Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 75919 May 7, 1987

MANCHESTER DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, ET AL., petitioners,
vs.
COURT OF APPEALS, CITY LAND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, STEPHEN ROXAS, ANDREW LUISON, GRACE LUISON and JOSE DE MAISIP, respondents.

Tanjuatco, Oreta and Tanjuatco for petitioners.

Pecabar Law Offices for private respondents.

R E S O L U T I O N

 

GANCAYCO, J.:

Acting on the motion for reconsideration of the resolution of the Second Division of January 28,1987 and another motion to refer the case to and to be heard in oral argument by the Court En Banc filed by petitioners, the motion to refer the case to the Court en banc is granted but the motion to set the case for oral argument is denied.

Petitioners in support of their contention that the filing fee must be assessed on the basis of the amended complaint cite the case of Magaspi vs. Ramolete. 1 They contend that the Court of Appeals erred in that the filing fee should be levied by considering the amount of damages sought in the original complaint.

The environmental facts of said case differ from the present in that

1. The Magaspi case was an action for recovery of ownership and possession of a parcel of land with damages. 2 While the present case is an action for torts and damages and specific performance with prayer for temporary restraining order, etc. 3

2. In the Magaspi case, the prayer in the complaint seeks not only the annulment of title of the defendant to the property, the declaration of ownership and delivery of possession thereof to plaintiffs but also asks for the payment of actual moral, exemplary damages and attorney's fees arising therefrom in the amounts specified therein. 4 However, in the present case, the prayer is for the issuance of a writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction during the pendency of the action against the defendants' announced forfeiture of the sum of P3 Million paid by the plaintiffs for the property in question, to attach such property of defendants that maybe sufficient to satisfy any judgment that maybe rendered, and after hearing, to order defendants to execute a contract of purchase and sale of the subject property and annul defendants' illegal forfeiture of the money of plaintiff, ordering defendants jointly and severally to pay plaintiff actual, compensatory and exemplary damages as well as 25% of said amounts as maybe proved during the trial as attorney's fees and declaring the tender of payment of the purchase price of plaintiff valid and producing the effect of payment and to make the injunction permanent. The amount of damages sought is not specified in the prayer although the body of the complaint alleges the total amount of over P78 Million as damages suffered by plaintiff. 5

3. Upon the filing of the complaint there was an honest difference of opinion as to the nature of the action in the Magaspi case. The complaint was considered as primarily an action for recovery of ownership and possession of a parcel of land. The damages stated were treated as merely to the main cause of action. Thus, the docket fee of only P60.00 and P10.00 for the sheriff's fee were paid. 6

In the present case there can be no such honest difference of opinion. As maybe gleaned from the allegations of the complaint as well as the designation thereof, it is both an action for damages and specific performance. The docket fee paid upon filing of complaint in the amount only of P410.00 by considering the action to be merely one for specific performance where the amount involved is not capable of pecuniary estimation is obviously erroneous. Although the total amount of damages sought is not stated in the prayer of the complaint yet it is spelled out in the body of the complaint totalling in the amount of P78,750,000.00 which should be the basis of assessment of the filing fee.

4. When this under-re assessment of the filing fee in this case was brought to the attention of this Court together with similar other cases an investigation was immediately ordered by the Court. Meanwhile plaintiff through another counsel with leave of court filed an amended complaint on September 12, 1985 for the inclusion of Philips Wire and Cable Corporation as co-plaintiff and by emanating any mention of the amount of damages in the body of the complaint. The prayer in the original complaint was maintained. After this Court issued an order on October 15, 1985 ordering the re- assessment of the docket fee in the present case and other cases that were investigated, on November 12, 1985 the trial court directed plaintiffs to rectify the amended complaint by stating the amounts which they are asking for. It was only then that plaintiffs specified the amount of damages in the body of the complaint in the reduced amount of P10,000,000.00. 7 Still no amount of damages were specified in the prayer. Said amended complaint was admitted.

On the other hand, in the Magaspi case, the trial court ordered the plaintiffs to pay the amount of P3,104.00 as filing fee covering the damages alleged in the original complaint as it did not consider the damages to be merely an or incidental to the action for recovery of ownership and possession of real property. 8 An amended complaint was filed by plaintiff with leave of court to include the government of the Republic as defendant and reducing the amount of damages, and attorney's fees prayed for to P100,000.00. Said amended complaint was also admitted. 9

In the Magaspi case, the action was considered not only one for recovery of ownership but also for damages, so that the filing fee for the damages should be the basis of assessment. Although the payment of the docketing fee of P60.00 was found to be insufficient, nevertheless, it was held that since the payment was the result of an "honest difference of opinion as to the correct amount to be paid as docket fee" the court "had acquired jurisdiction over the case and the proceedings thereafter had were proper and regular." 10 Hence, as the amended complaint superseded the original complaint, the allegations of damages in the amended complaint should be the basis of the computation of the filing fee. 11

In the present case no such honest difference of opinion was possible as the allegations of the complaint, the designation and the prayer show clearly that it is an action for damages and specific performance. The docketing fee should be assessed by considering the amount of damages as alleged in the original complaint.

As reiterated in the Magaspi case the rule is well-settled "that a case is deemed filed only upon payment of the docket fee regardless of the actual date of filing in court . 12 Thus, in the present case the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over the case by the payment of only P410.00 as docket fee. Neither can the amendment of the complaint thereby vest jurisdiction upon the Court. 13 For an legal purposes there is no such original complaint that was duly filed which could be amended. Consequently, the order admitting the amended complaint and all subsequent proceedings and actions taken by the trial court are null and void.

The Court of Appeals therefore, aptly ruled in the present case that the basis of assessment of the docket fee should be the amount of damages sought in the original complaint and not in the amended complaint.

The Court cannot close this case without making the observation that it frowns at the practice of counsel who filed the original complaint in this case of omitting any specification of the amount of damages in the prayer although the amount of over P78 million is alleged in the body of the complaint. This is clearly intended for no other purpose than to evade the payment of the correct filing fees if not to mislead the docket clerk in the assessment of the filing fee. This fraudulent practice was compounded when, even as this Court had taken cognizance of the anomaly and ordered an investigation, petitioner through another counsel filed an amended complaint, deleting all mention of the amount of damages being asked for in the body of the complaint. It was only when in obedience to the order of this Court of October 18, 1985, the trial court directed that the amount of damages be specified in the amended complaint, that petitioners' counsel wrote the damages sought in the much reduced amount of P10,000,000.00 in the body of the complaint but not in the prayer thereof. The design to avoid payment of the required docket fee is obvious.

The Court serves warning that it will take drastic action upon a repetition of this unethical practice.

To put a stop to this irregularity, henceforth all complaints, petitions, answers and other similar pleadings should specify the amount of damages being prayed for not only in the body of the pleading but also in the prayer, and said damages shall be considered in the assessment of the filing fees in any case. Any pleading that fails to comply with this requirement shall not bib accepted nor admitted, or shall otherwise be expunged from the record.

The Court acquires jurisdiction over any case only upon the payment of the prescribed docket fee. An amendment of the complaint or similar pleading will not thereby vest jurisdiction in the Court, much less the payment of the docket fee based on the amounts sought in the amended pleading. The ruling in the Magaspi case 14 in so far as it is inconsistent with this pronouncement is overturned and reversed.

WHEREFORE, the motion for reconsideration is denied for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

Teehankee, C.J., Yap, Fernan, Narvasa, Melencio-Herrera, Gutierrez, Jr., Cruz, Paras, Feliciano, Bidin, Sarmiento and Cortes, JJ., concur.

Paras, J., took no part.

 

Footnotes

1 115 SCRA 193.

2 Supra, p. 194.

3 P. 64, Rollo.

4 Magaspi vs. Ramolete, supra, pp. 114-115.

5 Pp. 65-66, Rollo.

6 Magaspi case, supra, p. 194. Pp.

7 121-122, Rollo.

8 Magaspi vs. Ramolete, supra, pp. 199-200.

9 Pp. 201-202, Rollo.

10 Supra, 115 SCRA 204-205.

11 Supra, 115 SCRA 205.

12 Supra,115 SCRA 204, citing Malimit vs. Degamo, G.R.No. L-17850, Nov. 28, 1964, 12 SCRA 450, 120 Phil 1247; Lee vs. Republic, L-15027, Jan 31, 1964, 10 SCRA 65.

13 Gaspar vs. Dorado, L-17884, November 29,1965 15 SCRA 331; Tamayo vs. San Miguel Brewery,G.R.No. L-17449, January 30, 1964; Rosario vs. Carandang, 96 Phil 845; Campos Rueda Corp. vs. Hon. Judge Bautista, et al., G.R. No. L-18452, Sept. 29, 1962

14 Supra.


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