Sunday, August 22, 2010

Forum shopping and res judicata.

In the case of ALONSO, ET. AL. VS. RELAMIDA, En Banc, AC No. 8481, August 3, 2010, the Supreme Court found the respondent Atty. Ibaro B. Relamida, Jr. guilty of violating the Rules on Res Judicata and Forum Shopping. He was SUSPENDED for six (6) months from the practice of law. He was warned that a repetition of the same or a similar act will be dealt with more severely. The doctrinal parts of the decision are quoted below, for legal research purposes of the visitors of this law blog, thus:

x x x,

All lawyers must bear in mind that their oaths are neither mere words nor an empty formality. When they take their oath as lawyers, they dedicate their lives to the pursuit of justice. They accept the sacred trust to uphold the laws of the land. As the first Canon of the Code of Professional Responsibility states, "[a] lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes." Moreover, according to the lawyer’s oath they took, lawyers should "not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor give aid or consent to the same."[20]

In the instant case, it is clear that Atty. Relamida is guilty of forum shopping and violation of the rule on res judicata. Atty. Relamida should have refrained from filing the second complaint against Servier. He ought to have known that the previous dismissal was with prejudice, since it had the effect of an adjudication on the merits. He was aware of all the proceedings which the first complaint went through as by his own admission, he participated in the preparation of the pleadings and even signed as counsel of Ebanen occasionally.[21] He knew that the decision in the subject case had already attained finality. Atty. Relamida was well aware that when he filed the second complaint, it involved the same parties and same cause of action, albeit, he justified the same on the ground of nullity of the previous dismissal.

His allegation that he was not the original counsel of Ebanen and that his intention was only to protect the rights of his clients whom he believed were not properly addressed in the prior complaint deserves scant consideration. He should know that once a case is decided with finality, the controversy is settled and the matter is laid to rest. The prevailing party is entitled to enjoy the fruits of his victory, while the other party is obliged to respect the court’s verdict and to comply with it.[22]

The essence of forum shopping is the filing of multiple suits involving the same parties for the same cause of action, either simultaneously or successively, for the purpose of obtaining a favorable judgment. It exists when, as a result of an adverse opinion in one forum, a party seeks a favorable opinion in another, or when he institutes two or more actions or proceedings grounded on the same cause to increase the chances of obtaining a favorable decision. An important factor in determining its existence is the vexation caused to the courts and the parties-litigants by the filing of similar cases to claim substantially the same reliefs. Forum shopping exists where the elements of litis pendentia are present or where a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in another. Thus, the following requisites should concur:[23]

x x x (a) identity of parties, or at least such parties as represent the same interests in both actions, (b) identity of rights asserted and relief prayed for, the relief being founded on the same facts, and (c) the identity of the two preceding particulars is such that any judgment rendered in the other action will, regardless of which party is successful, amount to res judicata in the action under consideration.

A lawyer owes fidelity to the cause of his client, but not at the expense of truth and the administration of justice. The filing of multiple petitions constitutes abuse of the court’s processes and improper conduct that tends to impede, obstruct and degrade the administration of justice and will be punished as contempt of court. Needless to state, the lawyer who files such multiple or repetitious petitions (which obviously delays the execution of a final and executory judgment) subjects himself to disciplinary action for incompetence (for not knowing any better) or for willful violation of his duties as an attorney to act with all good fidelity to the courts, and to maintain only such actions as appear to him to be just and are consistent with truth and honor.[24]

The filing of another action concerning the same subject matter, in violation of the doctrine of res judicata, runs contrary to Canon 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which requires a lawyer to exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice. By his actuations, respondent also violated Rule 12.02 and Rule 12.04 of the Code, as well as a lawyer’s mandate "to delay no man for money or malice."[25]

The Court has, time and again, warned lawyers not to resort to forum shopping for this practice clogs the court dockets. Their primary duty is to assist the courts in the administration of justice. Any conduct which tends to delay, impede or obstruct the administration of justice contravenes such lawyer’s duty.[26] This we will not tolerate.

In cases of similar nature,[27] the penalty imposed by this Court was six (6) months suspension from the practice of law. Thus, consistent with the existing jurisprudence, we find that, in this case, the suspension of six (6) months from practice of law is proper.