Case Digest: Ramirez, et al. v. Mar Fishing, et al.

G.R. No. 168208 : June 13, 2012

VIVIAN T. RAMIREZ, et al., Petitioners, v. MAR FISHING CO., INC., MIRAMAR FISHING CO., INC., ROBERT BUEHS AND JEROME SPITZ. Respondents.

SERENO, J.:

FACTS:

On 28 June 2001, Mar Fishing sold its principal assets to co-respondent Miramar Fishing Co., Inc. through public bidding. In view of that transfer, Mar Fishing issued a Memorandum on October 23, 2001, informing all its workers that the company would cease to operate by the end of the month, thereafter, it also notified the DOLE of the closure of its business operations.

Mar Fishing labor union, Mar Fishing Workers Union NFL and Miramar entered into a Memorandum of Agreement, which provides that Miramar, shall absorb Mar Fishing regular rank and file employees whose performance was satisfactory, without loss of seniority rights and privileges previously enjoyed.

Unfortunately, petitioners, who worked as rank and file employees, were not hired or given separation pay by Miramar.Thus, petitioners filed Complaints for illegal dismissal with money claims before the Arbitration Branch of the NLRC.

The labor arbiter found that Mar Fishing had necessarily closed its operations, considering that Miramar had already bought the tuna canning plant. By reason of the closure, petitioners were legally dismissed for authorized cause. In addition, even if Mar Fishing reneged on notifying the DOLE within 30 days prior to its closure, that failure did not make the dismissals void. Consequently, the LA ordered Mar Fishing to give separation pay to its workers.

Aggrieved, petitioners pursued the action before the NLRC, which modified the LA Decision. Noting that Mar Fishing notified the DOLE only two days before the business closed, the labor court considered petitionersdismissal as ineffectual. Hence, it awarded, apart from separation pay, full back wages to petitioners from the time they were terminated on 31 October 2001 until the date when the LA upheld the validity of their dismissal on 30 July 2002. Additionally, the NLRC pierced the veil of corporate fiction and ruled that Mar Fishing and Miramar were one and the same entity, since their officers were the same.Hence, both companies were ordered to solidarily pay the monetary claims.

On reconsideration, the NLRC modified its ruling by imposing liability only on Mar Fishing.

Despite the award of separation pay and back wages, petitioners filed a Rule 65 Petition before the CA arguing that both Mar Fishing and Miramar should be made liable for their separation pay, and that their back wages should be up to the time of their actual reinstatement. However, finding that only 3 of the 228 petitioners signed the Verification and Certification against forum shopping, the CA instantly dismissed the action for certiorari against the 225 other petitioners without ruling on the substantive aspects of the case.

ISSUES:

1. Whether or not the CA gravely erred in dismissing their Petition for Review on the ground that their pleading lacked a Verification and Certification against forum shopping?

2. Whether or not Mar Fishing and Miramar are solidarily liable to pay petitioners monetary claim?


HELD: The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

REMEDIAL LAW


The Rules of Court provide that a petition for certiorari must be verified and accompanied by a sworn certification of non-forum shopping. Failure to comply with these mandatory requirements shall be sufficient ground for the dismissal of the petition.

Because of petitioner noncompliance with the requirements governing the certification of non-forum shopping, no error could be validly attributed to the CA when it ordered the dismissal of the special civil action for certiorari. The lack of certification against forum shopping is not curable by mere amendment of a complaint, but shall be a cause for the dismissal of the case without prejudice.Indeed, the general rule is that subsequent compliance with the requirements will not excuse a party's failure to comply in the first instance. Thus, on procedural aspects, the appellate court correctly dismissed the case.

LABOR LAW

However, this Court has recognized that the merit of a case is a special circumstance or compelling reason that justifies the relaxation of the rule requiring verification and certification of non-forum shopping. In order to fully resolve the issue, it is thus necessary to determine whether technical rules were brushed aside at the expense of substantial justice.

For a dismissal based on the closure of business to be valid, three (3) requirements must be established. Firstly, the cessation of or withdrawal from business operations must be bona fide in character. Secondly, there must be payment to the employees of termination pay amounting to at least one-half (1/2) month pay for each year of service, or one (1) month pay, whichever is higher. Thirdly, the company must serve a written notice on the employees and on the DOLE at least one (1) month before the intended termination.

In their Petition for Review on Certiorari, petitioners merely questioned the holding that only Mar Fishing was liable for their monetary claims.

Petitioners assert that Miramar simply took over the operations of Mar Fishing. In addition, they assert that these companies are one and the same entity, given the commonality of their directors and he similarity of their business venture in tuna canning plant operations.

Given only these bare reiterations, this Court sustains the ruling of the LA as affirmed by the NLRC that Miramar and Mar Fishing are separate and distinct entities, based on the marked differences in their stock ownership. Also, the fact that Mar Fishing officers remained as such in Miramar does not by itself warrant a conclusion that the two companies are one and the same. As this Court held in Sesbreo v. Court of Appeals, the mere showing that the corporations had a common director sitting in all the boards without more does not authorize disregarding their separate juridical personalities.

Neither can the veil of corporate fiction between the two companies be pierced by the rest of petitionerssubmissions, namely, the alleged take-over by Miramar of Mar Fishing operations and the evident similarity of their businesses. At this point, it bears emphasizing that since piercing the veil of corporate fiction is frowned upon, those who seek to pierce the veil must clearly establish that the separate and distinct personalities of the corporations are set up to justify a wrong, protect a fraud, or perpetrate a deception. This, unfortunately, petitioners have failed to do.

Having been found by the trial courts to be a separate entity, Mar Fishing and not Miramar is required to compensate petitioners. Indeed, the back wages and retirement pay earned from the former employer cannot be filed against the new owners or operators of an enterprise.

Evidently, the assertions of petitioners fail on both procedural and substantive aspects. Therefore, no special reasons exist to reverse the CA dismissal of the case due to their failure to abide by the mandatory procedure for filing a petition for review on certiorari. Given the correctness of the appellate court ruling and the lack of appropriate remedies, this Court will no longer dwell on the exact computation of petitionersclaims for back wages, which have been sufficiently threshed out by the LA and the NLRC. Judicial review of labor cases does not go beyond an evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence upon which labor officials' findings rest.

DENIED

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