Failure to state v. lack of cause of action

What is the distinction between a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action and a motion to dismiss based on lack of cause of action?

The first is raised in a motion to dismiss under Rule 16, Sec. 1 (g) before a responsive pleading is filed and can be determined only from the ALLEGATIONS of the pleading and not from evidentiary matters. The second is raised in a demurrer to evidence under Rule 33 after the plaintiff has rested his case and can be resolved only on the basis of the EVIDENCE he has presented in support of his claim. (The Manila Banking Corp. vs. University of Baguio, Inc. , G.R. No. 159189, February 21, 2007)When the motion for a demurrer to evidence is granted, the judgment of the court is considered on the merits and so it has to comply with Rule 36, Section 1, regarding the requirement that judgment should clearly and distinctly state the facts and the law on which it is based. If the motion is denied, the order is merely interlocutory. (Nepomuceno vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 60601, December 29, 1983, 126 SCRA 472)
It does not mean that the plaintiff has no cause of action. It only means that the plaintiff‘s allegations are insufficient for the court to know that the rights of the plaintiff were violated by the defendant. Thus, even if indeed the plaintiff suffered injury, if the same is not set forth in the complaint, the pleading will state no cause of action even if in reality the plaintiff has a cause of action against the defendant.In a motion to dismiss, a complaint based on lack of cause of action (failure to state cause of action), the question submitted to the court for determination is the sufficiency of the allegations made in the complaint to constitute a cause of action and not whether those allegations of fact are true, for said motion must hypothetically admit the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint. The inquiry is confined to the four corners of the complaint, and is not any other. The test of the sufficiency of the facts alleged in the complaint is whether or not, admitting the facts alleged, the court could render a valid judgment upon the same in accordance with the prayer of the complaint (Lucas vs. Lucas).

Failure to state a cause of action refers to the insufficiency of the pleading. A complaint states a cause of action if it avers the existence of the three essential elements:

          (a) a legal right of the plaintiff;
          (b) a correlative obligation of the defendant, and;
          (c) an act or omission of the defendant in violation of said right.

The infirmity in this case is not a failure to state a cause of action but a non-joinder of an indispensable party. The non-joinder of indispensable parties is not a ground for the dismissal of an action. At any stage of a judicial proceeding or at such time as is just, parties may be added on the motion of a party or on the initiative of the court concerned. If the plaintiff refuses to implead an indispensable party despite the order of the court, the court may dismiss the complaint for the plaintiff‘s failure to comply with the order. Respondent‘s remedy is to implead the non-party claimed to be indispensable and not a motion to dismiss. Therefore, the non-joinder of indispensable parties is not failure to state a cause of action and the complaint should not have been dismissed by the trial court upon such ground (Heirs of Mesina v. Heirs of Fian).

Failure to state a cause of action and lack of cause of action are really different from each other. On the one hand, failure to state a cause of action refers to the insufficiency of the pleading, and is a ground for dismissal under Rule 16 of the Rules of Court. On the other hand, lack of cause of action refers to a situation where the evidence does not prove the cause of action alleged in the pleading. (Lourdes Suites v. Binaro).

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