Case Digest: Spouses Hing v. Choachuy

G.R. No. 179736 : June 26, 2013

SPOUSES BILL AND VICTORIA HING,Petitioners, v. ALEXANDER CHOACHUY, SR. and ALLAN CHOACHUY, Respondents.

DEL CASTILLO, J.:


FACTS:

On August 23, 2005, petitioner-spouses Bill and Victoria Hing filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Mandaue City a Complaintfor Injunction and Damages with prayer for issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Mandatory Injunction/Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), docketed as Civil Case MAN-5223 and raffled to Branch 28, against respondents Alexander Choachuy, Sr. and Allan Choachuy.

Petitioners alleged that they are the registered owners of a parcel of land (Lot 1900-B) covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 42817 situated in Barangay Basak, City of Mandaue, Cebu;that respondents are the owners of Aldo Development & Resources, Inc. (Aldo) located at Lots 1901 and 1900-C, adjacent to the property of petitioners;that respondents constructed an auto-repair shop building (Aldo Goodyear Servitec) on Lot 1900-C; that in April 2005, Aldo filed a case against petitioners for Injunction and Damages with Writ of Preliminary Injunction/TRO, docketed as Civil Case No. MAN-5125;that in that case, Aldo claimed that petitioners were constructing a fence without a valid permit and that the said construction would destroy the wall of its building, which is adjacent to petitioners property;that the court, in that case, denied Aldos application for preliminary injunction for failure to substantiate its allegations;that, in order to get evidence to support the said case, respondents on June 13, 2005 illegally set-up and installed on the building of Aldo Goodyear Servitec two video surveillance cameras facing petitioners property;that respondents, through their employees and without the consent of petitioners, also took pictures of petitioners on-going construction;and that the acts of respondents violate petitioners right to privacy.Thus, petitioners prayed that respondents be ordered to remove the video surveillance cameras and enjoined from conducting illegal surveillance.

In their Answer with Counterclaim,respondents claimed that they did not install the video surveillance cameras,nor did they order their employees to take pictures of petitioners construction.They also clarified that they are not the owners of Aldo but are mere stockholders.

On October 18, 2005, the RTC issued an Ordergranting the application for a TRO.

Respondents moved for a reconsiderationbut the RTC denied the same in its Orderdated February 6, 2006.

Aggrieved, respondents filed with the CA a Petition for Certiorariunder Rule 65 of the Rules of Court with application for a TRO and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction.

On July 10, 2007, the CA issued its Decisiongranting the Petition for Certiorari. The CA ruled that the Writ of Preliminary Injunction was issued with grave abuse of discretion because petitioners failed to show a clear and unmistakable right to an injunctive writ.The CA explained that the right to privacy of residence under Article 26(1) of the Civil Code was not violated since the property subject of the controversy is not used as a residence. The CA alsosaid that since respondents are not the owners of the building, they could not have installed video surveillance cameras.They are mere stockholders of Aldo, which has a separate juridical personality.Thus, they are not the proper parties.

ISSUE:

1. Whether or not there is a violation of petitioners right to privacy?

2. Whether or not respondents are the proper parties to this suit?


HELD: Court of Appeals decision is reversed.

POLITICAL LAW: right to privacy

The right to privacy is enshrined in our Constitutionand in our laws. It is defined as "the right to be free from unwarranted exploitation of ones person or from intrusion into ones private activities in such a way as to cause humiliation to a persons ordinary sensibilities."It is the right of an individual "to be free from unwarranted publicity, or to live without unwarranted interference by the public in matters in which the public is not necessarily concerned."Simply put, the right to privacy is "the right to be let alone."

The Bill of Rights guarantees the peoples right to privacy and protects them against the States abuse of power. In this regard, the State recognizes the right of the people to be secure in their houses. No one, not even the State, except "in case of overriding social need and then only under the stringent procedural safeguards," can disturb them in the privacy of their homes.

CIVIL LAW: right to privacy under Article 26(1) of the Civil Code covers business offices where the public are excluded therefrom and only certain individuals are allowed to enter.

Article 26(1) of the Civil Code, on the other hand, protects an individuals right to privacy and provides a legal remedy against abuses that may be committed against him by other individuals. It states:

Art. 26. Every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons. The following and similar acts, though they may not constitute a criminal offense, shall produce a cause of action for damages, prevention and other relief:

(1) Prying into the privacy of anothers residence;

This provision recognizes that a mans house is his castle, where his right to privacy cannot be denied or even restricted by others. It includes "any act of intrusion into, peeping or peering inquisitively into the residence of another without the consent of the latter."The phrase "prying into the privacy of anothers residence," however, does not mean that only the residence is entitled to privacy. As elucidated by Civil law expert Arturo M. Tolentino:

Our Code specifically mentions "prying into the privacy of anothers residence." This does not mean, however, that only the residence is entitled to privacy, because the law covers also "similar acts." A business office is entitled to the same privacy when the public is excluded therefrom and only such individuals as are allowed to enter may come in.

Thus, an individuals right to privacy under Article 26(1) of the Civil Code should not be confined to his house or residence as it may extend to places where he has the right to exclude the public or deny them access. The phrase "prying into the privacy of anothers residence," therefore, covers places, locations, or even situations which an individual considers as private. And as long as his right is recognized by society, other individuals may not infringe on his right to privacy. The CA, therefore, erred in limiting the application of Article 26(1) of the Civil Code only to residences.

POLITICAL LAW: the "reasonable expectation of privacy" test to determine whether there is a violation of the right to privacy.

In ascertaining whether there is a violation of the right to privacy, courts use the "reasonable expectation of privacy" test. This test determines whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and whether the expectation has been violated.In Ople v. Torres,we enunciated that "the reasonableness of a persons expectation of privacy depends on a two-part test: (1) whether, by his conduct, the individual has exhibited an expectation of privacy; and (2) this expectation is one that society recognizes as reasonable." Customs, community norms, and practices may, therefore, limit or extend an individuals "reasonable expectation of privacy." Hence, the reasonableness of a persons expectation of privacy must be determined on a case-to-case basis since it depends on the factual circumstances surrounding the case.

In this day and age, video surveillance cameras are installed practically everywhere for the protection and safety of everyone. The installation of these cameras, however, should not cover places where there is reasonable expectation of privacy, unless the consent of the individual, whose right to privacy would be affected, was obtained. Nor should these cameras be used to pry into the privacy of anothers residence or business office as it would be no different from eavesdropping, which is a crime under Republic Act No. 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

In this case, the RTC, in granting the application for Preliminary Injunction, ruled that:

After careful consideration, there is basis to grant the application for a temporary restraining order. The operation by respondents of a revolving camera, even if it were mounted on their building, violated the right of privacy of petitioners, who are the owners of the adjacent lot. The camera does not only focus on respondents property or the roof of the factory at the back (Aldo Development and Resources, Inc.) but it actually spans through a good portion of the land of petitioners.

Based on the ocular inspection, the Court understands why petitioner Hing was so unyielding in asserting that the revolving camera was set up deliberately to monitor the on[-]going construction in his property. The monitor showed only a portion of the roof of the factory of Aldo. If the purpose of respondents in setting up a camera at the back is to secure the building and factory premises, then the camera should revolve only towards their properties at the back. Respondents camera cannot be made to extend the view to petitioners lot. To allow the respondents to do that over the objection of the petitioners would violate the right of petitioners as property owners. "The owner of a thing cannot make use thereof in such a manner as to injure the rights of a third person."

The RTC, thus, considered that petitioners have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their property, whether they use it as a business office or as a residence and that the installation of video surveillance cameras directly facing petitioners property or covering a significant portion thereof, without their consent, is a clear violation of their right to privacy. As we see then, the issuance of a preliminary injunction was justified. We need not belabor that the issuance of a preliminary injunction is discretionary on the part of the court taking cognizance of the case and should not be interfered with, unless there is grave abuse of discretion committed by the court.Here, there is no indication of any grave abuse of discretion. Hence, the CA erred in finding that petitioners are not entitled to an injunctive writ.

This brings us to the next question: whether respondents are the proper parties to this suit.

REMEDEIAL LAW: A real party defendant

Section 2, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court provides:

SEC. 2. Parties-in-interest. A real party-in-interest is the party who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of the suit. Unless otherwise authorized by law or these Rules, every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party-in-interest.

A real party defendant is "one who has a correlative legal obligation to redress a wrong done to the plaintiff by reason of the defendants act or omission which had violated the legal right of the former."

In ruling that respondents are not the proper parties, the CA reasoned that since they do not own the building, they could not have installed the video surveillance cameras. Such reasoning, however, is erroneous. The fact that respondents are not the registered owners of the building does not automatically mean that they did not cause the installation of the video surveillance cameras.

In their Complaint, petitioners claimed that respondents installed the video surveillance cameras in order to fish for evidence, which could be used against petitioners in another case.During the hearing of the application for Preliminary Injunction, petitioner Bill testified that when respondents installed the video surveillance cameras, he immediately broached his concerns but they did not seem to care,and thus, he reported the matter to the barangay for mediation, and eventually, filed a Complaint against respondents before the RTC.He also admitted that as early as 1998 there has already been a dispute between his family and the Choachuy family concerning the boundaries of their respective properties.With these factual circumstances in mind, we believe that respondents are the proper parties to be impleaded.

Moreover, although Aldo has a juridical personality separate and distinct from its stockholders, records show that it is a family-owned corporation managed by the Choachuy family.

Also quite telling is the fact that respondents, notwithstanding their claim that they are not owners of the building, allowed the court to enter the compound of Aldo and conduct an ocular inspection. The counsel for respondents even toured Judge Marilyn Lagura-Yap inside the building and answered all her questions regarding the set-up and installation of the video surveillance cameras.And when respondents moved for reconsideration of the Order dated October 18, 2005 of the RTC, one of the arguments they raised is that Aldo would suffer damages if the video surveillance cameras are removed and transferred.Noticeably, in these instances, the personalities of respondents and Aldo seem to merge.

All these taken together lead us to the inevitable conclusion that respondents are merely using the corporate fiction of Aldo as a shield to protect themselves from this suit. In view of the foregoing, we find that respondents are the proper parties to this suit.

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