SC: Your lawyer's mistakes are your mistakes

THIRD DIVISION [ G.R. No. 230078, January 08, 2018 ] SPOUSES TERESITA AND TEODY CASIANAN VS. NIMIA VELARDE.

Considering the allegations, issues and arguments presented, the Court resolves to DENY the petition for failure to sufficiently show that the Court of Appeals (CA) committed any reversible error in its Decision dated August 30, 2013 in CA-G.R. CEB-SP No. 05035 as to warrant the exercise of the Court's appellate jurisdiction.

To recall, respondent Nimia Velarde, with four others, filed a complaint for unlawful detainer and damages against petitioner spouses Teresita and Teody Casianan before the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC). The MCTC, and, later on, the RTC on appeal, ruled in favor of the respondents, granting them the better right of possession over the disputed property. The CA, in its assailed Decision, sustained the RTC. Petitioners' MR was denied via a Resolution dated July 28, 2014.

On September 3, 2014, an Entry of Judgment was issued by the CA.

Petitioners now claim that they instructed their previous counsel to file an appeal to this Court. But they were surprised when on February 17, 2017, they received an Order dated February 3, 2017 issued by the MTC for a hearing on motion for demolition, prompting them to inquire if indeed there had been a case filed before this Court, which turned out to be none.

Hence, this petition on the following issues raised by petitioners: 1) Whether or not the Supreme Court can exercise equity jurisdiction; and 2) Whether or not mistake or excusable negligence is present herein that can merit the exception to the rule on finality of judgment.

We answer in the negative.

Nothing is more settled in law than that when a final judgment is executory, it thereby becomes immutable and unalterable. The judgment may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and regardless of whether the modification is attempted to be made by the court rendering it or by the highest Court of the land.[1]

At this point, We stress that equity, which has been aptly described as "justice outside legality," is applied only in the absence of, and never against, statutory law or judicial rules of procedure. Positive rules prevail over all abstract arguments based on equity contra legem. For all its conceded merit, equity is available only in the absence of law and not as its replacement.[2]Resultantly, the implementation and execution of judgments that had attained finality are already ministerial on the courts. Public policy also dictates that once a judgment becomes final, executory, and unappealable, the prevailing party should not be denied the fruits of his victory by some subterfuge devised by the losing party.[3] Hence, once a judgment becomes final, the prevailing party is entitled as a matter of right to a writ of execution, the issuance of which is the trial court's ministerial duty.[4]

As regards the second issue, the general rule is that a client is bound by the mistakes of his lawyer. A recognized exception to the rule is when the reckless or gross negligence of the counsel deprives the client of due process of law.[5] For the exception to apply, however, the gross negligence should not be accompanied by the client's own negligence, considering that the client has the duty to be vigilant in respect of his interests by keeping himself up-to-date on the status of the case. Failing in this duty, the client should suffer whatever adverse judgment is rendered against him.

Here, the petitioners took nearly 29 months from the issuance of the entry of judgment by the CA before they actually filed the instant petition for review before the Court. They ought to have been sooner alerted about the situation by the fact that an unreasonably long time had lapsed since the CA had handed down the dismissal of their appeal without their counsel having updated them on the developments, including showing to them a copy of the expected petition for review. In fine, petitioners' failure to know or to find out the real status of their case rendered them undeserving of any sympathy from the Court vis-a-vis the negligence of their former counsel.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the Decision dated August 30, 2013 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEB-SP No. 05035 is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Mayon Estate Corporation v. Altura, G.R. No. 134462, October 18, 2004, 440 SCRA 377, 386.[2] Antioquia Development Corporation v. Rahacal, G.R. No. 148843, September 5, 2012.

[3] Huerta Alba Resort, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 394 Phil. 22, 46 (2000)

[4] Filcon Manufacturing Corp. v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 78576, July 31, 1991, 199 SCRA 814, 823.

[5] Chua v. Total Office Products and Services (TOPROS), Inc., G.R. No. 172455, February 1, 2012.

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