12yo case may be dismissed by judge sua sponte


CASE DIGEST: [ G.R. No. 242856, January 30, 2019 ]. ADRIANO ZABATE VS. DHM PHILIPPINES PRODUCE INC., ET AL.

Zabate owns a parcel of land. He executed a real estate mortgage over the said parcel of land to secure a loan of P3,000,000.00 he obtained from DHM Philippines Produce, Inc. (DHM). Later, foreclosure ensued.

To prevent the auction sale from proceeding, Zabate filed a complaint for annulment of mortgage, extrajudicial foreclosure, and auction sale with prayer for injunctive relief, before the RTC of Davao City. DHM filed answered with counterclaim.

After nearly twelve (12) years of litigation, the trial court issued an Order dismissing Zabate's complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

The trial court noted that the case was in the nature of a suit "involving title to, or possession of real property, or any interest therein" under Section 19(2) of BP 129, i.e., a real action, the jurisdiction over which depends on the assessed value of the property in dispute. However, since Zabate's complaint contained no allegation of the property's assessed value, the court had no means to determine if it had jurisdiction over the case.

The CA found no reversible error. It ruled that the complaint was correctly dismissed for failure to allege the assessed value of the property in dispute, as this is an indispensable requirement in actions involving title to real property, an issue which can be considered motu proprio by the court at any time. It dismissed Zabate's claim of jurisdiction by estoppel, since the case was dismissed before a decision on the merits could be rendered; and the trial court resolved the issue of jurisdiction motu proprio.

ISSUE: Zabate asserts that there is jurisprudence holding that the market value of the property can be used to determine jurisdiction. He also reiterates that the RTC had acquired jurisdiction over the case through estoppel by laches.

HELD: Zabate is wrong. The law is emphatic that, in determining which court has jurisdiction, it is only the assessed value of the realty involved that should be computed.

As found by both courts a quo, there is nothing in Zabate's complaint or its attachments which points to the assessed value of the property in question. However, this is not the end of the road for Zabate. Since the RTC did not render a decision on the merits, he can still file a new complaint alleging the assessed value of the property in dispute.
As regards Zabate's assertion of jurisdiction by estoppel, it must fail. Jurisdiction by estoppel can only be invoked against parties to a case and not against the court itself. Rule 9, Section 1 of the Revised Rules of Court very clearly provides that "x x x when it appears from the pleadings or the evidence on record that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter, x x x the court shall dismiss the claim."
A court ex mero motu (sua sponte or motu proprio) may take cognizance of lack of jurisdiction at any point in the case where that fact is developed. The court has a clearly recognized right to determine its own jurisdiction in any proceeding. This is because "jurisdiction is conferred by law, and lack of it affects the very authority of the court to take cognizance of and to render judgment on the action."

SUGGESTED READINGS:
[1] Foronda-Crystal v. Aniana Lawas Son, G.R. No. 221815, November 29, 2017.
[2] Tijam, et al. v. Sibonghanoy, et al., 131 Phil. 556, 564 (1968). As enunciated in that case, the rule is that "a party cannot invoke the jurisdiction of a court to secure affirmative relief against his opponent and, after obtaining or failing to obtain such relief, repudiate or question that same jurisdiction, x x x because the party is barred from such conduct not because the judgment or order of the court is valid and conclusive as an adjudication, but for the reason that such a practice cannot be tolerated — obviously for reasons of public policy. Furthermore, it has also been held that after voluntarily submitting a cause and encountering an adverse decision on the merits, it is too late for the loser to question the jurisdiction or power of the court x x x. [I]t is not right for a party who has affirmed and invoked the jurisdiction of a court in a particular matter to secure an affirmative relief, to afterwards deny that same jurisdiction to escape a penalty."
[3] 772 Phil. 672 (2015).
[4] Asiatrust Dev't. Bank v. First Aikka Dev't, Inc., et al., 665 Phil. 313, 326-327 (2011).

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