in a position to
dominate the will of the other so as to obtain his consent to the agreement,
which, but for this influence the other party may have not have given. Such
relations between parties which enables one of them to dominate the will of the
other is a sine qua non for undue influence to come into play.
The second important requirement to establish undue influence is abuse of such
relation. This 'abuse' can be very subtle. Where there is active trust and
confidence between the parties or the parties are not on equal footing, there
may be a natural influence which one party may exercise over the other, thus
abusing his position of dominance to his own advantage. 
In certain cases, it is obvious that one party is placed superior to other in an
agreement and therefore, a presumption of undue influence is raised whereby it
is presumed that the party who was in a dominating position must have used it to
obtain unfair advantage over the other. The burden then shifts to the defendant
to rebut such presumption.
But as held in Subhas Chandra Das Mushib v. Ganga Prasad Das Mushib
it is not
necessary that every person who occupies a position of dominance will abuse it.
When the parties are in a fiduciary relationship, they place trust and
confidence in each other which may lead to a possibility of abuse of such
relation, but presumption of undue influence only because of near relationship
has been held not to be permissible.
Sometimes just a plain application of law to the facts does not work in a case
and therefore the courts of equity devised another test of 'unconscionability'
to evaluate if an agreement was induced by undue influence. An unconscionable
contract is one that contains so harsh and irrational terms in view of current
business practices that it should not be enforced.
Lord Scarman has stated that:
"Definition is a poor instrument when used to determine whether a transaction
is or is not unconscionable: this is a question which depends upon the
particular facts of the case".
Therefore, this test of unconscionability is a fact specific inquiry.
In the present case, the Supreme Court followed the line of reasoning laid down
in Subash Chandra and did not presume undue influence on part of the respondent
just because his father was suffering from old age and infirmities. It closely
analysed pleadings of the appellants to evaluate if a prima facie case for undue
influence was established or not. When it did not find any substance in the
arguments made by the appellant, it embarked upon its own inquiry as to if the
sale deed in question was unconscionable per se.
When the apex court was
satisfied upon direct application of law to fact that none of the requisites of
undue influence were established by the appellant, it rightly dismissed the
appeal and upheld the decision of the High Court.
Looking after the elderly parents is considered as the sacred and pious duty in
almost all religions and castes. Regardless, only a few people fulfill this
obligation nowadays due to their fast-paced life and in pursuit of their career
goals. There is naturally bound to be more attachment and affection of the
parents with such offspring who takes care of them in their old and weak state
so if they confer some benefit upon such offspring as a token of gratitude it
cannot be considered as undue influence and this judgement rightly confirms the
If the court imposes an automatic burden upon the young adults looking
after their parents to prove that they did not exercise undue influence to
obtain any benefit from them, without any substantial proof of the same, it will
discourage such individuals from undertaking this sacred duty. It may not always
lead to complete neglect but will certainly give rise to apprehensions in their
minds, who may then fail to exercise proper care and attention towards their
- Bellachi (Dead) by LRs v. Pakeeran, (2009) 12 SCC 95
- Ladli Prasad Jaiswal vs Karnal Distillery Co.Ltd., & Ors, AIR 1963 SC 1279.
- Subhas Chandra Das Mushib v. Ganga Prasad Das Mushib, AIR 1967 SC 878.
- Avtar Singh, Contract & Specific Relief, 183-184 (13th ed., 2022).
- Krishna Mohan Kul v Pratima Maity, AIR 2003 SC 4351.
- M. Ramasamy v Rengammal, AIR 2003 SC 3120.
- National Westminster Bank P&C v Morgan, (1985) 2 WLR 588 (HL).