Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 192737 April 25, 2012
NEMIA CASTRO, Petitioner,
ROSALYN GUEVARRA AND JAMIR GUEVARRA, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for review on certiorari with prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order, seeking to reverse and set aside the April 26, 2010 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 99763 and its June 29, 2010 Resolution,2 denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration.
The case stems from a complaint for cancellation and/or discharge of check and defamation/slander with damages filed by petitioner Nemia Castro (Castro) against respondents, spouses Rosalyn and Jamir Guevarra (Spouses Guevarra), before the Regional Trial Court of Dasmariñas, Cavite, Branch 90 (RTC–Br. 90), and docketed therein as Civil Case No. 2187-00. Castro sought the cancellation of her undated Far East Bank and Trust Company (FEBTC) Check No. 0133501 in the amount of ₱ 1,862,000.00, contending that the total obligation for which said check was issued had already been fully paid. Moreover, she prayed that FEBTC Check Nos. 0133574 and 0133575 be declared as without value; that Rosalyn Guevarra (Rosalyn) be ordered to return her excess payments totaling ₱ 477,257.00, plus interest; and that she (Castro) be awarded exemplary damages, moral damages and attorney’s fees.
In their answer with counterclaim, Spouses Guevarra claimed that there was no legal or factual basis to merit the discharge and cancellation of FEBTC Check No. 0133501. They stressed that the total partial payment made by Castro only amounted to ₱ 230,000.00, leaving an unpaid balance of ₱ 1,632,000.00.3
During the trial, Castro testified that pursuant to their rediscounting of check business arrangement, Rosalyn lent her cash of ₱ 1,362,000.00, which amount, they agreed, was to earn interest in the amount of ₱ 500,000.00. In turn, Castro issued to Rosalyn FEBTC Check No. 0133501 with a face value of ₱ 1,862,000.00. Later, Castro issued several postdated checks in favor of Rosalyn, representing installment payments on the amount covered by the subject check, which the latter subsequently encashed.
Sometime thereafter, Castro discovered that she had already settled the total obligation of ₱ 1,862,000.00 in full and had, in fact, overpaid. For said reason, Castro wrote a letter to Rosalyn informing the latter of her intention to order a "stop payment" of the postdated checks. On April 10, 2000, Castro instructed FEBTC to stop the payment of FEBTC Check No. 0133501. She later learned from the bank that the subject check dated July 15, 2000 had been deposited on September 19, 2000.
To substantiate her allegation of full payment, Castro presented as evidence FEBTC Check No. 0123739 encashed by Jamir Guevarra with the notation "Final Payment for Check No. 186A0133501" at the dorsal portion of the checks. On January 21, 2003, she made her formal offer of evidence. The evidence offered was admitted by RTC-Br. 90 in an Order dated February 10, 2003.
After Castro rested her case, Spouses Guevarra started presenting their documentary evidence to disprove the claim of full settlement of FEBTC Check No. 0133501. They also presented their witnesses: Olivia F. Yambao, representative of the Bank of the Philippine Islands, Nueno Ave., Imus Branch (formerly FEBTC); and Nenita M. Florido.
Records show that in the course of the presentation of their evidence, Atty. Ernesto R. Alejandro (Atty. Alejandro), counsel for the Spouses Guevarra, requested the issuance of a subpoena duces tecum and ad testificandum requiring the bank manager of FEBTC, Nueno Ave., Imus, Cavite Branch to produce the microfilm of FEBTC Check No. 186A0123739 and to testify thereon. According to Atty. Alejandro, this piece of evidence would prove that the words "Final Payment for Check No. 186A0133501" had been written at the dorsal portion of the check only after its encashment.4
Judge Dolores Español (Judge Español), then presiding judge of RTC- Br. 90, denied Atty. Alejandro’s request in an order dated September 12, 2003, reasoning out that Castro had already been extensively cross-examined by him on matters relative to FEBTC Check No. 0133501. Spouses Guevarra moved for reconsideration but their motion was denied by the trial court in an order dated October 6, 2003. Spouses Guevarra, thus, filed a petition for certiorari with prayer for temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or writ of injunction with the CA, which case was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 80561.5
Meanwhile, Spouses Guevarra moved for the resetting of the October 30, 2003 hearing to another date. On November 6, 2003, RTC-Br. 90 issued an order denying this request and, instead, declared Spouses Guevarra to have waived the further presentation of their evidence and directed them to submit their formal offer of evidence. The respondent spouses moved for the reconsideration of the November 6, 2003 Order. The said motion was denied in an order dated November 28, 2003. In the same order, the case was deemed submitted for decision.6 Spouses Guevarra filed their motion to defer action on December 15, 2003, but the same was likewise denied, considering that no TRO or preliminary injunction was issued by the CA enjoining Judge Español from further proceeding with the case.
Thereafter, RTC-Br. 90 rendered its Decision dated December 22, 2003 in favor of Castro, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of plaintiff and against defendants Rosalyn Guevarra and Jamir Guevarra ordering the discharge of Far East Bank and Trust Co. (FEBTC) Check No. 0070789 and its replacement FEBTC Check No. 0133501, which, defendant subsequently affixed the date July 15, 2000 thereto, both in the amount of ₱ 1,862,000.00, the same are hereby cancelled if not returned to the plaintiff. Further, FEBTC Check Nos. 0133574 and 0133575 dated March 24, 2000 and March 30, 2000, respectively, each in the amount of ₱ 10,000.00 are also hereby declared as without value. Likewise, the defendants are ordered to return to the plaintiff the amount of ₱ 477,257.00 representing the excess payment made by plaintiff plus legal interest of 12% per annum, from the filing of this complaint until fully paid. Further, defendants are ordered to pay plaintiff moral damages of ₱ 400,000.00, exemplary damages of ₱ 100,000.00, attorney’s fees of ₱ 200,000.00, and the costs of suit.
Furthermore, for lack of factual and legal basis, Criminal Case No. 8624-01, entitled People of the Philippines vs. Nemia Castro, for Estafa under Article 315 (2-d), RPC in Relation to PD 818, is hereby DISMISSED. Thus, the Clerk of Court is directed to furnish the Municipal Trial Court of Imus, Cavite, with the copy of this Decision for its information and guidance with regard to the Criminal Cases involving FEBTC Check Nos. 0133574 and 0133575 pending before the said Court.
On January 26, 2004, Spouses Guevarra filed a motion for reconsideration8 assailing the validity of the decision on the ground that it was promulgated after the retirement of Judge Español from the service. They added that the decision was contrary to law and the facts of the case, and that they were denied the right to present evidence.
On January 28, 2004, Spouses Guevarra filed their motion to re-raffle the case,9 which was granted on even date by Judge Norberto Quisumbing, Jr., Executive Judge of the RTC, Imus, Cavite.10 Subsequently, Civil Case No. 2187-00 was raffled to RTC, Branch 22 (RTC- Br. 22), presided by Judge Cesar Mangrobang (Judge Mangrobang).
Meanwhile, on February 18, 2004, the CA issued its Resolution,11 in CA-G.R. SP No. 80561, denying the application of Spouses Guevarra for the issuance of a TRO.
Resolving the Motion to Defer Action and the Motion for Reconsideration of Spouses Guevarra, RTC-Br. 22 issued its Omnibus Order12 dated December 15, 2004 granting the motion, thus, setting aside the RTC-Br. 90 December 22, 2003 Decision on the ground that it was promulgated after Judge Español retired from the service, holding in abeyance the further proceedings in the case. The decretal portion of the Omnibus Order states:
WHEREFORE, for being meritorious, defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration is hereby granted, and the Court’s decision dated December 22, 2003 is hereby reconsidered and set aside.
Further, in order not to intricate matters in this case considering that a Petition for Certiorari had been filed by the defendants before the Honorable Court of Appeals, let the proceedings of this case be held in abeyance until after the Court of Appeals shall have ruled on the pending petition.
On July 20, 2006, the CA promulgated its Decision14 in CA-G.R. No. 80561, dismissing the petition for certiorari. The CA held that the issues raised therein had become moot and academic because of the rendition by RTC- Br. 90 of its December 22, 2003 judgment in Civil Case No. 2187-00.
On October 20, 2006, Spouses Guevarra filed a motion15 before RTC- Br. 22, praying for the revival of the proceedings and/or new trial to enable them to complete their presentation of evidence by submitting alleged newly discovered evidence which could disprove Castro’s claims. On March 23, 2007, Judge Mangrobang issued the questioned Order16 and disposed of the incident in this wise:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, Defendants’ Motion to Revive Proceedings and/or New Trial is hereby granted.
Hence, the new trial of this case is hereby set on April 27, 2007 at 8:30 in the morning.
Aggrieved, Castro filed a petition for certiorari18 with prayer for TRO before the CA, assailing the March 23, 2007 Order of RTC-Br. 22 and collaterally attacking its December 15, 2006 Omnibus Order. She argued that Judge Mangrobang committed grave abuse of discretion in declaring the December 22, 2003 Decision as null and void and granting the motion of Spouses Guevarra for a new trial in Civil Case No. 2187-00.
On April 26, 2010, the CA denied the above petition. It opined that the petition should have been dismissed outright for failure of Castro to file a motion for reconsideration of the assailed Order. The CA also held that the issuance of the March 23, 2007 Order was not tainted with grave abuse of discretion, as Judge Mangrobang acted within the bounds of his authority and in the exercise of his sound discretion. The fallo of said decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is DENIED. The assailed Order of the RTC, Branch 22 of Imus, Cavite dated March 23, 2007 is AFFIRMED.19
Castro’s motion for reconsideration was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated June 29, 2010.
Undaunted, Castro filed the present petition for review on certiorari before this Court and raised the following issues:
a) Whether a Motion for Reconsideration is required before filing a Petition for Certiorari under the circumstances of this case;
b) Whether the Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion in denying the Petition for Certiorari for lack of a Motion for Reconsideration of the December 15, 2004 Omnibus Order issued by the Presiding Judge, Branch 22, RTC, Imus, Cavite;
c) Whether the service or mailing of copies of a judgment to the parties in a case is required in the promulgation of a judgment;
d) Whether the December 22, 2003 Decision of Branch 90, RTC, Dasmariñas, Cavite is a void judgment;
e) Whether the Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion in denying the Petition for Certiorari in ruling that the Presiding Judge of Branch 22, RTC, Imus, Cavite did not abuse his discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in issuing the March 23, 2007 Order.20
On November 15, 2010, the Court issued a resolution21 denying Castro’s application for the issuance of a TRO and/or writ of preliminary injunction.
A careful perusal of the pleadings filed by the parties leads the Court to conclude that this case revolves around the following core issues:
1) Whether RTC- Br. 22 had the authority to pass upon and resolve the motion for reconsideration of the December 22, 2003 Decision of RTC- Br. 90 and all subsequent matters submitted to it in Civil Case No. 2187-00;
2) Whether a motion for reconsideration is required before the filing of a petition for certiorari under the circumstances of the case at bench; and
3) Whether RTC-Br. 22 erred in granting a new trial of the case.
In her petition, Castro takes exception to the general rule which requires a motion for reconsideration prior to the institution of a petition for certiorari. She argues that the December 15, 2004 Omnibus Order and the March 23, 2007 Order were both patently void. She further questions the authority of Judge Mangrobang to assume and take over Civil Case No. 2187-00 and to set aside the December 22, 2003 ponencia of Judge Español. She claims that such acts constitute an encroachment on the adjudicatory prerogative of a co-equal court. She posits that all subsequent proceedings and orders issued by Judge Mangrobang were void by reason of this undue interference of one branch in another’s case. Lastly, she insists that the December 22, 2003 Decision of Judge Español was filed with the Clerk of Court before she retired and, thus, was valid.
The Court’s Ruling
A case, once raffled to a branch, belongs to that branch unless re-raffled or otherwise transferred to another branch in accordance with established procedure.22 The primary responsibility over the case belongs to the presiding judge of the branch to which it has been raffled/re-raffled or assigned.
The records bear out that on January 26, 2004, Spouses Guevarra filed a motion for reconsideration of the December 22, 2003 Decision and two days later, moved for a re-raffle of Civil Case No. 2187-00, allegedly to ensure the early resolution of the motion as there was no certainty as to when a new judge would be appointed to replace Judge Español. The motion to re-raffle was granted by the Executive Judge on January 28, 2004. Civil Case No. 2187-00 was later raffled to RTC-Br. 22, presided by Judge Mangrobang. In the absence of clear and convincing proof that irregularity and manipulation attended the re-raffle of Civil Case No. 2187-00, the Court holds that said civil case was properly assigned and transferred to RTC- Br. 22, vesting Judge Mangrobang with the authority and competency to take cognizance, and to dispose, of the case and all pending incidents, such as Spouses Guevarra’s motion for reconsideration of the December 22, 2003 Decision.
It bears to stress that while the RTC is divided into several branches, each of the branches is not a court distinct and separate from the others.23 Jurisdiction is vested in the court, not in the judge, so that when a complaint is filed before one branch or judge, jurisdiction does not attach to the said branch of the judge alone, to the exclusion of others.24 Succinctly, jurisdiction over Civil Case No. 2187-00 does not pertain solely to Branch 90 but to all the branches of the RTC, Cavite, including Branch 22 to where the case was subsequently re-raffled. The continuity of the court and the efficacy of its proceedings are not affected by the death, retirement or cessation from service of the judge presiding over it.25 Evidently, the argument, that the December 15, 2004 Omnibus Order and all orders subsequently issued by Judge Mangrobang were invalid for want of jurisdiction because of alleged undue interference by one branch over another, holds no water.
At any rate, it is too late in the day for Castro to question the soundness and legality of the December 15, 2004 Omnibus Order, which has already attained finality.
The Court notes that Castro never questioned the said Omnibus Order at the first opportunity by filing a motion for reconsideration within fifteen (15) days from receipt of a copy thereof. Neither did she elevate it to the CA via a petition for certiorari within sixty (60) days from notice of said Order, pursuant to Section 4 of Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. Castro kept her silence on the matter, indicating that she slept on her rights. Her failure to seasonably avail of these remedies effectively closed the door for a possible reconsideration or reversal of the subject Omnibus Order. Thus, if there was indeed error in the disposition of Spouses Guevarra’s motion for reconsideration of the December 22, 2003 Decision, Castro was not entirely without blame.
Anent the issue of whether the non-filing by Castro of a motion for reconsideration of the March 23, 2007 Order is fatal to her petition for certiorari, the Court finds in the negative.
A motion for reconsideration is a condition precedent to the filing of a petition for certiorari. However, the Court has recognized exceptions to the requirement, such as: (a) when it is necessary to prevent irreparable damages and injury to a party; (b) where the trial judge capriciously and whimsically exercised his judgment; (c) where there may be danger of a failure of justice; (d) where an appeal would be slow, inadequate, and insufficient; (e) where the issue raised is one purely of law; (f) where public interest is involved; and (g) in case of urgency.26 The circumstances obtaining in this case definitely placed Castro's recourse under most of the above exceptions particularly because Judge Mangrobang ordered a new trial in the March 23, 2007 Order.27
The Court deems the grant of new trial without legal basis. Sections 1 and 6 of Rule 37 of the Rules of Court read:
SECTION 1. Grounds of and period for filing motion for new trial. – Within the period for taking an appeal, the aggrieved party may move the trial court to set aside the judgment or final order and grant a new trial for one or more of the following causes materially affecting the substantial rights of said party:
x x x x x x x x x
(b) Newly discovered evidence, which he could not, with reasonable diligence, have discovered and produced at the trial and which if presented would probably alter the result.
x x x x x x x x x
SEC. 6. Effect of granting of motion for new trial. – If a new trial is granted in accordance with the provisions of this Rule, the original judgment or final order shall be vacated, and the action shall stand for trial de novo xxxx.
New trial is a remedy that seeks to temper the severity of a judgment or prevent the failure of justice.28 The effect of an order granting a new trial is to wipe out the previous adjudication so that the case may be tried de novo for the purpose of rendering a judgment in accordance with law, taking into consideration the evidence to be presented during the second trial. Consequently, a motion for new trial is proper only after the rendition or promulgation of a judgment or issuance of a final order. A motion for new trial is only available when relief is sought against a judgment and the judgment is not yet final.29 Verily, in the case at bench, the filing by Spouses Guevarra of a motion for new trial was premature and uncalled for because a decision has yet to be rendered by the trial court in Civil Case No. 2187-00. Let it be underscored that the December 22, 2003 Decision of Judge Español was effectively set aside by the December 15, 2004 Omnibus Order of Judge Mangrobang. Hence, there is technically no judgment which can be the subject of a motion for new trial.1âwphi1
At any rate, in the interest of justice, the Court deems it fair and equitable to allow Spouses Guevarra to adduce evidence in Civil Case No. 2187-00 before RTC- Br. 22. Note that what was granted by the March 23, 2007 Order of the RTC was respondents’ motion which prayed, as principal relief, the revival of the proceedings and the grant of new trial only as an alternative. This is in consonance with the policy of the Court to afford party-litigants the amplest opportunity to enable them to have their causes justly determined, free from the constraints of technicalities.30 After all, it is but proper that the judge’s mind be satisfied as to any and all questions presented during the trial in order to serve the cause of justice.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Regional Trial Court of Imus, Cavite, Branch 22, is ordered to proceed with the case and to allow the respondents, Rosalyn Guevarra and Jamir Guevarra, to continue their presentation of evidence and thereafter make their formal offer. If no rebuttal evidence will be presented, the trial court shall proceed to decide the case on the merits.
JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
|DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
|ROBERTO A. ABAD
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
Chairperson, Third Division
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
RENATO C. CORONA
1 Penned by Associate Justice Antonio L. Villamor with Associate Justice Jose C. Reyes, Jr. and Associate Justice Rodil V. Zalameda, concurring; rollo, pp. 26-39.
2 Id. at 40-41.
3 Id. at 57-58.
4 Id. at 59-63.
5 Id. at 104.
6 Id. at 105.
7 Id. at 64-65.
8 Id. at 66-82.
9 Id. at 84-86.
10 Id. at 87.
11 Id. at 49-50.
12 Id. at 43-48.
13 Id. at 47-48.
14 Id. at 51-55.
15 Id. at 154-157.
16 Id. at 88-92.
17 Id. at 92.
18 Id. at 100-125.
19 Id. at 38.
20 Id. at 10-11.
21 Id. at 234.
22 Re: Cases Left Undecided by Judge Sergio D. Mabunay, RTC, Branch 24, Manila, 354 Phil. 698, 704 (1998).
23 ABC Davao Auto Supply, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 348 Phil. 240, 245 (1998).
24 People v. CFI of Quezon City, Br. X, G.R. No. 48817, October 29, 1993, 227 SCRA 457, 461.
25 ABC Davao Auto Supply, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, supra note 23 at 246.
26 Garrido v. Tortogo, G.R. No. 156358, August 17, 2011.
27 Rollo, p. 92
28 Jose v. Court of Appeals, 162 Phil. 364, 376 (1976).
29 Samonte v. Samonte, 159-A Phil. 777, 786 (1975).
30 Spouses Leyba v. Rural Bank of Cabuyao, Inc., G.R. No. 172910, November 14, 2008, 571 SCRA 160, 163.
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