D.N. Roy, J.
1. These are two cross appeals the one by the plaintiff and the other by the defendants, under Section 39 of the Indian Arbitration Act of 1940, arising out of an order dated 13-9-1955, passed by the First Civil Judge of Kanpur on an application under Section 34 of the Indian Arbitration Act. The order is to the following effect :
'The defendants' application under Section 34 of the Indian Arbitration Act is allowed. The present suit is ordered to be stayed so that the parties may get their dispute settled through arbitration in pursuance of and in accordance with the provisions of the arbitration clause contained in the standard contract form of Messrs. Begg Sutherland and Co. Ltd., Kanpur, a copy of which form is on the file of this Suit as Ex. 1. The plaintiff firm will get its full cost of this suit from the defendants.'
2. In the present appeal the plaintiff has contended that the order of stay was wrong and Section 34 of the Arbitration Act was not properly applied to the case, because the application had been made by Kundan Das defendant alone and not by all the defendants, and also because the defendants were estopped by their letter dated 24-12-1951, from taking up the plea of Section 34 of the Act.
The plaintiff has also contended that the court below erred in holding that no intricate question of law was involved, and it has been suggested that, since the matter involved intricate question, both of law and fact, the matter could not have been referred to arbitration.
3. The defendants in their cross appeal have assailed that part of the order of the court below which allows full costs of the suit from the defendants.
4. The plaintiff is a registered partnership firm and the suit was instituted through Madan Mohan Sharma one of the partners. Defendant No. 1 was also a registered partnership firm carrying on business in the name and style of Ram Bahadur Thakur and Co. and it was sued, through three of its partners, namely Thakur Das, Bassomal and Kundan Das.
In paragraph 3 of the plaint it was stated that Thakur Das, Bassomal and Kundan Das, besides being partners in the Firm of defendant No. 1 are being sued in their representative capacity also as members of their respective pint families. The claim was for the recovery of Rs. 1,05,388/5/- on alleged breach of contract.
5. On the 12-2-1952, defendant No. 4 applied under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act and alleged that in the contract there was a clause under which it was necessary that the matter should be referred to arbitration and the hearing of the suit should remain stayed till the decision by the arbitrators.
The plaintiff, however submitted that in the events that had taken place the arbitration clause had become nugatory and the suit could therefore be no longer stayed under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act. The learned Judge of the court below held that the contention of the defendants was right and he stayed the suit as prayed for under Section 34.
6. Before we proceed to dispose of the various points urged on behalf of the parties, it would be necessary to reproduce that part of the contract between the parties which relates to arbitration. It is as follows :
'in the event of any dispute arising under this contract, the matter shall be submitted to a sole arbitrator who shall be appointed with the mutual consent of the seller and buyer within three days of a notice by either party to the other requiring such an appointment to be made and his decision shall be final and legally binding.
In the event of the seller and buyer being unable to agree within three days upon a sole arbitrator, then within a further period of three days one arbitrator shall be appointed by each of the parties and the award of these two arbitrators shall be final and legally binding.
These two arbitrators shall before proceeding to consider the matter under dispute, first appoint an umpire, whose decision is to be final in the event of any disagreement between them. If one party fails to appoint an arbitrator for seven clear days after the other having appointed his arbitrator has served the party making default with a written notice, the party who has appointed an arbitrator may appoint that arbitrator to act as sole arbitrator and his award shall be binding on both parties as if he had been appointed by consent.
If the two arbitrators are unable to agree upon the appointment of an umpire, or the arbitration by the arbitrator, or arbitrators or the umpire, as the case may be, be not finally concluded within a period of thirty days from the date of the notice first given as aforesaid, 'the dispute shall be referred to arbitration under the Rules of the Tribunal of arbitration of Upper Chamber of Commerce applicable for the time being for decision and such decision shall be accepted as final and binding on both parties to this contract. The buyer and seller agree that all such disputes are to be settled at Kanpur.
'Provided that the operation of this clause shall constitute in all respects a reference to arbitration under the Indian Arbitration Act of 1899, or any modification or re-enactment thereof for the time being in force and the award of either the single arbitrator, or the two joint arbitrators in agreement, or of the umpire under this clause shall have full force as in an arbitration under the said Act.' The plaintiff on 4-12-1951, gave a notice to the defendants setting out the dispute and drawing their attention to that part of the contract which related to arbitration. In paragraph 14 of that notice the plaintiff stated :
'That the standard contract of Messrs. Begg Sutherland and Co. Ltd., inter alia contains an arbitration clause. As the terms of the said standard contract form governs the transaction referred to above, before instituting any suit against you for the recovery of the above amount due from you, my clients want to give you an opportunity to get the matter settled.
On hearing from you to the effect that you are willing to get the dispute that has arisen between my clients and yourself settled through arbitration, my clients would nominate an arbitrator and call upon you to signify your assent thereto within three days of the receipt of the notice and in case you fail to do so to call upon you to signify your assent thereto within three days of the receipt of the notice and in case you fail to nominate your arbitrator within a further period of three days, and you allow the time for consenting to the appointment of the arbitrator named by my clients to act as sole arbitrator or nominate your own arbitrator to lapse and fail to appoint an arbitrator, the arbitrator appointed by my clients would become the sole arbitrator as provided by the said arbitration clause.
In case, however, you do not signify your consent to refer the matter to arbitration within a period of seven days, my clients would assume that you are not willing to get the dispute settled through arbitration and in that case they would institute legal proceedings against you in a court of law for the recovery of the amount due to them and you would be deemed co have declined to get the dispute settled through arbitration.'
7. To that notice a reply was sent by the defendants on 24-12-1951, in which it was, inter alia, stated that the facts had not been correctly stated by the plaintiff; that the plaintiff had no cause of action against the defendants, either in a court of law or before an arbitrator; that the plaintiff would be well advissd to desist from instituting a claim; and that he ought to clear and pay up the just dues of the defendants as stated in their notice of demand.
8. After the exchange of these notices the suit was instituted in the court of the First Civil Judge of Kanpur, and before the defendants had put in any written statement in the court they made their application under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act, for the stay of the proceedings.
9. Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case and to the Arbitration clause contained in the contract aforesaid we are of opinion that the stay had been rightly granted. Learned Counsel's contention that the application under Section 34 was misconceived because it was made by Kundan Das, alone does not in our opinion seem to be correct.
It is true that the application under Section 34 of the Act was made by Kundan Das alone, but Kundan Das was partner of the defendant firm No. 1 and the defendant firm was sued through all the three partners. Kundan Das was also sued in his representative capacity as a member of his own joint family. Partners will only be bound by a submission to arbitration upon proof that they have either expressly authorised it beforehand, or have subsequently adopted and ratified it, or unless upon the terms of the submission it can be implied that the arbitration, was within the normal scope of the trade or business of the partnership.
Such authorisation need not be in writing, or otherwise formal, but it must be actual and the authority will only extend to matters to which it relates and will not be construed as covering other questions. In the present case the other partners did not come forward before the court at any stage in order to repudiate the suggestion that had been made by Kundan Das in his application under Section 34 of the Act. It will therefore be construed that they by their act or conduct, or at least by their acquiescence have ratified the act of Kundan Das, which he made by his application under Section 34.
10. Our attention has been drawn to the case decided by the East Punjab High Court in Hanuman Chamber of Commerce v. Jassa Ram, AIR 1949 E. P. 46 (A) where, in construing the provisions of sections 18 and 19 of the Partnership Act, and Section 196 of the Contract Act, it was observed that where an act is done by one person on behalf of another without that others' knowledge or authority, the latter can ratify that act and on such ratification the same effects will follow as if the act had been performed by his authority.
It was further observed that assuming that the initial reference of the dispute in that case was made by the referring partner without any express or implied authority from his other partners, there was nothing to prevent such partners from ratifying his act, which was unauthorised at its inception; that ratification need not be by any express act or declaration and may be implied from conduct, and that it has quite frequently been inferred from mere acquiescence or silence or inaction on the part of the party concerned.
11. Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the present case we are of opinion that the application under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act had been made by Kundan Das not only on his personal behalf, but also on behalf of the firm. At any rate, even if it be treated as having been made on his behalf, what had been stated by him in his application can be availed of by the other defendants also, because by their acquiescence or silence or inaction they ratified what had been done by Kundan Das, as partner. In fact in their reply to the application under Section 34 the plaintiff regarded that application as having been made on behalf of the firm. We may, in this connection, quote paragraph 1 of that reply where it was stated ':
'In this case the defendant Thakur Das and Co. has filed an application through Kundan Das one of its partners under Section 34 of the Indian Arbitration Act, to the effect that as the contract between the parties provided an arbitration clause the suit be stayed.'
It is, therefore, obvious that the application under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act, was not misconceived because it purported to have been by Kundan Das alone. In our opinion it is not at all necessary for all the defendants to apply for stay or to show their willingness to submit disputes to arbitration, provided that all the defendants are bound by the submission clause.
It is sufficient if one of them does so and wishes to take advantage of the submission clause. It was so held in the leading case of Willesford v. Watson, (1873) 8 Ch. A. 473 (B), which was followed by the Sind Judicial Commissioner's Court in William Jacks and Co. v. Harrowing Steamship Co. Ltd., AIR 1932 Sind 111 (C). The language of Section 34 also supports this view. It says that where any party to an arbitration agreement or any person claiming under him commences any legal proceedings against any other party to the agreement or any person claiming under him in respect of any matter agreed to be referred, any party to such legal proceedings, may, at any time before filing any written statement or taking any other steps in the proceedings, apply to the judicial authority before which the proceedings are pending to stay the proceedings.
Where, therefore, there are several defendants, any one of them can make the application to have the action stayed and it is not necessary that they should all join in making it.
12. The question of estoppel in our judgment does not present any insuperable difficulty. In the notice which the plaintiff had given to the defendants, he did not strictly follow the terms of the arbitration clause contained in the contract. The clause provides that in the event of any dispute arising under the contract, the matter shall be submitted to a sole arbitrator who shall be appointed with the mutual consent of the seller and the buyer.
In this case there was no question of mutual consent, because in answer to the plaintiff's notice the defendants had said that the plaintiff had no cause of action which could be taken, either before the court or before the arbitrator. In such event it was open to the plaintiff within a further period of three days to have nominated his own arbitrator and to have called upon the defendant to suggest another arbitrator of his own, and, if the defendant were to nominate one, these two arbitrators before proceeding to consider the matter under dispute could have chosen an umpire.
Under the contract if one party failed to appoint an arbitrator for seven clear days after the other party having appointed his arbitrator had served the party with a witten notice, the party who had appointed an arbitrator could appoint that arbitrator to act as sole arbitrator and his award would be binding on both the parties as if he had been appointed by consent. This part of the procedure contained in the contract had not been availed of by the plaintiff.
What the plaintiff in his notice had intimated to the defendants was that if the defendants were not willing to get the dispute settled through arbitration, the plaintiff would institute legal proceedings against them in a court of law for the recovery of the amount. Under the terms of the contract, even if the defendants refused to get the matter settled by arbitration, it was open to the plaintiff to have a sole arbitrator appointed and the decision of that arbitrator would be final and would be binding upon the parties.
In the present case the defendants in their reply did not in terms refuse arbitration. What they said was that the plaintiff had no cause of action against the defendants which he could take, either in a court of law or before an arbitrator. If the plaintiff was of the view that he had a cause of action, he could just as well have the matter decided by arbitration in terms of the contract.
In our opinion therefore the defendants were not estopped by their letter dated 24-12-1951, from asking the court to grant the relief under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act.
13. It has lastly been contended that as the case involved intricate questions of law and fact, the reference to arbitration was not justified. The Court below was of the view that all the questions involved in the present suit were mostly of fact, namely, (a) whether the defendant firm were liable to pay sale tax or not; (b) whether the defendant firm had paid adequate earnest money in pursuance of the contract; (c) whether the breach of the original contract took place through the laches of the plaintiff or through those of the defendants; (d) whether the plaintiff was entitled to resell the disputed goods; (e) whether the contract of resale could not be performed on account of the laches of the plaintiff or the defendants; and (f) to what amount of damages, if any, was the plaintiff entitled.
According to the court below there was no question of law involved in the present suit. In that matter we are of opinion that the court below was wrong. The questions involved in the suit were questions both of fact and of law. It is, however, clear to us that the making of an order staying proceedings is a matter largely in the discretion of the court.
That discretion must, however, be judicially exercised. The court should exercise its discretion in refusing to stay a suit in a sparing and cautious way as the primary duty is cast upon the court to act upon such an agreement. In commercial cases, as here, there ought to be very strong grounds for refusing a stay order.
Where parties have agreed to refer a dispute to arbitration and one of them notwithstanding that agreement commences an action to have the dispute determined by court, prima facie the leaning of the court would be to stay the action and leave the plaintiff to the tribunal to which he has agreed. The fact that the party in reply to a notice of suit says that the plaintiff has got no cause of action which he can take, either to the court or before an arbitrator, does not put an end to the right to claim under Section 34 that the suit should be stayed and the matter decided by arbitration according to the contract. The court will of course be less disposed to grant a stay where the principal issue is a question of law or other proper construction of an agreement than if the dispute involved principally question of fact.
The court should exercise its discretion to refuse to grant an application for stay where a very difficult question of law unsuited for decision of laymen is involved in the suit. We have not been referred to any such very difficult question of law which might arise in the case.
14. Under the circumstances we are of opinion that the discretion exercised by the Court below under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act was correct. There is therefore no force in the appeal by the plaintiff and it must be dismissed with costs.
15. Coming now to the cross appeal by the defendants, we have already stated that it is directed against that part of the order of the court below by which the plaintiff firm has been awarded 'its full costs of the suits from the defendants'. In awarding these costs the learned judge observed:
'The defendants letter dated 24-12-1951 in my opinion does not embody a denial on the part of the defendants to get the matter settled through arbitration, it is only a denial of plaintiff's right to claim anything from the defendants. The plaintiff could proceed to get the matter settled through arbitration in spite of the defendants' reply dated 24-12-1951.
It can therefore not be said that at the time of the commencement of the proceedings the defendants were not willing to do every thing necessary for the proper conduct of the arbitration. In a case reported in Anglo Persian oil Co. Ltd. v. Panchapakesa Aiyar, AIR 1924 Mad 336 (D), it has been laid down that if there is a submission for reference to arbitration and a party chooses to bring a suit the other party can then decide whether or not he will remain before the court which he indicates by taking some steps in the action or whether he will avail himself of his contractual rights to have the dispute referred to arbitration.
If he had misled the plaintiff some way into bringing the suit it might be a good ground for punishing him in costs and if the misleading had been definite enough to amount to a particular statement that he would not apply to have the matter referred to arbitration and would submit to the jurisdiction of the court, it might even amount to an estoppel, so as to prevent him from making an application thereafter.'
16. In our opinion in allowing the plaintiff 'full costs of the suit' before the suit was actually finally disposed of, the court below was in error. The court below has also not appreciated the true import of the Madras decision cited above. In the present case the defendants cannot be said to have misled the plaintiff in some way into bringing the suit.
Nor can it be said that the misleading had been definite enough to amount to a particular statement that the defendants would not apply to have the matter referred to arbitration and would submit to the jurisdiction of the court. The court below itself does not say that there was any estoppel by any act or conduct of the defendants. Under these circumstances what the court could have, at the most, done, in spite of the success of the defendants on the application under Section 34 of the Act, was to deprive the defendants of the costs of that application under Section 34 and could have allowed the plaintiff his own costs.
The order regarding costs must therefore be varied to the extent indicated above. We therefore allow the defendant's appeal, vary the order of costs made by the lower court and direct that the defendant No. 4 will bear his own costs of the lower court and will pay the costs of the plaintiff in regard to the proceedings under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act.
We make no order as to costs of this appeal by the defendants. We leave the matter of costs of the suit to the discretion of the lower court which will be determined at the time of the final hearing of the case and which will abide the event.