Sep 26, 2021 @ 12:03

SC cautions against misapplication of 2019 Rules to cases filed before effectivity if unfeasible, unjust

The Supreme Court (SC) has urged “utmost caution” in applying the 2019 Amendments to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure to cases filed before its effectivity, as it reversed a trial court order that invoked the new rules to dismiss a complaint motu proprio almost three months after the last answer was filed.

In a 23-page decision on G.R. No. 252467, the SC 2nd Division granted the petition of Frank Colmenar questioning the unfavorable May 22, 2020 order of Trece Martires City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 23 Judge Jean Desuasido-Gill.

The SC stressed that Rule 144 of the 2019 Amendments provides that they govern “all cases filed after their effectivity on May 1, 2020.” It may also apply to “all pending proceedings, except to the extent that in the opinion of the court, their application would not be feasible or would work injustice.”

Colmenar’s complaint for declaration of nullity of deed of extrajudicial settlements of estate and deeds of sale, and cancellation of titles was filed on September 11, 2018. The last of the answers to the complaint was filed by Amaia Land Corporation on February 27, 2020, or more than two months before the 2019 Amendments took effect.

Yet, Judge Gill applied Section 12, Rule 8 of the 2019 Amendments, which provides that the court shall motu proprio resolve affirmative defenses within 30 calendar days from the filing of the answer.

In her order dated May 22, 2020, or almost three months after Amaia filed its answer, she dismissed Colmenar’s complaint against several real estate companies for failure to state a cause of action.

The SC, however, reinstated the complaint against the real estate firms and directed the trial court to resolve the case with utmost dispatch. It noted that Judge Gill should not have applied the new rule, saying it was “no longer feasible” because “the prescribed thirty (30) day period had long expired.”

“But this is not all. The worst part is when Judge Gill ignored the injustice caused by the application of the 2019 Amendments to the case. For as a consequence, petitioner lost his substantial right to be heard on the common affirmative defense,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier.

The SC stressed that Colmenar had the right to be heard on the issue of failure to state a cause of action and to seek reconsideration of the order of dismissal under the 1997 Revised Rules on Civil Procedure.

It also pointed out that it was inaccurate for Judge Gill to say she was acting motu proprio (on her own impulse) on the affirmative defenses, because she already issued a February 12, 2020 order originally denying the motions to dismiss filed by the real estate companies.

Judge Gill, according to the SC, could have simply resolved the pending motions for reconsideration of Amaia, as well as Philippine Estates Corporation and Crisanta Realty Development Corporation, instead of simply dismissing Colmenar’s complaint entirely.

“The 2019 Amendments have been incorporated into the 1997 Revised Rules on Civil Procedure, now known as the 2019 Rules on Civil Procedure. And as with all things new, precedence is generally scarce, hence, its application must be done with utmost caution and in strict adherence to its provisions,” the SC stressed.

Moreover, it turned out that Colmenar’s complaint was able to state a cause of action, after all.

He alleged that he was the legitimate son and lawful heir of Francisco Jesus Colmenar, whose real properties were sold by people who were not his lawful heirs by effecting a void extrajudicial settlement and then a void sale in favor of the real estate companies. The real estate companies, he argued, did not acquire a valid title to the properties.

The SC said the stated cause of action was hinged on whether the sellers of the properties were owners who could convey a valid title to the real estate companies. Thus, the RTC “cannot inject its own theory” regarding the existence of bad faith on the part of real estate companies because this was something that Colmenar would have no personal knowledge about and could not have alleged in his complaint. The SC said this matter should have been raised in a full-blown trial.

“All told, the trial court gravely erred when it held that the complaint failed to state a cause of action against respondent companies, and based thereon, dismissed the complaint against them,” the SC concluded.

Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Associate Justices Mario Lopez, Ricardo Rosario and Jhosep Lopez concurred in the decision. #

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