PNB v. Arcobillas (G.R. No. 179648; August 7, 2013)


FACTS: On May 15, 1998, the PNB Foreign Currency Denomination-Savings Account (FCD-S/A) No. 305703555-1 of Avelina Nomad-Spoor (Nomad-Spoor) was credited with US$138.00. However, instead of posting its peso equivalent ofP5,517.10, Arcobillas, the assigned administrative teller at PNB Bacolod-Lacson branch, erroneously posted US$5,517.10, resulting in an overcredit of US$5,379.10. Said amount was later withdrawn by Nomad-Spoor on May 29, 1998 and June 8, 1998 to the damage of PNB in the amount ofP214,641.23.

The misposting was discovered only about seven months later. After investigation by PNB, Arcobillas was administratively charged with neglect of duty.

In her Affidavitexecuted on May 5, 1999, Arcobillas admitted her mistake, apologized for it, and stated that she did not benefit from the unintentional misposting. She narrated that she erroneously posted US$5,517.10, instead ofP5,517.10, which figure represents the peso value of US$138.00. She honestly believed that the US$5,517.10 was correct because when added to the other on-line dollar transaction of US$1,004.60 the result was US$6,521.70, which tallied with the tellers machine reading. Arcobillas further explained that the heavy workload that day, a Friday coinciding with payroll day, plagued with intermittent power interruptions, brought on a severe headache which greatly affected her work performance.

On February 24, 2000, PNBs Administrative Adjudication Panel found Arcobillas guilty of gross neglect of duty and meted upon her the penalty of forced resignation with benefits, to take effect immediately upon her receipt thereof. Upon denial of her plea for reconsideration, Arcobillas instituted a Complaintfor illegal dismissal with money claims against PNB, PNBs Senior Manager Reynald A. Rey and Senior Vice-President Rosauro C. Macalagay.

In a Decisiondated December 27, 2002, the Labor Arbiter found no sufficient evidence to establish gross and habitual negligence. The Labor Arbiter noted (1) Arcobillass performance rating of "Very Satisfactory" (VS) from January 1994 to December 1997 and her promotion to Bank Teller III in December 1995 despite having been suspended for one month in October 1995 due to the similar infraction of misposting; (2) her garnering a VS rating from January-June 1998 and July-December 1999 despite the pendency of the administrative charge that led to her eventual dismissal; and, (3) that the misposting was committed without malice, bad faith or dishonest motive. The Labor Arbiter also pointed out that the resulting damage could not be solely attributed to Arcobillas. The Bank Accountant, Financial Management Specialist, and those comprising the branch accounting unit failed to observe the banks internal control measures of validating and verifying the banks daily transactions. Had they done so, the said misposting could have been discovered at the earliest opportunity.

PNB appealed to the NLRC and argued in its Memorandum on Appealthat malice, bad faith or dishonest motive is not a requirement before an employer could validly dismiss its employee on the ground of neglect of duty. It posited that Arcobillass admission of her negligence and her prior commission of the same infraction of misposting justify her termination from employment for gross and habitual neglect of duty. It argued that the Labor Arbiters reliance on Arcobillass performance rating is misplaced because her dismissal is not grounded on loss of trust and confidence.

On August 31, 2004, the NLRC rendered a Decisionaffirming with modification the Labor Arbiters Decision. While it concurred with the Labor Arbiters ruling that there was no sufficient ground to dismiss Arcobillas since the misposting was not deliberately done and hence does not constitute gross and habitual neglect, it nevertheless declared her not entirely faultless and free from any penalty less punitive than termination. The NLRC thus pronounced Arcobillas, as well as those other employees who were remiss in validating/ verifying the banks transactions, equally liable for the financial losses suffered by PNB.

PNB received a copy of the said Decision on October 14, 2004.Without filing a Motion for Reconsideration, PNB filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Certiorariuntil December 23, 2004. On said date, PNB filed its Petition for Certioraribefore the CA. Subsequently on May 25, 2005, the NLRC issued an Entry of Final Judgment declaring its August 31, 2004 Decision final and executory as of October 19, 2004.

Despite the non-filing of a Motion for Reconsideration with the NLRC, the CA took cognizance of PNBs Petition for Certiorari. Nevertheless, it dismissed the same in a Decisiondated November 15, 2006. It agreed with the findings of both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC that Arcobillass negligence cannot be considered gross and habitual as to warrant her dismissal from employment. First, Arcobillas exercised ordinary diligence in her work when she checked and tallied her on-line dollar transactions with the tellers machine reading. Second, Arcobillass heavy workload and severe headache mitigated the mistake committed. Third, the misposting was an isolated act of negligence and was not committed repeatedly as to constitute habit. The CA likewise sustained the monetary awards as computed by the Labor Arbiter but modified the NLRC Decision in that it made PNB shoulder 40% of the loss it sustained and Arcobillas to pay the remaining 60% instead of Arcobillas being equally liable with PNBs other employees tasked to validate the tellers transactions. The CA reasoned that PNB is just as negligent in its selection and supervision of employees for it has the fiduciary duty to insure that its employees exercise the highest standard of integrity in the performance of their duties.

PNB filed a Motion for Reconsiderationwhile Arcobillas, a Motion for Partial Reconsideration.Both, were, however, denied by the CA in a Resolution dated August 17, 2007.

ISSUES: [1] Was private respondents dismissal on the ground of habitual negligence justified under Article 282 of the Labor Code?

[2] Can the Court of Appeals correct the evaluation of the evidence by, or the factual findings of the NLRC in a petition for certiorari?

[3] CAn the Court of Appeals delve into an issue that was not raised by the parties?

HELD: PNB's failure to file a Motion for Reconsideration with the NLRC before filing its Petition for Certiorari before the CA is a fatal infirmity.

At the outset, the Court notes that after PNB received a copy of the August 31, 2004 Decision of the NLRC on October 14, 2004, it did not file any Motion for Reconsideration such that the said Decision became final and executory on October 19, 2004. Instead, PNB went directly to the CA to assail the NLRC Decision through a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court which the said court took cognizance of.

The Court recognizes that "the finality of the NLRCs Decision does not preclude the filing of a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. That the NLRC issues an entry of judgment after the lapse of ten (10) days from the parties receipt of its Decision will only give rise to the prevailing partys right to move for the execution thereof but will not prevent the CA from taking cognizance of a Petition for Certiorari on jurisdictional and due process considerations."However, it is a well-established rule that "a Motion for Reconsideration is an indispensable condition before an aggrieved party can resort to the special civil action for certiorari. The rationale for the rule is that the law intends to afford the NLRC an opportunity to rectify such errors or mistakes it may have committed before resort to courts of justice can be had. Of course, the rule is not absolute and jurisprudence has laid down exceptions when the filing of a Petition for Certiorari is proper notwithstanding the failure to file a Motion for Reconsideration,"such as:(a) where the order is a patent nullity, as where the court a quo has no jurisdiction;
(b) where the questions raised in the certiorari proceedings have been duly raised and passed upon by the lower court, or are the same as those raised and passed upon in the lower court;
(c) where there is an urgent necessity for the resolution of the question and any further delay would prejudice the interests of the Government or of the petitioner or the subject matter of the action is perishable;
(d) where, under the circumstances, a Motion for Reconsideration would be useless;
(e) where petitioner was deprived of due process and there is extreme urgency for relief;
(f) where, in a criminal case, relief from an order of arrest is urgent and the granting of such relied by the trial court is improbable;
(g) where the proceedings in the lower court are a nullity for lack of due process;
(h) where the proceeding was ex parte or in which the petitioner had no opportunity to object; and,
(i) where the issue raised is one purely of law or where public interest is involved.

Here, PNB did not at all allege to which of the above-mentioned exceptions this case falls. Neither did it present any plausible justification for dispensing with the requirement of a prior Motion for Reconsideration before the NLRC.

Despite this, the CA still took cognizance of PNBs Petition for Certiorari and ignored this significant flaw.It bears to stress that the filing of a Motion for Reconsideration is not a mere technicality of procedure.It is a jurisdictional and mandatory requirement which must be strictly complied with.Thus, PNBs "failure to file a Motion for Reconsideration with the NLRC before availing [itself] of the special civil action for certiorari is a fatal infirmity."In view thereof, the CA erred in entertaining the Petition for Certiorari filed before it. It follows, therefore, that the proceedings before it and its assailed Decision are considered null and void.Hence, the final and executory Decision of the NLRC dated August 31, 2004 stands.

There was no sufficient basis to hold Arcobillas administratively liable for gross and habitual neglect of duty.

Even assuming that the CA could validly entertain PNBs Petition, no sufficient basis exists for the said court to overturn or at the least, modify the NLRC Decision.

Taking into consideration the circumstances attendant to Arcobillas' infraction, the NLRC correctly affirmed the Labor Arbiters finding that there was no sufficient basis to hold her guilty of gross and habitual neglect of duty which would justify her termination from employment. To warrant removal from service, the negligence should be gross and habitual.Although it was her second time to commit misposting (i.e., the first misposting was in 1995 while the second misposting was committed in 1998), Arcobillass act cannot be considered as gross as to warrant her termination from employment. Gross neglect of duty "denotes a flagrant and culpable refusal or unwillingness of a person to perform a duty."It "refers to negligence characterized by the want of even slight care, acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally, with a conscious indifference to consequences insofar as other persons may be affected."As aptly held by the labor tribunals, the misposting was not deliberately done as to constitute as gross negligence. Rather, it was a case of simple neglect brought about by carelessness which, as satisfactorily explained by Arcobillas, was the effect of her heavy workload that day and the headache she was experiencing.

As to the modification made by the CA, it may be recalled that it ordered PNB and Arcobillas to share the financial losses ofP214,641.23 in a 40-60 ratio. It ruled that PNB is partly liable for its loss for being negligent in the selection and supervision of its employees, applying the ruling made by this Court in The Consolidated Bank & Trust Corp. v. Court of Appealsand Philippine Bank of Commerce v. Court of Appeals.In the said cases, the banks were made to shoulder part of the loss suffered by its clients due to the negligence of its employees under the principle of respondeat superior or command responsibility. The Court ruled that the banks have a fiduciary relationship with its client and must be answerable for any breach in their contractual duties to its clients.

We, however, find that the CA erred in applying the ruling in these cases since they involve different sets of facts and are not decisive of the instant case. In both the cited cases, the banks, through their employees, were negligent, and this caused damage to their clients. These differ from the instant case in that the resulting damage here was caused to PNB and not to its clients. And as PNB certainly has the right to expect diligence from its employeesand has the prerogative to discipline them for acts inimical to its interests, the NLRC is justified in allocating the loss suffered by it among those employees who proved to be negligent in their respective duties.

With respect to Arcobillas' claims for unpaid salaries and other benefits, suffice it to state that the monetary awards granted by the Labor Arbiter as affirmed by the NLRC are already final and binding due to her failure to file an appeal to question these awards. Her contention that she is entitled to affirmative relief since she raised these issues in her Comment to PNBs Petition for Certiorari and Memorandum before the CA cannot lie in consonance with our earlier pronouncement that all proceedings before the CA are considered null and void. Moreover, it has been held that "[a]n appellee who is not an appellant may assign errors in her brief where her purpose is to maintain the judgment, but [she] cannot seek modification or reversal of the judgment or claim affirmative relief unless [she] has also appealed."Thus, we cannot grant her any affirmative relief. The monetary awards to which she is entitled are only confined to those contained in the dispositive portion of the Labor Arbiters Decision as affirmed by the NLRC, as follows :

(1) full backwages inclusive of allowances and other benefits or their monetary equivalent from March 16, 2000 to date of promulgation of this Decision;
(2) 13th month pay for the year 1999;
(3) unpaid salaries for the period February 2000 to March 15, 2000; and
(4) 10% attorney's fee.

Finally, we note that the NLRC Decision declared that the financial loss be equally shouldered by Arcobillas and "by those who are directly responsible in the validation/verification of Arcobillass transaction as teller." Considering, however, that these other employees were not made parties to this case, then this Decision cannot be enforced with regard to them. In short, this Decision is enforceable only with respect to Arcobillas.