Stipulation restricting venue to party's branch/office

In Briones v. Court of Appeals,[1] the Supreme Court succinctly discussed the rule on venue, including the import of restrictive stipulations on venue.Based on said case, the general rule is that the venue of real actions is the court which has jurisdiction over the area wherein the real property involved, or a portion thereof, is situated; while the venue of personal actions is the court which has jurisdiction where the plaintiff or the defendant resides, at the election of the plaintiff. As an exception, jurisprudence in Legaspi v. Rep. of the Phils.[2] instructs that the parties, thru a written instrument, may either introduce another venue where actions arising from such instrument may be filed, or restrict the filing of said actions in a certain exclusive venue, viz.:
The parties, however, are not precluded from agreeing in writing on an exclusive venue, as qualified by Section 4 of the same rule. Written stipulations as to venue may be restrictive in the sense that the suit may be filed only in the place agreed upon, or merely permissive in that the parties may file their suit not only in the place agreed upon but also in the places fixed by law. As in any other agreement, what is essential is the ascertainment of the intention of the parties respecting the matter.

As regards restrictive stipulations on venue, jurisprudence instructs that it must be shown that such stipulation is exclusive. In the absence of qualifying or restrictive words, such as "exclusively," "waiving for this purpose any other venue," "shall only" preceding the designation of venue, "to the exclusion of the other courts," or words of similar import, the stipulation should be deemed as merely an agreement on an additional forum, not as limiting venue to the specified place.[3] (Emphases supplied)

In Radiowealth v. Pineda,[4] the venue stipulation found in the subject Promissory Note – which reads "any action to enforce payment of any sums due under this Note shall exclusively be brought in the proper court within [the] National Capital Judicial Region or in any place where Radiowealth Finance Company, Inc. has a branch/office, at its sole option"[5] – is indeed restrictive in nature, considering that it effectively limits the venue of the actions arising therefrom to the courts of: (a) the National Capital Judicial Region; or (b) any place where petitioner has a branch/office. In light of petitioner's standing allegation that it has a branch in San Mateo, Rizal, it appears that venue has been properly laid, unless such allegation has been disputed and successfully rebutted later on.

Finally, even if it appears that venue has been improperly laid, it is well-settled that the courts may not motu proprio dismiss the case on the ground of improper venue. [Note: Please consider the changes brought about by the 2020 amendments to the Rules on Civil Procedure.] Without any objection at the earliest opportunity, as in a motion to dismiss or in the answer, it is deemed waived.[6] The Court's ruling in Radiowealth Finance Company, Inc. v. Nolasco[7] is instructive on this matter, to wit:

Dismissing the complaint on the ground of improper venue is certainly not the appropriate course of action at this stage of the proceeding, particularly as venue, in inferior courts as well as in the Courts of First Instance (now RTC), may be waived expressly or impliedly. Where defendant fails to challenge timely the venue in a motion to dismiss as provided by Section 4 of Rule 4 of the Rules of Court, and allows the trial to be held and a decision to be rendered, be cannot on appeal or in a special action be permitted to challenge belatedly the wrong venue, which is deemed waived.

Thus, unless and until the defendant objects to the venue in a motion to dismiss, the venue cannot be truly said to have been improperlv laid, as for all practical intents and purposes, the venue, though technically wrong, may be acceptable to the parties for whose convenience the rules onvenue had been devised. The trial court cannot pre-empt the defendant's prerogative to object to the improper laying of the venue by motu proprio dismissing the case.[8] (Emphases and underscoring supplied)

[1] 750 Phil. 891 (2015).

[2] 581 Phil. 381, 386 (2008).

[3] Id. at 898-899; citations omitted.

[4] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/gr-no-227147-july-30-2018.html.

[5] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/gr-no-227147-july-30-2018.html.

[6] Radiowealth Finance Company, Inc. v. Nolasco, 799 Phil. 598, 605 (2016).

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 605-606, citing Dacoycoy v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 273 Phil. 1, 6-7 (1991). 

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