CASE DIGEST: Bonilla v. Barcena (G.R. No. L-41715)

CASE DIGEST:[163 Phil. 516] FIRST DIVISION [ G.R. No. L-41715, June 18, 1976 ] ROSALIO BONILLA (A MINOR) SALVACION BONILLA (A MINOR) AND PONCIANO BONILLA (THEIR FATHER) WHO REPRESENTS THE MINORS, PETITIONERS, VS. LEON BARCENA, MAXIMA ARIAS BALLENA, ESPERANZA BARCENA, MANUEL BARCENA, AGUSTINA NERI, WIDOW OF JULIAN TAMAYO AND HON. LEOPOLDO GIRONELLA OF THE COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE OF ABRA, RESPONDENTS. DECISION. MARTIN, J.:

FACTS: On March 31, 1975, Fortunato Barcena, mother of minors Rosalio and Salvacion Bonilla and wife of Ponciano Bonilla instituted a civil action to quiet title over certain parcels of land located in Abra. Fortunata died on July 9, 1975. On August 4, 1975, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that Fortunata was dead and therefore has no legal capacity to sue. When the motion was heard, counsel for plaintiff asked for the substitution by her minor child and her husband, but the court dismissed the case on the ground that a dead person cannot be a real party in interest and has no legal personality to sue.

ISSUE: Whether the deceased Fortunata can be substituted by her heirs in the instant case?

HELD: While it is true that a person who is dead cannot sue in court, he can be substituted by his heirs in pursuing the case until completion. The records show that Fortunata died on July 9, 1975 while the complaint was filed on March 31, 1975. This means that when the complaint was filed on March 31, 1975, Fortunata was still alive, and therefore, the court had acquired jurisdiction over her person. Under Sec. 16, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court, whenever a party to a pending case dies, it shall be the duty of his counsel to inform the court promptly of such death and to give the name and residence of his executor, administrator, guardian or legal representatives. This duty was complied with by the plaintiff’s counsel.

Article 777 of the Civil Code provides “that the rights to the succession are transmitted from the moment of death of the decedent.” Hence, from the moment of death of the decedent, the heirs become the absolute owners of his property, subject to the rights and obligations of the decedent, and they cannot be deprived of their rights thereto except by the methods provided for by law. The moment of death is the determining factor when the heirs acquire a definite right to the inheritance whether such right is pure or contingent. The right of the heirs to the property of the deceased vests in them even before any judicial declaration of heirship in the testate or intestate proceedings. When Fortunata died, her claim or right to the parcels of land in litigation was not extinguished by her death but was transmitted to her heirs upon her death. Her heirs have thus acquired interest in the properties in litigation and became parties in interest in the case. Under Section 17, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court, “after a party dies and the claim is not thereby extinguished, the court shall order the legal representative of the deceased to appear and be substituted for the deceased." The question as to whether an action survives or not depends on the nature of the action and the damage sued for. The causes of action which survive affect primarily and principally property and property rights, the injuries to the person being merely incidental, while causes of action which do not survive are those where the injury complained of is to the person, the property and rights of property affected being incidental. This case being an action to quiet title affects property and property rights primarily and therefore is one that survives death. Hence, substitution is proper.

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