A.C. No. 11057, August 08, 2016

SECOND DIVISION

[ A.C. No. 11057 [Formerly CBD Case No. 12-3512], August 08, 2016 ]

ATTY. ELDORADO T. LIM V. ATTY. NEOPOLO J. CASURAO JR. AND ATTY. SHERWIN J. CASURAO

Sirs and Mesdames:

Please take notice that the Court, Second Division, issued a Resolution dated 08 August 2016 which reads as follows:"A.C. No. 11057 [Formerly CBD Case No. 12-3512]: ATTY. ELDORADO T. LIM v. ATTY. NEOPOLO J. CASURAO JR. and ATTY. SHERWIN J. CASURAO

This resolves an administrative complaint for suspension from the practice of law filed by complainant Atty. Eldorado T. Lim against respondents Atty. Neopolo J. Casurao, Jr. (Neopolo) and Atty. Sherwin J. Casurao (Sherwin). The complaint arose from an alleged violation of the rules on the use of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and Professional Tax Receipt numbers in pleadings and the rule on non-forum shopping.

On July 10, 2012, complainant filed a verified Petition[1] for suspension against respondents Neopolo and Sherwin.

Complainant and respondents Neopolo and Sherwin were opposing counsels in an ejectment case entitled Robert C. Ngo v. Sps. Nelson and Ester Bernalez, Rosemari Gob, Manuel Aceveda, et al.[2] The case was docketed as Civil Case No. 12-127816 before Branch 32 of the Regional Trial Court, Manila.[3]

Complainant alleges that respondent Neopolo provided an outdated Professional Tax Receipt Number and Integrated Bar of the Philippines Official Receipt Number in the Appellant's Memorandum[4] and the Comment/Opposition to the Motion for Reconsideration and Motion to Inhibit with Entry of Appearance.[5] Respondent Neopolo's Professional Tax Receipt and Integrated Bar of the Philippines numbers, which appeared on the pleadings filed in May 2012, were the same Professional Tax Receipt and Integrated Bar of the Philippines numbers for 20II.[6] Complainant argues that respondent Neopolo violated Rule 139-A, Section 10 of the Rules of Court.[7]

As regards respondent Sherwin, complainant alleges that respondent Sherwin should be held liable for violation of the rule on non-forum shopping.[8] Respondent Sherwin allegedly filed a Comment/Opposition[9] to the Motion to implement the writ of execution pending appeal before the Regional Trial Court while another pleading[10] was pending before the Court of Appeals.[11] Complainant argues that the remedy sought before the Regional Trial Court and that before the Court of Appeals were the same. Thus, as the two (2) pleadings were filed at the same time before two (2) different courts, complainant maintains that respondent Sherwin should be held liable for violation of the rule on non-forum shopping.[12]

In his Position Paper,[13] respondent Neopolo explains that he already paid his Professional Tax and Integrated Bar of the Philippines annual dues in July 2012.[14] He also states that there could not have been a violation of Rule 139-A, Section 10 of the Rules of Court because he was not yet in default in the payment of his Integrated Bar of the Philippines dues for 2012. In particular, there is no prescribed date or month in a given year for which the Integrated Bar of the Philippines dues and Professional Tax must be paid.[15]

For his part, respondent Sherwin denies that he violated the rule on non-forum shopping.[16] He argues that the Comment/Opposition he filed before the Regional Trial Court was merely an answer to the Motion to Implement Writ of Execution, which was filed by the defendants in the ejectment case.[17] Moreover, he argues that the Manifestation with Very Urgent Motion filed before the Court of Appeals was a mere follow-up of the writ of preliminary injunction that they had previously sought and had been left unresolved when the Manifestation was filed.[18] He likewise asserts that the Motion is neither a complaint nor an initiatory pleading; thus, the rule on non-forum shopping does not apply.[19]

The Investigating Commissioner recommended that the complaint against respondents be dismissed,[20] stating that respondent Neopolo's use of his old Integrated Bar of the Philippines and Professional Tax Receipt numbers is "venial."[21] The Investigating Commissioner likewise stated that respondent Sherwin did not violate the rule on non-forum shopping since the Motion filed before the Court of Appeals was neither an initiatory pleading nor a complaint, thus making the rule inapplicable.[22]

In the Notice of Resolution No. XXI-2014-861[23] dated December 13, 2014, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Board of Governors adopted and approved the Investigating Commissioner's recommendation and dismissed the case for lack of merit.

We resolve the following issues:

First, whether respondent Atty. Neopolo Casurao, Jr. is guilty of violating Rule 13 9-A, Section 10 of the Rules of Court; and

Second, whether respondent Atty. Sherwin Casurao is guilty of violating the rule on non-forum shopping.

Sections 9[24] and 10[25] of Rule 139-A of the Rules of Court provide that every member of the bar must pay the Integrated Bar of the Philippines dues before he or she can engage in the practice of law.

When respondent Neopolo received the complaint against him for not updating his Integrated Bar of the Philippines and Professional Tax Receipt numbers, the records show that he rectified his mistake by immediately paying his dues on July 17, 2012.[26] This could be seen as substantial compliance with the rules.

Although this Court recognizes the importance of paying membership dues to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, there is no merit in being unduly strict and unyielding in this case, as even the Integrated Bar of the Philippines itself has recognized how trivial the matter is:
Complainant's charge against respondent Neopolo J. Casurao, Jr. is that the latter used his old (2011) PTR and IBP numbers in a pleading that was filed in 2012. For such small matter, complainant wants said respondent administratively disciplined.

Respondent Neopolo J. Casurao, Jr. offered his explanations for the infraction.

To the mind of the undersigned, the infraction complained of is venial. The weight of authority is that we should let this one pass.[27]
It is likewise recommended that the complaint against respondent Sherwin be dismissed for lack of merit.

There is forum shopping when two (2) separate actions "involve the same transactions, same essential facts and circumstances and raise identical causes of actions, subject matter, and issues."[28] As provided by the Rules of Court, the rule on non-forum shopping applies when an action is commenced through a complaint or an initiatory pleading.[29]

Respondent Sherwin could not have violated the rule on non-forum shopping as the pleadings he filed before the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals were neither complaints nor initiatory pleadings. The Very Urgent Motion he filed before the Court of Appeals was merely filed to counter the Motion to implement the writ of execution, which was filed by the defendants in the ejectment case before the Regional Trial Court.

In addition, the Certification against Forum Shopping as required by Rule 7, Section 5[30] of the Rules of Court must be executed solely by the "plaintiff or a principal party."[31] Respondent Sherwin is neither the plaintiff nor a principal party in the ejectment case from which this complaint arose.

WHEREFORE, the complaint against respondents Atty. Neopolo J. Casurao, Jr. and Atty. Sherwin J. Casurao is DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED. (Brion, J, on leave; Mendoza, J., on official leave.)"

Very truly yours,

MA. LOURDES C. PERFECTO
Division Clerk of Court

By:

(Sgd.) TERESITA AQUINO TUAZON
Deputy Division Clerk of Court


[1] Rollo, pp. 2-5.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 6.

[4] Id. at 6-17.

[5] Id. at 18-23.

[6] Id. at 2.

[7] Id. RULES OF COURT, Rule 139-A, sec. 10 provides:

Section 10. Effect of non-payment of dues. — Subject to the provisions of Section 12 of this Rule, default in the payment of annual dues for six months shall warrant suspension of membership in the Integrated Bar, and default in such payment for one year shall be a ground for the removal of the name of the delinquent member from the Roll of Attorneys.

[8] Rollo, p. 2.

[9] Id. at 24-28

[10] Id. at 29-33, Manifestation with Very Urgent Motion to Resolve Prayer for Writ of Preliminary Injuction.

[11] Id. at 2-3.

[12] Id. at 3.

[13] Id. at 172-178.

[14] Id. at 173.

[15] Id. at 173-175.

[16] Id. at 65-75, Answer.

[17] Id. at 69-70.

[18] Id. at 70-71.

[19] Id. at 71-72.

[20] Id. at 201-203. The Report and Recommendation dated June 4, 2014 was penned by Commissioner Eduardo R. Robles.

[21] Id. at 202.

[22] Id.

[23] Id. at 200.

[24] Rules of Court, Rule 139-A, sec. 9 provides:

Section 9. Membership dues. — Every member of the Integrated Bar shall pay such annual dues as the Board of Governors shall determine with the approval of the Supreme Court. A fixed sum equivalent to ten percent (10%) of the collections from each Chapter shall set aside as a Welfare Fund for disabled members of the Chapter and the compulsory heirs of deceased members thereof.

[25] RULES OF COURT, Rule 139-A, sec. 10 provides:

Section 10. Effect of non-payment of dues. — Subject to the provisions of Section 12 of this Rule, default in the payment of annual dues for six months shall warrant suspension of membership in the Integrated Bar, and default in such payment for one year shall be a ground for the removal of the name of the delinquent member from the Roll of Attorneys.

[26] Rollo, p. 37.

[27] Id. at 201-202.

[28] Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co. v. WMC Resources International Pty. Ltd., 458 Phil. 701, 711 (2003) [Per J. Carpio Morales, Third Division].

[29] RULES OF COURT, Rule 7, sec. 5 provides:

Section 5, Certification against forum shopping. — The plaintiff or principal party shall certify under oath in the complaint or other initiatory pleading asserting a claim for relief, or in a sworn certification annexed thereto and simultaneously filed therewith: (a) that he has not theretofore commenced any action or filed any claim involving the same issues in any court, tribunal or quasi-judicial agency and, to the best of his knowledge, no such other action or claim is pending therein; (b) if there is such other pending action or claim, a complete statement of the present status thereof; and (c) if he should thereafter learn that the same or similar action or claim has been filed or is pending, he shall report that fact within five (5) days therefrom to the court wherein his aforesaid complaint or initiatory pleading has been filed.

Failure to comply with the foregoing requirements shall not be curable by mere amendment of the complaint or other initiatory pleading but shall be cause for the dismissal of the case without prejudice, unless otherwise provided, upon motion and after hearing. The submission of a false certification or non-compliance with any of the undertakings therein shall constitute indirect contempt of court, without prejudice to the corresponding administrative and criminal actions. If the acts of the party or his counsel clearly constitute willful and deliberate forum shopping, the same shall be ground for summary dismissal with prejudice and shall constitute direct contempt, as well as a cause for administrative sanctions.

[30] RULES OF COURT, Rule 7, sec. 5.

[31] RULES OF COURT, Rule 7, sec. 5.

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