Substantial identity of parties

In Spouses Ting v. Brisson (G.R. No. 211276, June 27, 2018), petitioners advanced the argument that res judicata makes conclusive the finding of the January 15, 1997 Court of Appeals (CA) decision in that petitioners may go against the beneficial right of respondent Gary George over the one-half portion of the subject properties. Petitioners further insisted on the conclusiveness of the CA ruling that petitioners need not await the sale of the subject properties and from the proceeds of which shall be given to petitioner as payment of the judgment award in the ejectment case.

The Supreme Court was not persuaded. An important element of res judicata by conclusiveness of judgment - identity of parties - was found to be absent in this case.

The concept of res judicata by conclusiveness of judgment does NOT require absolute but only substantial identity of parties. There is substantial identity only when the "additional" party acts in the same capacity or is in privity with the parties in the former action. For example, co-owners are not parties inter se in relation to the property owned in common, or a subsequent action by a co-heir, who did not join the earlier dismissed action for recovery of property, should not be barred by prior judgment.In the case of Carandang v. Venturanza,[1] citing the case of Valdez v. Mendoza,[2] the Supreme Court noted that the rule as to identity of parties has already been laid down, as follows:
In the United States where our theories on res judicata have originated, a judgment in favor of two or more defendants is conclusive on plaintiff as against them. "The estoppel however is raised only between those who were adverse parties in the former suit, and the judgment therein ordinarily settles nothing as to the relative rights or liabilities of the co-plaintiffs or co-defendants inter sese, unless their hostile or conflicting claims were actually brought in issue.' ... 'by cross-petition or separate and adverse answers' (50 C.J.S. pp. 372, 373 citing many cases) (See also 30 Am. Jur. 233).[3]
Going back to the case of Spouses Ting v. Brisson, the Court said that the privity between Spouses Magno and Brisson is lacking. Brisson is not merely an additional party, the inclusion of whom would still enable the application of conclusiveness of judgment on her. She is a third party whose rights were not properly ventilated in the original action for ejectment or in the 1997 petition for certiorari before the CA, hence the application of the rule on res judicata should not be enforced.

Petitioners' motion to compel surrender of title was the first time Brisson was involved in this case. The Court noted that Brisson was not a party to the proceedings for the annotation of levy despite the fact that the title to the subject properties were in her name. Thus, even though conclusiveness of judgment may have bound Spouses Magno, the same cannot bind Brisson. Insofar as she is concerned, the January 15, 1997 CA decision cannot operate against her with respect to matters in issue or points controverted including the ruling that petitioners are entitled to the annotation of the levy on the TCTs of the subject properties. Her right over the subject properties is thus dissimilar to that of Spouses Magno, Gary, as the latter's right pertains only to half of the proceeds, which would only come to fruition upon the sale of the subject properties, whereas respondent Brisson's right pertains to actual ownership of the subject properties by title. There is no substantial identity of parties as there is no community of interest between the parties in the first case and the party in the second case albeit the latter was not impleaded in the first case.[4]

Even the principle of the "law of the case" was found by the Court to be inapplicable in the case of Spouses Ting. The said principle is the practice of courts in refusing to reopen what has been decided. It means that whatever is once irrevocably established as the controlling legal rule or decision between the same parties in the same case continues to be the law of the case, whether correct on general principles or not, so long as the facts on which such decision was predicated continue to be the facts of the case before the court.[5] Again, it is not the same parties that are involved here and the facts as to Brisson are not the same as those that are applicable to Spouses Magno.

[1] 218 Phil. 314, 320 (1984).

[2] 89 Phil. 83(1951).

[3] Id. at 86.

[4] See Sempio v. Court of Appeals, et al, 348 Phil. 627, 636 (1998).

[5] Sps. Aguilar v. The Manila Banking Corporation, 533 Phil. 645, 662 (2006).