Tiu v. Platinum Plans Phil. (G.R. No. 163512; February 28, 2007)

CASE DIGEST: CASE DIGEST: DAISY B. TIU, Petitioner vs. PLATINUM PLANS PHIL., INC., Respondent. (G.R. No. 163512; February 28, 2007)

FACTS: This case describes, in a broad sense, the historical development, including an illustration, of the legal implications and complications of a non-compete clause. In this case, the non-compete clause in the employment contract provides:

8. NON INVOLVEMENT PROVISION – The EMPLOYEE further undertakes that during his/her engagement with EMPLOYER and in case of separation from the Company, whether voluntary or for cause, he/she shall not, for the next TWO (2) years thereafter, engage in or be involved with any corporation, association or entity, whether directly or indirectly, engaged in the same business or belonging to the same pre-need industry as the EMPLOYER. Any breach of the foregoing provision shall render the EMPLOYEE liable to the EMPLOYER in the amount of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00) for and as liquidated damages.

Since the first of January in 1993, petitioner Tiu had worked for respondent Platinum as Senior Assistant Vice-President and Territorial Operations Head in charge of its Hongkong and Asean operations under a 5-year contract of employment containing the afore-quoted clause. On the sixteenth of September 1995, petitioner no longer reported for work.

In November 1995, she became the Vice-President for Sales of Professional Pension Plans, Inc. , a corporation engaged also in the pre-need industry. Consequently, respondent sued petitioner for damages before the RTC of Pasig City. Respondent alleged, among others, that petitioner’s employment with Professional Pension Plans, Inc. violated the above-quoted non-involvement clause in her contract of employment. Respondent thus prayed for P100,000 as compensatory damages;P200,000 as moral damages; P100,000 as exemplary damages; and 25% of the total amount due plus P1,000 per counsel’s court appearance, as attorney’s fees.

Petitioner countered that the non-involvement clause was unenforceable for being against public order or public policy: First, the restraint imposed was much greater than what was necessary to afford respondent a fair and reasonable protection. Petitioner contended that the transfer to a rival company was an accepted practice in the pre-need industry. Since the products sold by the companies were more or less the same, there was nothing peculiar or unique to protect.Second, respondent did not invest in petitioner’s training or improvement. At the time petitioner was recruited, she already possessed the knowledge and expertise required in the pre-need industry and respondent benefited tremendously from it. Third, a strict application of the non-involvement clause would amount to a deprivation of petitioner’s right to engage in the only work she knew.

In upholding the validity of the non-involvement clause, the trial court ruled that a contract in restraint of trade is valid provided that there is a limitation upon either time or place. In the case of the pre-need industry, the trial court found the two-year restriction to be valid and reasonable.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling. It reasoned that petitioner entered into the contract on her own will and volition. Thus, she bound herself to fulfill not only what was expressly stipulated in the contract, but also all its consequences that were not against good faith, usage, and law. The appellate court also ruled that the stipulation prohibiting non-employment for two years was valid and enforceable considering the nature of respondent’s business.
HELD: In affirming the validity of the Non-Involvement Clause, the Supreme Court ratiocinated as follows:

“Petitioner avers that the non-involvement clause is offensive to public policy since the restraint imposed is much greater than what is necessary to afford respondent a fair and reasonable protection. She adds that since the products sold in the pre-need industry are more or less the same, the transfer to a rival company is acceptable. Petitioner also points out that respondent did not invest in her training or improvement. At the time she joined respondent, she already had the knowledge and expertise required in the pre-need industry. Finally, petitioner argues that a strict application of the non-involvement clause would deprive her of the right to engage in the only work she knows.

“Respondent counters that the validity of a non-involvement clause has been sustained by the Supreme Court in a long line of cases. It contends that the inclusion of the two-year non-involvement clause in petitioner’s contract of employment was reasonable and needed since her job gave her access to the company’s confidential marketing strategies. Respondent adds that the non-involvement clause merely enjoined her from engaging in pre-need business akin to respondent’s within two years from petitioner’s separation from respondent. She had not been prohibited from marketing other service plans.

“As early as 1916, we already had the occasion to discuss the validity of a non-involvement clause. In Ferrazzini v. Gsell,12 we said that such clause was unreasonable restraint of trade and therefore against public policy. In Ferrazzini, the employee was prohibited from engaging in any business or occupation in the Philippines for a period of five years after the termination of his employment contract and must first get the written permission of his employer if he were to do so. The Court ruled that while the stipulation was indeed limited as to time and space, it was not limited as to trade. Such prohibition, in effect, forces an employee to leave the Philippines to work should his employer refuse to give a written permission.

“In G. Martini, Ltd. v. Glaiserman, we also declared a similar stipulation as void for being an unreasonable restraint of trade. There, the employee was prohibited from engaging in any business similar to that of his employer for a period of one year. Since the employee was employed only in connection with the purchase and export of abaca, among the many businesses of the employer, the Court considered the restraint too broad since it effectively prevented the employee from working in any other business similar to his employer even if his employment was limited only to one of its multifarious business activities.

“However, in Del Castillo v. Richmond, we upheld a similar stipulation as legal, reasonable, and not contrary to public policy. In the said case, the employee was restricted from opening, owning or having any connection with any other drugstore within a radius of four miles from the employer’s place of business during the time the employer was operating his drugstore. We said that a contract in restraint of trade is valid provided there is a limitation upon either time or place and the restraint upon one party is not greater than the protection the other party requires.

“Finally, in Consulta v. Court of Appeals, we considered a non-involvement clause in accordance with Article 1306 of the Civil Code. While the complainant in that case was an independent agent and not an employee, she was prohibited for one year from engaging directly or indirectly in activities of other companies that compete with the business of her principal. We noted therein that the restriction did not prohibit the agent from engaging in any other business, or from being connected with any other company, for as long as the business or company did not compete with the principal’s business.Further, the prohibition applied only for one year after the termination of the agent’s contract and was therefore a reasonable restriction designed to prevent acts prejudicial to the employer.

“Conformably then with the aforementioned pronouncements, a non-involvement clause is not necessarily void for being in restraint of trade as long as there are reasonable limitations as to time, trade, and place.

“In this case, the non-involvement clause has a time limit: two years from the time petitioner’s employment with respondent ends. It is also limited as to trade, since it only prohibits petitioner from engaging in any pre-need business akin to respondent’s.

“More significantly, since petitioner was the Senior Assistant Vice-President and Territorial Operations Head in charge of respondent’s Hong Kong and Asean operations, she had been privy to confidential and highly sensitive marketing strategies of respondent’s business. To allow her to engage in a rival business soon after she leaves would make respondent’s trade secrets vulnerable especially in a highly competitive marketing environment. In sum, we find the non-involvement clause not contrary to public welfare and not greater than is necessary to afford a fair and reasonable protection to respondent.

“In any event, Article 1306 of the Civil Code provides that parties to a contract may establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, provided they are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy.

“Article 1159 of the same Code also provides that obligations arising from contracts have the force of law between the contracting parties and should be complied with in good faith. Courts cannot stipulate for the parties nor amend their agreement where the same does not contravene law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy, for to do so would be to alter the real intent of the parties, and would run contrary to the function of the courts to give force and effect thereto. Not being contrary to public policy, the non-involvement clause, which petitioner and respondent freely agreed upon, has the force of law between them, and thus, should be complied with in good faith.

“Thus, as held by the trial court and the Court of Appeals, petitioner is bound to pay respondent P100,000 as liquidated damages. While we have equitably reduced liquidated damages in certain cases, we cannot do so in this case, since it appears that even from the start, petitioner had not shown the least intention to fulfill the non-involvement clause in good faith.” THE SUPREME COURT DENIED THIS PETITION.

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