Boston Equity v. CA (G.R. No. 173946; June 19, 2013)

CASE DIGEST: BOSTON EQUITY RESOURCES, INC., Petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS AND LOLITA G. TOLEDO, Respondents. (G.R. No. 173946; June 19, 2013)

FACTS: In this case, petitioner called the Court’s attention to the fact that respondent’s motion to dismiss questioning the trial court’s jurisdiction was filed more than six years after her amended answer was filed. According to petitioner, respondent had several opportunities, at various stages of the proceedings, to assail the trial court’s jurisdiction but never did so for six straight years. Citing the doctrine laid down in another case, petitioner claimed that respondent’s failure to raise the question of jurisdiction at an earlier stage bars her from later questioning it, especially since she actively participated in the proceedings conducted by the trial court.Petitioner’s argument is misplaced, in that, it failed to consider that the concept of jurisdiction has several aspects, namely: (1) jurisdiction over the subject matter; (2) jurisdiction over the parties; (3) jurisdiction over the issues of the case; and (4) in cases involving property, jurisdiction over the res or the thing which is the subject of the litigation.

The aspect of jurisdiction which may be barred from being assailed as a result of estoppel by laches is jurisdiction over the subject matter. Thus, in the case relied upon by petitioner, the issue involved was the authority of the then Court of First Instance to hear a case for the collection of a sum of money in the amount of 1,908 pesos which amount was, at that time, within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the municipal courts. The jurisdiction of the trial court over the subject matter of the case was likewise the issue in subsequent cases citing that ruling.

For example, in Spouses Gonzaga versus Court of Appeals, the issue for consideration was the authority of the regional trial court to hear and decide an action for reformation of contract and damages involving a subdivision lot, it being argued therein that jurisdiction is vested in the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board pursuant to the Subdivision and Condominium Buyers Protective Decree. Another example is the case of Lee versus Presiding Judge. In that case, petitioners argued that the respondent municipal trial court had no jurisdiction over the complaint for ejectment because the issue of ownership was raised in the pleadings. Finally, in People versus Casuga, accused-appellant claimed that the crime of grave slander, of which she was charged, falls within the concurrent jurisdiction of municipal courts or city courts and the then courts of first instance, and that the judgment of the court of first instance, to which she had appealed the municipal court's conviction, should be deemed null and void for want of jurisdiction as her appeal should have been filed with the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

In all of these cases, the Supreme Court barred the attack on the jurisdiction of the respective courts concerned over the subject matter of the case based on estoppel by laches, declaring that parties cannot be allowed to belatedly adopt an inconsistent posture by attacking the jurisdiction of a court to which they submitted their cause voluntarily.

Here, what respondent was questioning in her motion to dismiss before the trial court was that court’s jurisdiction over the person of defendant. Thus, the principle of estoppel by laches finds no application in this case. Instead, the principles relating to jurisdiction over the person of the parties are pertinent herein.

The Rules of Court provide in Rule 9, Section 1 and Rule 15, Section 8 that defenses and objections not pleaded either in a motion to dismiss or in the answer are deemed waived. However, when it appears from the pleadings or the evidence on record that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter, that there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause, or that the action is barred by a prior judgment or by statute of limitations, the court shall dismiss the claim. Also, subject to the provisions of Section 1 of Rule 9, a motion attacking a pleading, order, judgment, or proceeding shall include all objections then available, and all objections not so included shall be deemed waived.

Based on the foregoing citations, the "objection on jurisdictional grounds which is not waived even if not alleged in a motion to dismiss or the answer is lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.” Lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter can be raised anytime, even for the first time on appeal, since jurisdictional issues cannot be waived. This is subject, however, to the principle of estoppel by laches.

Since the defense of lack of jurisdiction over the person of a party to a case is not one of those defenses which are not deemed waived under Section 1 of Rule 9, such defense must be invoked when an answer or a motion to dismiss is filed in order to prevent a waiver of the defense. If the objection is not raised either in a motion to dismiss or in the answer, the objection to the jurisdiction over the person of the plaintiff or the defendant is deemed waived by virtue of the first sentence of Section 1 of Rule 9 of the Rules of Court.

The Court of Appeals, in this case, therefore, erred when it made a sweeping pronouncement in its questioned decision, stating that any issue on jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of the proceeding, even for the first time on appeal and that, therefore, respondent timely raised the issue in her motion to dismiss and is, consequently, not estopped from raising the question of jurisdiction. As the question of jurisdiction involved here is that over the person of the defendant, the same is deemed waived if not raised in the answer or a motion to dismiss. In any case, respondent cannot claim the defense since "lack of jurisdiction over the person, being subject to waiver, is a personal defense which can only be asserted by the party who can thereby waive it by silence."