Brito v. Dianala (G.R. No. 171717; December 15, 2010)


FACTS: Margarita Dichimo, assisted by her husband, Ramon Brito, Sr., together with Bienvenido Dichimo, Francisco Dichimo, Edito Dichimo, Maria Dichimo, Herminia Dichimo, assisted by her husband, Angelino Mission, Leonora Dechimo, assisted by her husband, Igmedio Mission, Felicito, and Merlinda Dechimo, assisted by her husband, Fausto Dolleno, filed a Complaint for Recovery of Possession and Damages with the RTC against a certain Jose Maria Golez. The case was docketed as Civil Case No. 12887. Petitioner's wife, Margarita, together with Bienvenido and Francisco, alleged that they are the heirs of a certain Vicente Dichimo, while Edito, Maria, Herminia, Leonora, Felicito and Merlinda claimed to be the heirs of one Eusebio Dichimo; that Vicente and Eusebio are the only heirs of Esteban and Eufemia; that Esteban and Eufemia died intestate and upon their death Vicente and Eusebio, as compulsory heirs, inherited Lot No. 1536-B; that, in turn, Vicente and Eusebio, and their respective spouses, also died intestate leaving their pro indiviso shares of Lot No. 1536-B as part of the inheritance of the complainants in Civil Case No. 12887.
Herein respondents filed an Answer-in-Intervention claiming that prior to his marriage to Eufemia, Esteban was married to a certain Francisca Dumalagan; that Esteban and Francisca bore five children, all of whom are already deceased; that herein respondents are the heirs of Esteban and Francisca's children; that they are in open, actual, public and uninterrupted possession of a portion of Lot No. 1536-B for more than 30 years; that their legal interests over the subject lot prevails over those of petitioner and his co-heirs; that, in fact, petitioner and his co-heirs have already disposed of their shares in the said property a long time ago.

The trial court issued an Order dismissing without prejudice respondents' Answer-in-Intervention for their failure to secure the services of a counsel despite ample opportunity given them. Subsequently, the parties in Civil Case No. 12887 agreed to enter into a Compromise Agreement wherein Lot No. 1536-B was divided between Jose Maria Golez, on one hand, and the heirs of Vicente, namely: Margarita, Bienvenido, and Francisco, on the other. Thereafter, TCT No. T-12561 was issued by the Register of Deeds of Cadiz City in the name of Margarita, Bienvenido and Francisco.

Herein petitioner and his co-heirs filed anotherComplaint for Recovery of Possession and Damages, this time against herein respondents. The case, filed with the RTC of Cadiz City, Branch 60, was docketed as Civil Case No. 548-C.Herein respondents, on the other hand, filed with the same court a Complaint for Reconveyance and Damages against petitioner and his co-heirs docketed as Civil Case No. 588-C.

The RTC issued Joint Orders, dismissing Civil Case No. 548-C for violation of the rule on forum shopping; dismissing Civil Case No. 588-C for want of jurisdiction. On appeal, the CA set aside the Joint Orders of the RTC dismissing Civil Case No. 588-C.

ISSUE: Are respondents bound by the judgment rendered in Civil Case No. 12887?HELD: It is true that the filing of motions seeking affirmative relief, such as, to admit answer, for additional time to file answer, for reconsideration of a default judgment, and to lift order of default with motion for reconsideration, are considered voluntary submission to the jurisdiction of the court.In the present case, when respondents filed their Answer-in-Intervention they submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the court and the court, in turn, acquired jurisdiction over their persons. Respondents, thus, became parties to the action. Subsequently, however, respondents' Answer-in-Intervention was dismissed without prejudice. From then on, they ceased to be parties in the case so much so that they did not have the opportunity to present evidence to support their claims, much less participate in the compromise agreement entered into by and between herein petitioner and his co-heirs on one hand and the defendant in Civil Case No. 12887 on the other. Stated differently, when their Answer-in-Intervention was dismissed, herein respondents lost their standing in court and, consequently, became strangers to Civil Case No. 12887. It is basic that no man shall be affected by any proceeding to which he is a stranger, and strangers to a case are not bound by judgment rendered by the court. Thus, being strangers to Civil Case No. 12887, respondents are not bound by the judgment rendered therein.

Neither does the Court concur with petitioner's argument that respondents are barred by prescription for having filed their complaint for reconveyance only after more than eight years from the discovery of the fraud allegedly committed by petitioner and his co-heirs, arguing that under the law an action for reconveyance of real property resulting from fraud prescribes in four years, which period is reckoned from the discovery of the fraud. In their complaint for reconveyance and damages, respondents alleged that petitioner and his co-heirs acquired the subject property by means of fraud. Article 1456 of the Civil Code providesthataperson acquiring property through fraud becomes, by operation of law, a trustee of an implied trust for the benefit of the real owner of the property. An action for reconveyance based on an implied trust prescribes in ten years, the reckoning point of which is the date of registration of the deed or the date of issuance of the certificate of title over the property. In the instant case, TCT No. T-12561 was obtained by petitioner and his co-heirs on September 28, 1990, while respondents filed their complaint for reconveyance on August 18, 1999. Hence, it is clear that the ten-year prescriptive period has not yet expired.

The Court, likewise, does not agree with petitioner's contention that respondents are guilty of laches and are already estopped from questioning the decision of the RTC in Civil Case No. 12887 on the ground that they slept on their rights and allowed the said decision to become final. In the first place, respondents cannot be faulted for not appealing the decision of the RTC in Civil Case No. 12887 simply because they are no longer parties to the case and, as such, have no personality to assail the said judgment.Secondly, respondents' act of filing their action for reconveyance within the ten-year prescriptive perioddoes not constitute an unreasonable delay in asserting their right. The Court has ruled that, unless reasons of inequitable proportions are adduced, a delay within the prescriptive period is sanctioned by law and is not considered to be a delay that would bar relief.Laches is recourse in equity.Equity, however, is applied only in the absence, never in contravention, of statutory law. Moreover, the prescriptive period applies only if there is an actual need to reconvey the property as when the plaintiff is not in possession thereof. Otherwise, if the plaintiff is in possession of the property, prescription does not commence to run against him.Thus, when an action for reconveyance is nonetheless filed, it would be in the nature of a suit for quieting of title, an action that is imprescriptible.The reason for this is that one who is in actual possession of a piece of land claiming to be the owner thereof may wait until his possession is disturbed or his title is attacked before taking steps to vindicate his right, the rationale for the rule being, that his undisturbed possession provides him a continuing right to seek the aid of a court of equity to ascertain and determine the nature of the adverse claim of a third party and its effect on his own title, which right can be claimed only by the one who is in possession.

In the present case, there is no dispute that respondents are in possession of the subject property as evidenced by the fact that petitioner and his co-heirs filed a separate action against respondents for recovery of possession thereof. Thus, owing to respondents' possession of the disputed property, it follows that their complaint for reconveyance is, in fact, imprescriptible. As such, with more reason should respondents not be held guilty of laches as the said doctrine, which is one in equity, cannot be set up to resist the enforcement of an imprescriptible legal right. The action filed by respondents with the RTC of Cadiz City is for reconveyance and damages. They are not seeking the amendment nor the annulment of the Decision of the RTC of Bacolod City in Civil Case No. 12887. They are simply after the recovery of what they claim as their rightful share in the subject lot as heirs of Esteban Dichimo.

As earlier discussed, respondents' Answer-in-Intervention was dismissed by the RTC of Bacolod City without prejudice. This leaves them with no other optionbutto institute a separate action for the protection and enforcement of their rights and interests. It will be the height of inequity to declare herein petitioner and his co-heirs as exclusive owners of the disputed lot without giving respondents the opportunity to prove their claims that they have legal interest over the subject parcel of land, that it forms part of the estate of their deceased predecessor and that they are in open, and uninterrupted possession of the same for more than 30 years. Much more, it would be tantamount to a violation of the constitutional guarantee that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law. DENIED.