You are on page 1of 4

PRIVATE INTERNATIONAL LAW | B2015 CASE DIGESTS

Sps. Belen v. Hon. Chavez


March 26, 2008 Tinga, J. Raeses, Roberto Miguel

attorney-in-fact in a prior civil case filed by him; moreover, the second case was a mere offshoot of the first case. FACTS: Sps. Pacleb [respondents] filed an action for the enforcement of a foreign judgment against Sps. Belen [petitioners] before the RTC of Rosario, Batangas. The complaint alleged that the Sps. Pacleb secured a judgment by default rendered by Judge John W. Green of the Superior Court of the State of California, which ordered the Sps. Belen to pay $56,204.69 representing loan repayment and share in the profits plus interest and costs of suit. The summons was served on the Sps. Belens address in Laguna, as was alleged in the complaint, and received by Marcelo M. Belen. The Sps. Belen filed an answer saying that, contrary to the position of Sps. Pacleb, they were actually residents of California. Furthermore, their liability had already been extinguished via a release of abstract judgment issued in the collection case abroad. Because the Sps. Belen failed to attend the pre-trial conference, the RTC ordered the ex parte presentation of evidence for the Sps. Pacleb. Sps. Belen subsequently filed an MTD, citing the judgment of dismissal issued by the Superior Court of California. The ex parte presentation was then held in abeyance, pending the submission of a copy of the judgment of dismissal. For failure to submit such, the RTC dismissed the MTD. The Sps. Belen tried to have it reinstated by attaching a copy of the said foreign judgment. Sps. Pacleb, for their part, filed for the amendment of the complaint, stating that they withdrew the complaint because of the prohibitive cost of litigation. The Sps. Belens answer to the amended complaint cited lack of cause of action, res judicata, and lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter and the over the persons of the defendants considering that an entirely new cause of action had been raised. For failure of Sps. Belen to appear in the rescheduled pre-trial conference, the RTC declared them in default and allowed the presentation of ex parte evidence. In the meantime, the counsel of Sps. Belen died without the RTC being informed of such fact. The RTC

SUMMARY: Sps. Pacleb filed an action for enforcement of a foreign judgment against Sps. Belen. The summons was served on the Sps. Belens purported address in Laguna. Because the Sps. Belen failed to show up at the pre-trial conference, the RTC allowed ex-parte presentation of evidence. Sps. Belen subsequently filed an MTD, citing dismissal of the foreign case. For failure to present a copy of the judgment of dismissal, the MTD was dismissed. Sps. Pacleb amended the complaint, saying that they withdrew the complaint abroad because of prohibitive costs of litigation. Sps. Belen again failed to appear in the rescheduled pre-trial conference, which prompted the RTC to declare them in default and allowed the ex-parte presentation of evidence. In the meantine, Atty. Alcantara, the counsel for Sps Belen, died without the RTC being informed of such fact. The RTC ruled in favor of Sps. Pacleb. A copy of the decision was sent to Atty. Alcantara, but was returned with the notation Addressee Deceased. A copy of the same was then sent to the last known address of the Sps. Belen in Laguna. Atty. Culvera, the new counsel of Sps. Belen, filed a motion to quash the writ of execution as well as a notice of appeal. The RTC denied such, as well as his MR. The CA also ruled against Sps. Belen. The SC sided with Sps. Belen, saying that, despite the fact that the court acquired jurisdiction over theSps. Belen, there was a defective service of the copy of the RTC decision. DOCTRINE: In an action in personam wherein the defendant is a nonresident who does not voluntarily submit himself to the authority of the court, personal service of summons within the state is essential to the acquisition of jurisdiction over her person. This method of service is possible if such defendant is physically present in the country. If he is not found therein, the court cannot acquire jurisdiction over his person and therefore cannot validly try and decide the case against him. An exception was laid down in Gemperle v. Schenker wherein a non-resident was served with summons through his wife, who was a resident of the Philippines and who was his representative and

PRIVATE INTERNATIONAL LAW | B2015 CASE DIGESTS

subsequently rendered a decision in favor of Sps. Pacleb, ordering the Sps. Belen to pay. A copy of the RTC decision for the original counsel of Sps. Belen, Atty. Alcantara, was returned with the notation Addressee Deceased. A copy of the same was then sent to the address of Sps. Belen in Laguna. Immediately after the promulgation of the RTC decision, Sps. Pacleb filed an ex-parte motion for preliminary attachment which was granted, after which they sought the execution of the RTC decision. The RTC then directed the issuance of the writ of execution, which was followed by levying of the properties and scheduling of a public auction. Atty. Culvera, as the new counsel of Sps. Belen, filed a motion to quash the writ of execution, before filing a notice of appeal from the RTC decision on the ground that he received the decision on December 29, 2003. The RTC denied such motion, as well as the subsequent MR. The Sps. Belen filed a Rule 65 petition before the CA, imputing GAD in: (1) Rendering its decision although it had not yet acquired jurisdiction over their persons in view of the improper service of summons; (2) In considering the decision final and executory although a copy thereof had not been properly served upon petitioners; (3) In issuing the writ of execution before the decision had become final and executory and despite private respondents failure to comply with the procedural requirements in filing the motion for the issuance of the said writ; and (4) In denying petitioners motion to quash the writ of execution and notice of appeal despite sufficient legal bases in support thereof. The CA dismissed the petition, as well as the MR. ISSUES: (1) WON he RTC acquired jurisdiction over the persons of petitioners through either the proper service of summons or the appearance of the late Atty. Alcantara on behalf of Sps. Belen [petitioners]. (2) WON there was a valid service of the copy of the RTC decision on petitioners.

RULING: (1) Yes, the appearance of of Atty. Alcantara and his filing of numerous pleadings were sufficient to vest jurisdiction over the persons of petitioners. Through certain acts, Atty. Alcantara was impliedly authorized by petitioners to appear on their behalf. (2) No, there was no such valid service. RATIO: (1) Courts acquire jurisdiction over the plaintiffs upon the filing of the complaint. On the other hand, jurisdiction over the defendants in a civil case is acquired either through the service of summons upon them or through their voluntary appearance in court and their submission to its authority. As a rule, if defendants have not been summoned, the court acquires no jurisdiction over their person, and a judgment rendered against them is null and void. To be bound by a decision, a party should first be subject to the courts jurisdiction. Asiavest Limited v. CA showed the importance of determining whether an action is in personam, in rem or quasi in rem because the rules on service of summons under Rule 14 of the RoC apply according to the nature of the action:
However, in an action in personam wherein the defendant is a nonresident who does not voluntarily submit himself to the authority of the court, personal service of summons within the state is essential to the acquisition of jurisdiction over her person. This method of service is possible if such defendant is physically present in the country. If he is not found therein, the court cannot acquire jurisdiction over his person and therefore cannot validly try and decide the case against him. An exception was laid down in Gemperle v. Schenker wherein a non-resident was served with summons through his wife, who was a resident of the Philippines and who was his representative and attorney-in-fact in a prior civil case filed by him; moreover, the second case was a mere offshoot of the first case.

The action filed against Sps. Belen, prior to the amendment of the complaint, is for the enforcement of a foreign judgment in a complaint for breach of contract whereby petitioners were ordered to pay private

PRIVATE INTERNATIONAL LAW | B2015 CASE DIGESTS

respondents the monetary award. It is in the nature of an action in personam because Sps. Pacleb are suing to enforce their personal rights under said judgment. In an action in personam, jurisdiction over the person of the defendant who does not voluntarily submit himself to the authority of the court is necessary for the court to validly try and decide the case through personal service or, if this is not possible and he cannot be personally served, substituted service as provided in Rule 14, Sections 6-7. In an action strictly in personam, personal service on the defendant is the preferred mode of service, that is, by handing a copy of the summons to the defendant in person. If the defendant, for justifiable reasons, cannot be served with the summons within a reasonable period, then substituted service can be resorted to. While substituted service of summons is permitted, it is extraordinary in character and in derogation of the usual method of service. If defendant cannot be served with summons because he is temporarily abroad, but otherwise he is a Philippine resident, service of summons may, by leave of court, be effected out of the Philippines under Rule 14, Section 15. In all of these cases, it should be noted, defendant must be a resident of the Philippines, otherwise an action in persona cannot be brought because jurisdiction over his person is essential to make a binding decision. However, the records of the case reveal that Sps. Belen were permanent residents of California. It has been consistently maintained that they were not physically resent in the Philippines. Therefore, the service of summons on the Sps. Belens address in Laguna was defective and did not serve to vest in court jurisdiction over their person. Nevertheless, the CA correctly concluded that tehe appearance of Atty. Alcantara and his filing of numerous pleadings were sufficient to vest such jurisdiction. By supplying the court with various documents that could only have been supplied by Sps. Belen, implied authorization could be gleaned from such. In sum , there was voluntary submission to the jurisdiction of the RTC.

(2) The CA concluded that service of a copy of the RTC decision to a certain Teodoro Abecilla is the proper reckoning point in determining when the RTC decision became final and executor. The CA claimed that Abecilla acted as the agent of Sps. Belen when he received such copy. Sps. Pacleb also contend that the service of the copy on Atty. Alcantara, despite his death, was valid. On the other hand, Sps. Belen reiterate that they are residents of California, U.S.A. and thus, the service of the RTC decision of a residence which is not theirs is not proper. As a general rule, when a party is represented by counsel of record, service of orders and notices must be made upon said attorney and notice to the client and to any other lawyer, not the counsel of record, is not notice in law. The exception to this rule is when service upon the party himself has been ordered by the court. In cases where service was made on the counsel of record at his given address, notice sent to petitioner itself is not even necessary. Rule 13 of the Rules of Court define the proper modes of service of judgments. The copy of the RTC decision was sent first to Atty. Alcantara. However, because of his death, it was sent to the last konown address of Sps. Belen in Laguna and received by Leopoldo Avecilla. With the death of Alcantara, the lawyer-client relationship had ceased to exist. Therefore, service on him is ineffective. The subsequent service on the last known address of Sps. Belen by registered mail is defective because, contrary to Sec. 7 of the RoC which contemplates present address, the decision was served at the former address of the Sps. Belen. Furthermore, service by registered mail presupposes that the present address of the party is known and if the person who receives the same is not the addressee, he must be duly authorized by the former to receive the paper on behalf of the party. The service of the RTC decision at their former address in Alaminos, Laguna is defective and does not bind petitioners. In view of the foregoing, the running of the fifteen-day period for appeal did not commence upon the service of the RTC decision at the address on record of Atty. Alcantara or at the Laguna address. It is deemed served on petitioners only upon its receipt by Atty. Culvera on

PRIVATE INTERNATIONAL LAW | B2015 CASE DIGESTS

29 December 2003. Therefore, the filing of the Notice of Appeal on 06 January 2004 is within the reglementary period and should be given due course. DISPOSITIVE: WHEREFORE, the instant petition for review on certiorari is GRANTED and the Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 88731 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, the orders dated 7 July 2004 and 2 February 2005 of the Regional Trial Court of Rosario. Batangas, Branch 87 are SET ASIDE. The RTC is also ordered to GIVE DUE COURSE to the Notice of Appeal filed by Atty. Culvera on 06 January 2004 . Costs against private respondents.