Claiming damages if rights violated by public officer

When a public officer violates your rights, can you claim damages?

The general rule is, if what is involved is a "duty owing to the public in general", an individual cannot have a cause of action for damages against the public officer, even though he may have been injured by the action or inaction of the officer. (Vinzons-Chato v. Fortune Tobacco, G.R. No. 141309, December 23, 2008) In such a case, there is damage to the individual but no wrong to him. In performing or failing to perform a public duty, the officer has touched his interest to his prejudice; but the officer owes no duty to him as an individual. (Mechem, A Treatise on the Law of Public Offices and Officers (1890), pp. 386-387) The remedy in this case is not judicial but political. (Cruz, The Law of Public Officers, 2007 ed., p. 223) The exception to this rule occurs when the complaining individual suffers a particular or special injury on account of the public officer's improper performance or non-performance of his public duty. An individual can never be suffered to sue for an injury which, technically, is one to the public only; he must show a wrong which he specially suffers, and damage alone does not constitute a wrong. (Vinzons-Chato v. Fortune Tobacco, G.R. No. 141309, December 23, 2008)

A contrary precept (that an individual, in the absence of a special and peculiar injury, can still institute an action against a public officer on account of an improper performance or non-performance of a duty owing to the public generally) will lead to a deluge of suits, for if one man might have an action, all men might have the like--the complaining individual has no better right than anybody else. (Butler v. Kent, 19 Johns. 223, 10 Am. Dec. 219, 1821) If such were the case, no one will serve a public office. Thus, the rule restated is that an individual cannot have a particular action against a public officer without a particular injury, or a particular right, which are the grounds upon which all actions are founded. (Vinzons-Chato v. Fortune Tobacco, G.R. No. 141309, December 23, 2008)

Juxtaposed with Article 32[1] of the Civil Code, the principle may now translate into the rule that an individual can hold a public officer personally liable for damages on account of an act or omission that violates a constitutional right only if it results in a particular wrong or injury to the former. Article 32, in fact, allows a damage suit for "tort for impairment of rights and liberties." (G.R. No. 141309)

In tort law, for a plaintiff to maintain an action for damages for the injuries of which he complains, he must establish that such injuries resulted from a breach of duty which the defendant owed the plaintiff, meaning a concurrence of injury to the plaintiff and legal responsibility by the person causing it. Indeed, central to an award of tort damages is the premise that an individual was injured in contemplation of law. (Sps. Custodio v. Court of Appeals, 323 Phil. 575, 1996) Thus, in Lim v. Ponce de Leon (G.R. No. L-22554, August 29, 1975), the Supreme Court granted the petitioner's claim for damages because he, in fact, suffered the loss of his motor launch due to the illegal seizure thereof. In Cojuangco, Jr. v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 119398, July 2, 1999), the Court upheld the right of petitioner to the recovery of damages as there was an injury sustained by him on account of the illegal withholding of his horserace prize winnings.

[1] Article 32 provides: 
Any public officer or employee, or any private individual, who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates or in any manner impedes or impairs any of the following rights and liberties of another person shall be liable to the latter for damages:

(1) Freedom of religion;
(2) Freedom of speech;
(3) Freedom to write for the press or to maintain a periodical publication;
(4) Freedom from arbitrary or illegal detention;
(5) Freedom of suffrage;
(6) The right against deprivation of property without due process of law;
(7) The right to a just compensation when private property is taken for public use;
(8) The right to the equal protection of the laws;
(9) The right to be secure in one's person, house, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures;
(10) The liberty of abode and of changing the same;
(11) The privacy of communication and correspondence;
(12) The right to become a member of associations or societies for purposes not contrary to law;
(13) The right to take part in a peaceable assembly to petition the Government for redress of rievances;
(14) The right to be free from involuntary servitude in any form;
(15) The right of the accused against excessive bail;
(16) The right of the accused to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy and public trial, to meet witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses in his behalf;
(17) Freedom from being compelled to be a witness against one's self, or from being forced to confess guilt, or from being induced by a promise of immunity or reward to make such confession, except when the person confessing becomes a State witness;
(18) Freedom from excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment, unless the same is imposed or inflicted in accordance with a statute which has not been judicially declared unconstitutional; and
(19) Freedom of access to the courts.

In any of the cases referred to in this article, whether or not the defendant's act or omission constitutes a criminal offense, the aggrieved party has a right to commence an entirely separate and distinct civil action for damages, and for other relief. Such civil action shall proceed independently of any criminal prosecution (if the latter be instituted) and may be proved by preponderance of evidence.

The indemnity shall include moral damages. Exemplary damages may also be adjudicated.

The responsibility herein set forth is not demandable from a judge unless his act or omission constitutes a violation of the Penal Code or other penal statute.

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