G.R. No. 125536, March 16, 2000

384 Phil. 817

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 125536, March 16, 2000 ]

PRUDENTIAL BANK, PETITIONER, VS. COURT OF APPEALS AND LETICIA TUPASI-VALENZUELA JOINED BY HUSBAND FRANCISCO VALENZUELA, RESPONDENTS.

DECISION

QUISUMBING, J.:

This appeal by certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeks to annul and set aside the Decision dated January 31, 1996, and the Resolution dated July 2, 1997, of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. CV No. 35532, which reversed the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Valenzuela, Metro Manila, Branch 171, in Civil Case No. 2913-V-88, dismissing the private respondent's complaint for damages.[1]

In setting aside the trial court's decision, the Court of Appeals disposed as follows:
"WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and, another rendered ordering the appellee bank to pay appellant the sum of P100,000.00 by way of moral damages; P50,000.00 by way of exemplary damages, P50,000.00 for and as attorney's fees; and to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED."[2]
The facts of the case on record are as follows:

Private respondent Leticia Tupasi-Valenzuela opened Savings Account No. 5744 and Current Account No. 01016-3 in the Valenzuela Branch of petitioner Prudential Bank, with automatic transfer of funds from the savings account to the current account.

On June 1, 1988, herein private respondent deposited in her savings account Check No. 666B (104561 of even date) the amount of P35,271.60, drawn against the Philippine Commercial International Bank (PCIB). Taking into account that deposit and a series of withdrawals, private respondent as of June 21, 1988 had a balance of P35,993.48 in her savings account and P776.93 in her current account, or total deposits of P36,770.41, with petitioner.

Thereafter, private respondent issued Prudential Bank Check No. 983395 in the amount of P11,500.00 post-dated June 20, 1988, in favor of one Belen Legaspi. It was issued to Legaspi as payment for jewelry which private respondent had purchased. Legaspi, who was in jewelry trade, endorsed the check to one Philip Lhuillier, a businessman also in the jewelry business. When Lhuillier deposited the check in his account with the PCIB, Pasay Branch, it was dishonored for being drawn against insufficient funds. Lhuillier's secretary informed the secretary of Legaspi of the dishonor. The latter told the former to redeposit the check. Legaspi's secretary tried to contact private respondent but to no avail.

Upon her return from the province, private respondent was surprised to learn of the dishonor of the check. She went to the Valenzuela Branch of Prudential Bank on July 4, 1988, to inquire why her check was dishonored. She approached one Albert Angeles Reyes, the officer in charge of current account, and requested him for the ledger of her current account. Private respondent discovered a debit of P300.00 penalty for the dishonor of her Prudential Check No. 983395. She asked why her check was dishonored when there were sufficient funds in her account as reflected in her passbook. Reyes told her that there was no need to review the passbook because the bank ledger was the best proof that she did not have sufficient funds. Then, he abruptly faced his typewriter and started typing.

Later, it was found out that the check in the amount of P35,271.60 deposited by private respondent on June 1, 1988, was credited in her savings account only on June 24, 1988, or after a period of 23 days. Thus the P11,500.00 check was redeposited by Lhuillier on June 24, 1988, and properly cleared on June 27, 1988.

Because of this incident, the bank tried to mollify private respondent by explaining to Legaspi and Lhuillier that the bank was at fault. Since this was not the first incident private respondent had experienced with the bank, private respondent was unmoved by the bank's apologies and she commenced the present suit for damages before the RTC of Valenzuela.

After trial, the court rendered a decision on August 30, 1991, dismissing the complaint of private respondent, as well as the counterclaim filed by the defendant, now petitioner.

Undeterred, private respondent appealed to the Court of Appeals. On January 31, 1996, respondent appellate court rendered a decision in her favor, setting aside the trial court's decision and ordering herein petitioner to pay private respondent the sum of P100,000.00 by way of moral damages; P50,000.00 exemplary damages; P50,000.00 for and as attorney's fees; and to pay the costs.[3]

Petitioner filed a timely motion for reconsideration but it was denied. Hence, this petition, raising the following issues:
  1. WHETHER OR NOT THE RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION IN DEVIATING FROM ESTABLISHED JURISPRUDENCE IN REVERSING THE DISMISSAL JUDGMENT OF THE TRIAL COURT AND INSTEAD AWARDED MORAL DAMAGES, EXEMPLARY DAMAGES AND ATTORNEY'S FEES.

  2. WHETHER OR NOT THE RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS ACTED IN GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION WHERE, EVEN IN THE ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE AS FOUND BY THE TRIAL COURT, AWARDED MORAL DAMAGES IN THE AMOUNT OF P100,000.00.

  3. WHETHER OR NOT THE RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS ACTED IN GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION, WHERE, EVEN IN THE ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE AS FOUND BY THE TRIAL COURT, AWARDED P50,000.00 BY WAY OF EXEMPLARY DAMAGES.

  4. WHETHER OR NOT THE RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION WHERE EVEN IN THE ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE, AWARDED ATTORNEY'S FEES.
Simply stated, the issue is whether the respondent court erred and gravely abused its discretion in awarding moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees to be paid by petitioner to private respondent.

Petitioner claims that generally the factual findings of the lower courts are final and binding upon this Court. However, there are exceptions to this rule. One is where the trial court and the Court of Appeals had arrived at diverse factual findings.[4] Petitioner faults the respondent court from deviating from the basic rule that finding of facts by the trial court is entitled to great weight, because the trial court had the opportunity to observe the deportment of witness and the evaluation of evidence presented during the trial. Petitioner contends that the appellate court gravely abused its discretion when it awarded damages to the plaintiff, even in the face of lack of evidence to prove such damages, as found by the trial court.

Firstly, petitioner questions the award of moral damages. It claims that private respondent did not suffer any damage upon the dishonor of the check. Petitioner avers it acted in good faith. It was an honest mistake on its part, according to petitioner, when misposting of private respondent's deposit on June 1, 1988, happened. Further, petitioner contends that private respondent may not "claim" damages because the petitioner's manager and other employee had profusely apologized to private respondent for the error. They offered to make restitution and apology to the payee of the check, Legaspi, as well as the alleged endorsee, Lhuillier. Regrettably, it was private respondent who declined the offer and allegedly said, that there was nothing more to it, and that the matter had been put to rest.[5]

Admittedly, as found by both the respondent appellate court and the trial court, petitioner bank had committed a mistake. It misposted private respondent's check deposit to another account and delayed the posting of the same to the proper account of the private respondent. The mistake resulted to the dishonor of the private respondent's check. The trial court found "that the misposting of plaintiff's check deposit to another account and the delayed posting of the same to the account of the plaintiff is a clear proof of lack of supervision on the part of the defendant bank."[6] Similarly, the appellate court also found that "while it may be true that the bank's negligence in dishonoring the properly funded check of appellant might not have been attended with malice and bad faith, as appellee [bank] submits, nevertheless, it is the result of lack of due care and caution expected of an employee of a firm engaged in so sensitive and accurately demanding task as banking."[7]

In Simex International (Manila), Inc, vs. Court of Appeals, 183 SCRA 360, 367 (1990), and Bank of Philippine Islands vs. IAC, et al., 206 SCRA 408, 412-413 (1992), this Court had occasion to stress the fiduciary nature of the relationship between a bank and its depositors and the extent of diligence expected of the former in handling the accounts entrusted to its care, thus:
"In every case, the depositor expects the bank to treat his account with the utmost fidelity, whether such account consists only of a few hundred pesos or of millions. The bank must record every single transaction accurately, down to the last centavo, and as promptly as possible. This has to be done if the account is to reflect at any given time the amount of money the depositor can dispose of as he sees fit, confident that the bank will deliver it as and to whomever he directs. A blunder on the part of bank, such as the dishonor of a check without good reason, can cause the depositor not a little embarrassment if not also financial loss and perhaps even civil and criminal litigation.

The point is that as a business affected with public interest and because of the nature of its functions, the bank is under obligation to treat the account of its depositors with meticulous care, always having in mind the fiduciary nature of their relationship. x x x"
In the recent case of Philippine National Bank vs. Court of Appeals,[8]we held that "a bank is under obligation to treat the accounts of its depositors with meticulous care whether such account consists only of a few hundred pesos or of millions of pesos. Responsibility arising from negligence in the performance of every kind of obligation is demandable. While petitioner's negligence in this case may not have been attended with malice and bad faith, nevertheless, it caused serious anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation". Hence we ruled that the offended party in said case was entitled to recover reasonable moral damages.

Even if malice or bad faith was not sufficiently proved in the instant case, the fact remains that petitioner has committed a serious mistake. It dishonored the check issued by the private respondent who turned out to have sufficient funds with petitioner. The bank's negligence was the result of lack of due care and caution required of managers and employees of a firm engaged in so sensitive and demanding business as banking. Accordingly, the award of moral damages by the respondent Court of Appeals could not be said to be in error nor in grave abuse of its discretion.

There is no hard-and-fast rule in the determination of what would be a fair amount of moral damages since each case must be governed by its own peculiar facts. The yardstick should be that it is not palpably and scandalously excessive. In our view, the award of P100,000.00 is reasonable, considering the reputation and social standing of private respondent Leticia T. Valenzuela.[9]

The law allows the grant of exemplary damages by way of example for the public good.[10] The public relies on the banks' sworn profession of diligence and meticulousness in giving irreproachable service. The level of meticulousness must be maintained at all times by the banking sector. Hence, the Court of Appeals did not err in awarding exemplary damages. In our view, however, the reduced amount of P20,000.00 is more appropriate.

The award of attorney's fees is also proper when exemplary damages are awarded and since private respondent was compelled to engage the services of a lawyer and incurred expenses to protect her interest.[11] The standards in fixing attorney's fees are: (1) the amount and the character of the services rendered; (2) labor, time and trouble involved; (3) the nature and importance of the litigation and business in which the services were rendered; (4) the responsibility imposed; (5) the amount of money and the value of the property affected by the controversy or involved in the employment; (6) the skill and the experience called for in the performance of the services; (7) the professional character and the social standing of the attorney; (8) the results secured, it being a recognized rule that an attorney may properly charge a much larger fee when it is contingent than when it is not.[12] In this case, all the aforementioned weighed, and considering that the amount involved in the controversy is only P36,770.41, the total deposit of private respondent which was misposted by the bank, we find the award of respondent court of P50,000.00 for attorney's fees, excessive and reduce the same to P30,000.00.

WHEREFORE, the assailed DECISION of the Court of Appeals is hereby AFFIRMED, with MODIFICATION. The petitioner is ordered to pay P100,000.00 by way of moral damages in favor of private respondent Leticia T. Valenzuela. It is further ordered to pay her exemplary damages in the amount of P20,000.00 and P30,000.00, attorney's fees.

Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, (Chairman), Mendoza, Buena, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, p. 65.

[2] Id. at 72.

[3] Supra, note 2.

[4] Cang vs. Court of Appeals, 296 SCRA 128, 145 (1998).

[5] Rollo, pp. 21-24.

[6] Id. at 62.

[7] Id. at 70.

[8] G.R. No. 126152, September 28, 1999, citing the cases of Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company vs. Court of Appeals, 237 SCRA 761 (1994) and Leopoldo Araneta vs. Bank of America, 40 SCRA 144 (1971).

[9] Cf. Philippine National Bank vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 126152, September 28, 1999, p. 7; Tan vs. Court of Appeals, 239 SCRA 310, 324 (1994).

[10] See CIVIL CODE, Article 2229.

[11] See CIVIL CODE, Article 2208.

[12] Pascual v. Court of Appeals, 300 SCRA 214, 233 (1998).

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