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PRE-TRIAL

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RULE 18 - PRE-TRIAL

 

It is true that under the 1964 Rules of Court, the trial judge has authority to declare "as in default" parties who fail to appear at the pre-trial conference.10 [Rule 20, §2.] They may also be declared "as in default" for their failure to file their pre-trial briefs at least three days before the pre-trial conference.11 [SC Circular No. 1-89.]

In deciding whether to grant or deny a motion for postponement of pre-trial, the court must take into account the following factors: (a) the reason for the postponement, and (b) the merits of the case of movant.12 [Aguilar v. Court of Appeals, 227 SCRA 472 (1993).]

In this case, there is no showing that petitioners, in asking for the re-setting of the pre-trial conference, sought merely to cause unjustifiable delay in the proceedings. It is noteworthy that the motion to reset pre-trial, filed five days before the scheduled conference, was the first of such nature filed by petitioners. It was made on the ground that the lawyer handling the case, Atty. Daquigan, was indisposed and petitioners were unavailable due to "previously scheduled professional engagements." While it may be true that petitioners’ counsel failed to attach to said motion a medical certificate attesting to the fact of his illness, the court should have lifted its default order after a duly notarized certificate signed by the attending physician was annexed to the motion to set aside the order of default.13 [RTC Records, p. 159.] As this Court held in Sarmiento v. Juan:14  [120 SCRA 403, 409 (1983).]

The denial by Judge Juan of the petitioner’s motion to postpone the pre-trial scheduled on February 5, 1980 may have appeared valid at the outset, considering that it was filed at the last minute and was not accompanied by a medical certificate although the ground alleged was illness on the part of the petitioner. Nonetheless, a different appraisal of the petitioner’s plea should have been made after the petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which was made under oath. Due regard should have been given to the repeated pronouncements by this Court against default judgments and proceedings that lay more emphasis on procedural niceties to the sacrifice of substantial justice. After all, the ex-parte presentation of evidence had not yet been conducted nor had a decision been rendered in the case. It appeared to be a simple matter of giving the petitioner a chance to have his day in court in order to defend himself against the claim filed by the private respondent.

Moreover, the presence of another lawyer from counsel’s law firm during the scheduled pre-trial conference negates any suggestion of bad faith or wanton disregard of the rules on the part of petitioners.15 [Meralco v. Court of Appeals, 187 SCRA 200 (1990).] As we noted in Tejero v. Rosete,16 [137 SCRA at 75.] in those cases where we sustained the orders declaring parties nonsuited for failure to appear at the pre-trial, the pattern and scheme to delay the disposition of the case was evident. But in the case at bar, no such pattern to delay or wanton attitude on the part of petitioner is disclosed by the records.

Above all, petitioners present valid and meritorious defenses - a fact which should have persuaded the trial court to reconsider its order of default. The allegations in petitioners’ answer cannot simply be dismissed or ignored.

In Villareal v. Court of Appeals,17 [295 SCRA 511, 531-532 (1998) (Italics in the original).] we held:

[The term meritorious defense] may imply that the applicant has the burden of proving such a defense in order to have the judgment set aside. The cases usually do not require such a strong showing. The test employed appears to be essentially the same as used in considering summary judgment, i.e., whether there is enough evidence to present an issue for submission to the trier of fact, or a showing that on the undisputed facts it is not clear the judgment is warranted as a matter of law.

. . . The defendant must show that she has a meritorious defense otherwise the grant of her motion will prove to be a useless exercise. Thus, her motion must be accompanied by a statement of the evidence which she intends to present if the motion is granted and which is such as to warrant a reasonable belief that the result of the case would probably be otherwise if a new trial is granted.

Justice Mendoza, Second Division, Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc. Eusebio, Gallardo and Arreza, Jr., v. Ca and Julie Song[G.R. No. 122346. February 18, 2000]

 

As observed by the Court of Appeals, petitioners did not raise in issue the authenticity of the now contested TCT No. 2200 or a portion thereof during the pre-trial and trial on the merits  in the trial court.  An issue which was neither raised in the complaint nor ventilated during the trial in the court below cannot be raised for  the first time on appeal as it would be offensive to  the basic rule of fair play, justice and due process.15 [Medida v. Court of Appeals, 208 SCRA 887, 893 (1992).] Moreover, the determination of issues at the pre-trial conference bars the consideration of other questions on appeal.16 [Bergado v. Court of Appeals, 173 SCRA 497, 501 (1989); citing Permanent Concrete Products, Inc. v. Teodoro, 26 SCRA 332 (1968).] Further, petitioners  did not object to the formal offer in evidence of TCT No. 2200 as Exhibit D and Series 17 [Records, p. 48.]  and  Exhibit  F and Series; 18 [Records, p. 49; Exhibits F to F-2 are certified photocopies of TCT No. 2200.18 hence, there is a waiver of any objection to its admissibility.19 [People v. Sanchez, 308 SCRA 264, 282 (1999).]

Justice De Leon, Jr. , Second Division, LORETA BRAVO CERVANTES, LOIDA CERVANTES, LEAH CERVANTES, CHRISTY CERVANTES, CHARME CERVANTES, SPS. ARMANDO ABAD and ADORACION ORDUNA, petitioners, vs. HON. COURT OF APPEALS, GUILLERMO (GIL) FRANCISCO, VENANCIO FRANCISCO, APOLONIA FRANCISCO and VIRGINIA FRANCISCO, respondents [G.R. NO. 118982.  February 19, 2001]

 

From the foregoing, the admissions were clearly made during the pre-trial conference and, therefore, conclusive upon the parties making it. The purpose of entering into a stipulation of facts or admissions of facts is to expedite trial and to relieve the parties and the court, as well, of the costs of proving facts which will not be disputed on trial and the truth of which can be ascertained by reasonable inquiry.19 [Concrete Agregates v. CA, 266 SCRA 88 (1987)]

The rules have made mandatory that a pre-trial should first be conducted before hearing any case. The parties themselves are required to attend or their representative with written authority from them in order to arrive at a possible amicable settlement, to submit to alternative modes of dispute resolution, and to enter into stipulations or admissions of facts and documents.20 [Section 4, Rule 18, RULES OF COURT.] All of the matters taken up during the pre-trial, including the stipulation of facts and the admissions made by the parties are required to be recorded in a pre-trial order.21 [Section 7, supra.]

On the basis of the clear admissions made by the parties in the case, the Partial Decision was rendered. Juani cannot now claim that he was denied his day in court when judgment was rendered on the basis of their (Juani, Baluyot and Sulit) counsels’ admissions. Since it was patent that the deed of sale was a forgery, no parcel of land was transferred to the vendees. Thus, the TCTs which Juani, Baluyot and Sulit obtained pursuant to said deed of sale were null and void. Respondent court, therefore, committed a reversible error in giving due course to the petition filed before it, the same not being based on extrinsic fraud and, moreover, it was barred by prescription.

Justice Kapunan, First Division, ROBERTO G. ALARCON, petitioner, vs. THE COURT OF APPEALS and BIENVENIDO JUANI, respondents. [G. R. No. 126802. January 28, 2000]

 

We now come to the second part of the controverted Decision sustaining the court a quo’s order giving petitioner only ten (10) days instead of fifteen (15) days to file her answer to the complaint reckoned from receipt of the order denying the motion to dismiss allegedly in violation of provisions of the Rules of Court, particularly, Section 1 of Rule 11 9 [SECTION 1. Time to answer. – Within fifteen (15) days after service of summons the defendant shall file his answer and serve a copy thereof upon the plaintiff , unless a different period is fixed by the court.] and Section 4 of Rule 16. The records bear out the following findings of fact by the Court of Appeals:

"The summons was received by her on December 15, 1993, and she had been granted by the court another fifteen (15) days after the reglementary period of fifteen (15) days, or up to January 14, 1994. On said date of January 14, 1994, defendant/petitioner filed her motion to dismiss.

When the respondent court denied petitioner’s motion to dismiss and was ordered to file her answer within ten (10) days from receipt thereof on February 7, 1994, she was not deprived of her day in court. Petitioner received said order of denial of February 7, 1994 on February 14, 1994. She filed her motion for reconsideration to said denial on February 23, 1994 and the same was denied by the respondent court on March 7, 1994, which order was received by petitioner on March 17, 1994. She filed her answer (Ex Abundanti Cautelam) on March 28, 1994 or one (1) day late of the second ten-day period required by the court from date of her receipt of the questioned order on March 17, 1994. x x x."10 [Rollo, p. 29.]

Consequently, petitioner was declared in default and trial proceeded ex-parte and a judgment in default rendered against her. Petitioner filed a Notice of Appeal (Ex Abundanti Cautelam) with the court a quo.

The provision in question, Section 4 of Rule 16 of the Rules of Court, cannot be any clearer:

"Sec. 4. Time to plead. – If the motion to dismiss is denied or if determination thereof is deferred, the movant shall file his answer within the period prescribed by Rule 11, computed from the time he received notice of the denial or deferment, unless the court provides a different period."11 [Emphasis supplied.]

This provision has received a categorical interpretation in Matute vs. Court of Appeals 12 [26 SCRA 768 (1969).], wherein this pronouncement was made:

"Rule 11, section 1 of the Revised Rules of Court gives the defendant a period of fifteen (15) days after service of summons within which to file his answer and serve a copy thereof upon the plaintiff, unless a different period is fixed by the court. However, within the period of time for pleading, the defendant is entitled to move for dismissal of the action on any of the grounds enumerated in Rule 16. If the motion to dismiss is denied or if determination thereof is deferred, the movant shall file his answer within the period prescribed by Rule 11, computed from the time he receives notice of the denial or deferment, unless the court provides a different period (Rule 16, section 4). x x x."

Under this provision, where the motion to dismiss is denied, the defendant has the entire reglementary period all over again within which to file his answer reckoned from his receipt of the court’s order, unless otherwise provided by said court.13 [BA Finance Corp. vs. Pineda, et al., 119 SCRA 493 (1982).] In the instant case, the court a quo gave petitioner ten (10) days to file answer and this is reasonable as correctly pointed out by the Court of Appeals considering that "from the date respondent received the summons up to the time she filed her answer on March 29, 1994, she had a total of one hundred three (103) days."

We also note that petitioner’s counsel did not bother to seek relief from the order of default in accordance with Section 3, Rule 18 of the Rules of Court.14 [SEC. 3. Relief from order of default. – A party declared in default may at any time after discovery thereof and before judgment file a motion under oath to set aside the order of default upon proper showing that his failure to answer was due to fraud, accident, mistake or excusable neglect and that he has a meritorious defense. In such case the order of default may be set aside on such terms and conditions as the judge may impose in the interest of justice.] Counsel did not even attempt to have the order of default set aside as provided for in said rule. In fine, the Court of Appeals committed no reversible error in affirming the court a quo’s orders denying the dismissal of the complaint.

Justice Gonzaga, Third Division, CORA VERGARA, petitioner, vs. THE COURT OF APPEALS, HON. CAMILO O. MONTESA, JR., Presiding Judge, RTC-Malolos, Br. 19 and SPS. NAZARIO and ZENAIDA BARRETO, respondents.  [G.R. No. 117929. November 26, 1999]

 

Granting ex-gratia argumenti that the substituted service under scrutiny was not valid, MARIANO’s cause could not prosper just the same, since the remedy he opted to avail of is not the proper recourse under the attendant circumstances. The next to resolve therefore, is the second issue raised by petitioners. xä law

The remedies for an Order of Default are as follows:

"Under the Rules of Court there are several remedies available to a defaulted party, namely:

‘(a) The defendant in default may, at any time after discovery thereof and before judgment, file a motion, under oath, to set aside the order of default on the ground that his failure to answer was due to fraud, accident, mistake or excusable neglect, and that he has meritorious defenses; (Sec. 3, Rule 18)

‘(b) If the judgment has already been rendered when the defendant discovered the default, but before the same has become final and executory, he may file a motion for new trial under Section 1(a) of Rule 37;

‘(c) If the defendant discovered the default after the judgment has become final and executory, he may file a petition for relief under Section 2 of Rule 38; and

‘(d) He may also appeal from the judgment rendered against him as contrary to the evidence or to the law, even if no petition to set aside the order of default has been presented by him (Tiburcio vs. Judge Castro, G.R. No. L-58997, May 28, 1988)" 16 [Construction Services of Australia-Philippines, Inc. vs. Peralta, 173 SCRA 344, 349-350.]

In the case under consideration, MARIANO avers that it was only on October 19, 1996 that he came to know of the case filed against him, when his sister-in-law gave him a brown envelope containing the said decision adverse to him. Assuming such allegation to be true, he could have interposed a motion for reconsideration or for new trial and should such a motion be denied or not ruled upon with dispatch by the trial court, petitioners could have appealed the judgment by default within the reglementary period.

Justice Purisima, Third Division, SPOUSES MARIANO MADRIGAL AND JULIETA MADRIGAL, petitioners vs. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, THE HONORABLE PRESIDING JUDGE, BR. 139, RTC, CITY OF MAKATI & SPOUSES JOSEPH AND JOSEFINA AQUINO, respondents. [G.R. No. 129955. November 26, 1999]

 

As for the trial court’s holding that the defense of prescription had been waived, it not being one of the issues agreed upon at pre-trial, suffice it to say that while the terms of the pre-trial order bind the parties as to the matters to be taken up in trial, it would be the height of injustice for us to adhere to this technicality when the fact of prescription is manifest in the pleadings of the parties, as well as the findings of fact of the lower courts.20 [See Revised Rules of Court, Rule 118, Sec. 3 and Rule 9, Sec. 1 which respectively provide:

Pre-trial order. --- After the pre-trial conference, the court shall issue an order reciting the actions taken, the facts stipulated, and evidence marked. Such order shall bind the parties, limit the trial to matters not disposed of and control the course of the action during the trial, unless modified by the court to prevent manifest injustice. (Emphasis supplied)

Defenses and objections not pleaded. --- xxx (W)hen it appears from the pleadings or the evidence on record that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter, that there is an action pending between the same parties for the same cause, or that the action is barred by a prior judgment or by statute of limitations, the court shall dismiss the claim.]

A perusal of the factual antecedents reveals that not only has prescription set in, private respondents are also guilty of estoppel by laches. It may be recalled that Leoncio died on January 8, 1962. Fifteen years later, Victor died, leaving as his sole heir Ricardo Villalon, who also died four years later. While Victor was alive, he gave no indication of any interest to contest the donation of his deceased father. As we have discussed earlier, the fact that he actively participated in Civil Case No. 1177 did not amount to a renunciation of his inheritance and does not preclude him from bringing an action to claim his legitime. These are matters that Victor could not possibly be unaware of, considering that he is a lawyer.21 [Amended Complaint, Annex C-1 of Petition; Rollo, 52.] Ricardo Villalon was even a lessee of a portion of the donated property, and could have instituted the action as sole heir of his natural son, or at the very least, raised the matter of legitime by way of counterclaim in an ejectment case 22 [Motion to Dismiss Complaint, Annex "D" of Petition; Rollo, 56-57.] filed against him by petitioner in 1979. Neither does it help private respondents’ cause that five years have elapsed since the death of Ricardo in 1981 before they filed their complaint with the RTC.

Estoppel by laches is the failure or neglect for an unreasonable or unexplained length of time to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier, warranting a presumption that the person has abandoned his right or declined to assert it.23 [Madeja vs. Patcho, 132 SCRA 540.] We find the necessity for the application of the principle of estoppel by laches in this case, in order to avoid an injustice.

Justice Gonzaga-Reyes, Third division, ELOY IMPERIAL, petitioner vs. COURT OF APPEALS, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF LEGASPI CITY, CESAR VILLALON, JR., TERESA VILLALON, ANTONIO VILLALON, AUGUSTO VILLALON, ROBERTO VILLALON, RICARDO VILLALON and ESTHER VILLALON, respondents.  [G.R. No. 112483. October 8, 1999]

 

What is the remedy of a plaintiff declared non-suited for failure to appear at the pre-trial hearings?

The respondent Court held that appeal, not certiorari, is the remedy of a party declared non-suited for failure to appear at the pre-trial hearing. In addition, said Court noted the failure of petitioners to state the date of receipt of the order denying the motion for reconsideration in the Court a quo. Hence, it could not determine whether the petition was filed on time.

The Court finds no reversible error in the said Resolutions of the Court of Appeals. Well-settled is the rule that a dismissal for failure to appear at the pre-trial hearing is deemed an adjudication on the merits, unless otherwise stated in the order.

For non-appearance at the pre-trial, a plaintiff may be non-suited and a dismissal of the complaint for failure to prosecute has the effect of an adjudication upon the merits unless otherwise provided by the trial court. [Geralde vs. Sabido, G. R. No. L-35440, August 19, 1982, 115 SCRA 839, 841, citing Sec. 3, Rule 17 and Sec. 2, Rule 20, Rules of Court, and Ouye vs. American President Lines, Ltd., 77 Phil. 635; Tuballa vs. De la Cruz, 111 Phil. 335, 337; American Insurance Co. vs. Republic, 21 SCRA 464; Home Insurance Co. vs. United States Lines Co., 21 SCRA 863].

And the remedy of a plaintiff declared non-suited is to appeal from the order of dismissal the same being a final resolution of the case [Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, 1988 Ed., p. 185]. Further, if a motion for reconsideration had been filed by the plaintiff but was denied, appeal lies from both orders [Ibid.]. And where appeal is the proper remedy, certiorari will not lie.

Justice Panganiban, Third Division, SPOUSES ROBERTO and LILIA MONDONEDO, Petitioners vs.  COURT OF APPEALS, HON. LUCIA VIOLAGO ISNANI, as Presiding Judge of Branch 59, Regional Trial Court  of Makati, MAKATI DEPUTY SHERIFF MAXIMO CONTRERAS,  REGISTER OF DEEDS OF MAKATI, REGISTER OF DEEDS OF LAS PIÑAS, REGISTER OF DEEDS OF BAGUIO CITY and SECURITY BANK AND TRUST  COMPANY, Respondents, G. R. No. 113349, January 18, 1996

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