Diamond Taxi v. Llamas, Jr. (G.R. No. 190724; March 12, 2014)

FACTS: Respondent Llamas, a taxi driver for petitioner Diamond Taxi (owned and operated by Petitioner Bryan Ong), filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against petitioner before the Labor Arbiter. Denying the charge against them, petitioners alleged that respondent has been absent without official leave for several days from July 14, 2005 until August 1, 2005. They submitted a copy of the attendance logbook showing that respondent has been absent on the said dates. They claimed that respondent has violated several traffic regulations in the years of 2000-2005 and that they issued to him several memoranda for insubordination and refusal to heed management instructions. They further claimed that the aforementioned acts constituted as grounds for the termination of Llamas Employment.Llamas failed to seasonably file his position paper. Hence, the Labor Arbiter dismissed respondent complaint for lack of merit. Respondent filed his position paper and claimed that he failed to seasonably file his position paper because his previous counsel, despite his repeated pleas, had continuously deferred compliance with the LA orders for its submission. Hence, he was forced to secure the services of another counsel in order to comply with the LA directive.

In his position paper, Llamas alleged that he had a misunderstanding with Aljuver Ong, Bryan brother and operations manager of Diamond Taxi, on July 13, 2005. He reported for work on July 14, 2005 but Bryan refused to give him the key to his assigned taxi cab unless he would sign a prepared resignation letter. He did not sign the resignation letter. He reported for work again on July 15 and 16, 2005, but Bryan insisted that he sign the resignation letter prior to the release of the key to his assigned taxi cab. Hence, the filing of the illegal dismissal complaint.

Llamas filed before the LA a motion for reconsideration of its decision dismissing his complaint. The LA treated Llamas Motion as an appeal. The NLRC dismissed for non-perfection Llamas Motion. It pointed out that Llamas failed to attach the required certification of non-forum shopping per Section 4, Rule VI of the 2005 NLRC Rules. Llamas moved to reconsider NLRC resolution and attached the required certification of non-forum shopping in his motion but the same was denied which impelled Llamas to file a petition for certiorari before the CA.

The CA reversed and set aside the assailed NLRC resolution and ruled that the NLRC had acted with grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed Llamas' appeal purely on a technicality. The CA ruled further that petitioners failed to prove overt acts showing Llamas' clear intention to abandon his job. It was found, however, that petitioners placed Llamas in a situation where he was forced to quit as his continued employment has been rendered impossible, unreasonable or unlikely, i.e., making him sign a resignation letter as a precondition for giving him the key to his assigned taxi cab. These acts amounted to constructive dismissal. The CA additionally noted that Llamas immediately filed the illegal dismissal case that proved his desire to return to work and negates the charge of abandonment.

ISSUES: [1] Whether or not the CA encroached on the NLRC exclusive jurisdiction to review the merits of the LA decision?
[2] Whether or not the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing Llamas' appeal on mere technicality?
[3] Whether or not Llamas abandoned his work?

HELD: The Court found no error in the course that the CA took in resolving Llamas' petition for certiorari. The CA may resolve factual issues by express legal mandate and pursuant to its equity jurisdiction.

The CA, in labor cases elevated to it via petition for certiorari, can grant prerogative writs when it finds that the NLRC acted with grave abuse of discretion in arriving at its factual conclusions. To make this finding, the CA necessarily has to view the evidence if only to determine if the NLRC ruling had basis in evidence. It is in the sense and manner that the CA, in a Rule 65 certiorari petition before it, had to determine whether grave abuse of discretion on factual issues attended the NLRC dismissal of Llamas' appeal.

Dismissal of an appeal based on mere technicalities inconsistent to the constitutional mandate to protect labor

The Court agreed with the CA in ruling that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing Llamas' appeal.

Article 227 of the Labor Code mandates that the Commission and its members and the Labor Arbiters shall use every and all reasonable means to ascertain the facts in each case speedily and objectively and without regard to technicalities of law or procedure, all in the interest of due process. A strict and rigid application, which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice, should not be allowed.

The CA correctly regarded the respondent as constructively dismissed. Constructive dismissal exists when there is cessation of work because continued employment is rendered impossible, unreasonable or unlikely.

Petitioners failed to establish the alleged abandonment of respondent. Mere absence of the employee does not constitute abandonment. It was pointed out by the CA that Llamas filed the complaint two days from the third time he was refused access to his assigned taxi cab. Respondent could not be deemed to have abandoned his work.

Samarca v. Arc-Men Industries, Inc., 459 Phil. 506 laid down the elements of abandonment: 1) x x x the employee must have failed to report for work or must have been absent without valid or justifiable reason; and (2) x x x there must have been a clear intention [on the part of the employee] to sever the employer-employee relationship manifested by some overt act. DENIED.

Project Jurisprudence is connected with the following:

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/projectjuris/
Twitter page: https://twitter.com/projectjuris
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQnK7a9MCpNGbBsBDel3alA
Another YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-Bd7nvmurwtJYmeBdP9QiA