Case Digest: Regala vs. Carin

G.R. No. 188715 : April 6, 2011

RODOLFO N. REGALA, Petitioner, v. FEDERICO P. CARIN, Respondent.

CARPIO MORALES, J.:


FACTS:

Petitioner and respondent are adjacent neighbors at Spirig Street, BF Resort Village, Las Piñas City. When petitioner decided to renovate his one storey residence by constructing a second floor, he under the guise of merely building an extension to his residence, approached respondent for a permission to bore a hole through a perimeter wall shared by both their respective properties, to which respondent verbally consented on condition that petitioner would clean the area affected by the work.

In the course of the construction of the second floor, respondent and his wife Marietta suffered from the dust and dirt which fell on their property. As petitioner failed to address the problem to respondent’s satisfaction, respondent filed a letter-complaint with the Office of the City Engineer and Building Official of Las Piñas City. They alleged that the petitioner’s renovation, aside from lacking the necessary permits, has caused damage as well as encroachment and invasion of privacy. The City Engineer’s Office issued stop-work notices. However, despite the said notices, the petitioner continued with the construction.

The RTC rendered judgment in favor of respondent whom it awarded moral damages in the sum of P100,000, exemplary damages of P100,000 and attorney’s fees of P50,000 plus costs of suit for knowingly commencing the renovation of the house without the requisite building permit and misrepresenting his true intent of introducing renovations. On appeal, the CA the trial court’s decision.

ISSUE: Whether or not the respondent is entitled to moral and exemplary damages.

HELD:

The petition is partly impressed with merit.

CIVIL LAW: Damages

In prayers for moral damages, recovery is more an exception rather than the rule. Moral damages are not meant to be punitive but are designed to compensate and alleviate the physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and similar harm unjustly caused to a person. To be entitled to such an award, the claimant must satisfactorily prove that he has suffered damages and that the injury causing it has sprung from any of the cases listed in Articles 2219 and 2220 of the Civil Code. Moreover, the damages must be shown to be the proximate result of a wrongful act or omission. The claimant must thus establish the factual basis of the damages and its causal tie with the acts of the defendant.

In fine, an award of moral damages calls for the presentation of 1) evidence of besmirched reputation or physical, mental or psychological suffering sustained by the claimant; 2) a culpable act or omission factually established; 3) proof that the wrongful act or omission of the defendant is the proximate cause of the damages sustained by the claimant; and 4) the proof that the act is predicated on any of the instances expressed or envisioned by Article 2219 and Article 2220 of the Civil Code.

In the present case, respondent failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the injuries he sustained were the proximate effect of petitioner’s act or omission. It thus becomes necessary to instead look into the manner by which petitioner carried out his renovations to determine whether this was directly responsible for any distress respondent may have suffered since the law requires that a wrongful or illegal act or omission must have preceded the damages sustained by the claimant.

The Court ruled that the petitioner was engaged in the lawful exercise of his property rights to introduce renovations to his abode. While he initially did not have a building permit and may have misrepresented his real intent when he initially sought respondent’s consent, the lack of the permit was inconsequential since it only rendered petitioner liable to administrative sanctions or penalties. The testimony of petitioner and his witnesses demonstrated that they had actually taken measures to prevent, or at the very least, minimize the damage to respondent’s property occasioned by the construction work. In addition to that, before the construction began, measures were undertaken to prevent debris from falling into respondent’s property and instructions were given to the workers to clean the area before leaving.

Malice or bad faith implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or moral obliquity; it is different from the negative idea of negligence in that malice or bad faith contemplates a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or ill will. While the Court harbors no doubt that the incidents which gave rise to this dispute have brought anxiety and anguish to respondent, it is unconvinced that the damage inflicted upon respondent’s property was malicious or willful, an element crucial to merit an award of moral damages under Article 2220 of the Civil Code.

However, the Court ruled that the petitioner cannot steer clear from any liability for the respondent and his family’s rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their property have, at the very least, been inconvenienced from the incident borne of petitioner’s construction work. Any pecuniary loss or damage suffered by respondent cannot be established as the records are bereft of any factual evidence to establish the same. Thus, nominal damages were awarded in order that a right of the respondent which has been violated or invaded by the petitioner may be vindicated or recognized, and not for the purpose of indemnifying the plaintiff for any loss suffered by him.

Therefore, the petition is granted and the Court orders the petitioner to pay respondent the sum of P25,000 as nominal damages.

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