Basic principles on jurisdiction (subject matter)

In law, nothing is as elementary as the concept of jurisdiction, for the same is the foundation upon which the courts exercise their power of adjudication, and without which, no rights or obligation could emanate from any decision or resolution.Jurisdiction is defined as the power and authority of a court to hear, try, and decide a case.[1] In order for the court or an adjudicative body to have authority to dispose of the case on the merits, it must acquire, among others, jurisdiction over the subject matter.[2] It is axiomatic that jurisdiction over the subject matter is the power to hear and determine the general class to which the proceedings in question belong; it is conferred by law and not by the consent or acquiescence of any or all of the parties or by erroneous belief of the court that it exists.[3]

The power of a court to hear and decide a controversy is called its jurisdiction, which includes the power to determine whether or not it has the authority to hear and determine the controversy presented, and the right to decide whether or not the statement of facts that confer jurisdiction exists, as well as all other matters that arise in the case legitimately before the court. Jurisdiction imports the power and authority to declare the law, to expound or to apply the laws exclusive of the idea of the power to make the laws, to hear and determine issues of law and of fact, the power to hear, determine, and pronounce judgment on the issues before the court, and the power to inquire into the facts, to apply the law, and to pronounce the judgment.[4]

But judicial power is to be distinguished from jurisdiction in that the former cannot exist without the latter and must of necessity be exercised within the scope of the latter, not beyond it.[5]

Jurisdiction is a matter of substantive law because it is conferred only by law, as distinguished from venue, which is a purely procedural matter. The conferring law may be the Constitution, or the statute organizing the court or tribunal, or the special or general statute defining the jurisdiction of an existing court or tribunal, but it must be in force at the time of the commencement of the action.[6] Jurisdiction cannot be presumed or implied, but must appear clearly from the law or it will not be held to exist,[7] but it may be conferred on a court or tribunal by necessary implication as well as by express terms.[8] It cannot be conferred by the agreement of the parties;[9] or by the court's acquiescence;[10] or by the erroneous belief of the court that it had jurisdiction;[11] or by the waiver of objections;[12] or by the silence of the parties.[13]

The three essential elements of jurisdiction are: one, that the court must have cognizance of the class of cases to which the one to be adjudged belongs; two, that the proper parties must be present; and, three, that the point decided must be, in substance and effect, within the issue. The test for determining jurisdiction is ordinarily the nature of the case as made by the complaint and the relief sought; and the primary and essential nature of the suit, not its incidental character, determines the jurisdiction of the court relative to it.[14]

Jurisdiction may be classified into original and appellate, the former being the power to take judicial cognizance of a case instituted for judicial action for the first time under conditions provided by law, and the latter being the authority of a court higher in rank to re-examine the final order or judgment of a lower court that tried the case elevated for judicial review. Considering that the two classes of jurisdiction are exclusive of each other, one must be expressly conferred by law. One does not flow, nor is inferred, from the other.[15]

Jurisdiction is to be distinguished from its exercise.[16] When there is jurisdiction over the person and subject matter, the decision of all other questions arising in the case is but an exercise of that jurisdiction.[17] Considering that jurisdiction over the subject matter determines the power of a court or tribunal to hear and determine a particular case, its existence does not depend upon the regularity of its exercise by the court or tribunal.[18] The test of jurisdiction is whether or not the court or tribunal had the power to enter on the inquiry, not whether or not its conclusions in the course thereof were correct, for the power to decide necessarily carries with it the power to decide wrongly as well as rightly. In a manner of speaking, the lack of the power to act at all results in a judgment that is void; while the lack of the power to render an erroneous decision results in a judgment that is valid until set aside.[19] That the decision is erroneous does not divest the court or tribunal that rendered it of the jurisdiction conferred by law to try the case.[20] Hence, if the court or tribunal has jurisdiction over the civil action, whatever error may be attributed to it is simply one of judgment, not of jurisdiction; appeal, not certiorari, lies to correct the error.[21]

[1] Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation v. Bureau of Customs, G.R. No. 209830, June 17, 2015, 759 SCRA 306, 310, citing Spouses Genato v. Viola, 625 Phil. 514, 527 (2010).

[2] Id.

[3] Id., See Philippine Coconut Producers Federation, Inc. v. Republic, 679 Phil. 508 (2012), citing Allied Domecq Philippines, Inc. v. Villon, 482 Phil. 894, 900 (2004).

[4] 21 CJS § l5, p. 30.

[5] Id. at 32.

[6] Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 92326, June 24, 1992, 205 SCRA 356, 362; Lee v. Municipal Trial Court of Legaspi, 145 SCRA 408.

[7] Tenorio v. Batangas Transportation Co., 90 Phil 804 (1952); Dimagiba v. Geraldez, 102 Phil 1016; De Jesus, et al. v. Garcia, et al., No. L-26816, February 28, 1967, 19 SCRA 554, 562.

[8] 21 CJS § 29, p. 40; thus, a statute declaring that there is a remedy for every wrong cannot be relied on to confer jurisdiction on a court in a particular case, because the remedy may lie with the Legislature; also, a court has no jurisdiction over a matter that is not an action or special proceeding provided by statute or the Rules of Court unless the matter involves a wrong that requires judicial action, and for which there is no adequate remedy at law.

[9] United States v. CastaƱares, 18 Phil 210, 214 (1911); unlike venue, which may be regulated by the agreement of the parties.

[10] Molina v. De La Riva, 6 Phil 12, 15 (1906); Squillantini v. Republic, 88 Phil. 135 (1951).

[11] Azarcon v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No 116033, February 26, 1997, 268 SCRA 747; Cruzcosa v. Concepcion, 101 Phil 146.

[12] Sabulao v. De los Angeles, 39 SCRA 94; Vargas v. Akai Phil., Inc., 156 SCRA 531.

[13] United States v. De La Santa, 9 Phil 22, 26 (1907).

[14] 21 CJS § 35.

[15] Garcia v. De Jesus, G. R. No. 88158, March 4, 1992, 206 SCRA 779.

[16] Lim v. Pacquing, G.R. No. 115044, September 1, 1994, 236 SCRA 211, 218; Lamagan v. De la Cruz, No. L-27950, July 29, 1971, 40 SCRA 101, 107.

[17] 21 CJS § 26.

[18] Century Insurance Co., Inc. v. Fuentes, No. L-16039, August 31, 1961, 2 SCRA 1168, 1173.

[19] 21 CJS § 27.

[20] Quiason, Philippine Courts and their Jurisdiction, 1993 ed., p. 199.

[21] De Castro v. Delta Motor Sales Corporation, No. L-34971, May 21, 1974, 57 SCRA 344, 346-347.