Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dismissal of action; when prescription inapplicable.

G.R. No. 157852


HEIRS OF DOMINGO VALIENTES vs. Hon. ReInerio (Abraham) B. Ramas, et. al.,
G.R. No. 157852
December 15, 2010



D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:





x x x.

We rule in favor of private respondent Minor on this issue.



Firstly, it stretches the bounds of credulity for petitioners to argue that a defendant in a case should appeal the dismissal order she prayed for just because other grounds for dismissal were not considered by the court.



Secondly, and more importantly, Section 1, Rule 9 of the Rules of Court provides:



Section 1. Defenses and objections not pleaded. – Defenses and objections not pleaded either in a motion to dismiss or in the answer are deemed waived. However, when it appears from the pleadings or the evidence on record that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter, that there is another 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.





The second sentence of this provision does not only supply exceptions to the rule that defenses not pleaded either in a motion to dismiss or in the answer are deemed waived, it also allows courts to dismiss cases motu proprio on any of the enumerated grounds – (1) lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter; (2) litis pendentia; (3) res judicata; and (4) prescription – provided that the ground for dismissal is apparent from the pleadings or the evidence on record.



We therefore rule that private respondent Minor cannot be deemed to have waived the defense of prescription, and that the Court of Appeals may consider the same motu proprio. Furthermore, as regards the pronouncement by the Court of Appeals that Civil Case No. 98-021 is likewise heavily infirmed with laches, we rule that the Court of Appeals is not in error when it considered the same motu proprio. While not included in the above enumeration under Section 1, Rule 9 of the Rules of Court, we have ruled in previous cases that laches need not be specifically pleaded and may be considered by the court on its own initiative in determining the rights of the parties.[15]



Having thus determined the authority of the Court of Appeals to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds of prescription and laches despite private respondent Minor’s failure to appeal the dismissal Order, We shall now proceed to determine whether or not prescription or laches has already set in to bar the filing of Civil Case No. 98-021.



Imprescriptibility of Quieting of Title



After the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of petitioners on the issue of whether Civil Case No. 98-021 is already barred by forum shopping, res judicata or litis pendentia, the appellate court, nevertheless, affirmed the dismissal order, but on the grounds of prescription and laches:



Be that as it may, this Court is imbued with sufficient discretion to review matters, not otherwise assigned as errors on appeal, if it finds that their consideration is necessary in arriving at a complete and just resolution of the case (Heirs of Ramon Durano, Sr. vs. Uy, 344 SCRA 238).



The case cannot prosper because an action for reconveyance is a legal remedy granted to a landowner whose property has been wrongfully or erroneously registered in another’s name, which must be filed within ten years from the issuance of the title since such issuance operates as a constructive notice (Declaro vs. Court of Appeals, 346 SCRA 57). Where a party has neglected to assert his rights over a property in question for an unreasonably long period, he is estopped from questioning the validity of another person’s title to the property (Ibid.) Long inaction and passivity in asserting one’s rights over a disputed property precludes him from recovering said property (Po Lam vs. Court vs. Court of Appeals, 347 SCRA 86).



In conclusion, petitioners’ cause of action has already prescribed and now heavily infirmed with laches.[16]





Petitioners claim that although the complaint was captioned for “CANCELLATION OF TRANSFER CERTIFICATE OF TITLE NO. T-5,427, RECONVEYANCE, WITH ACCOUNTING, RECEIVERSHIP, AND APPLICATION FOR A WRIT OF PRELIMINARY PROHIBITORY INJUNCTION PLUS DAMAGES,” the complaint is substantially in the nature of an action to quiet title which allegedly does not prescribe. Petitioners also allege that the cases cited by the Court of Appeals in ruling that prescription has set in, particularly that of Declaro v. Court of Appeals,[17] which in turn cites Tenio-Obsequio v. Court of Appeals,[18] are inapplicable to the case at bar since neither fraud nor forgery was attendant in said cases.



As regards petitioners’ claim that the complaint in Civil Case No. 98-021 is really one of quieting of title which does not prescribe, it appears that petitioners are referring to the doctrine laid down in the often-cited case of Heirs of Jose Olviga v. Court of Appeals,[19] wherein we held:



With regard to the issue of prescription, this Court has ruled a number of times before that an action for reconveyance of a parcel of land based on implied or constructive trust prescribes in ten years, the point of reference being the date of registration of the deed or the date of the issuance of the certificate of title over the property (Vda. de Portugal vs. IAC, 159 SCRA 178). But this rule applies only when the plaintiff is not in possession of the property, since if a person claiming to be the owner thereof is in actual possession of the property, the right to seek reconveyance, which in effect seeks to quiet title to the property, does not prescribe.[20]





The cause of action of petitioners in Civil Case No. 98-021, wherein they claim that private respondent Minor’s predecessor-in-interest acquired the subject property by forgery, can indeed be considered as that of enforcing an implied trust. In particular, Article 1456 of the Civil Code provides:



Art. 1456. If property is acquired through mistake or fraud, the person obtaining it is, by force of law, considered a trustee of an implied trust for the benefit of the person from whom the property comes.





However, the Court made a clear distinction in Olviga: when the plaintiff in such action is not in possession of the subject property, the action prescribes in ten years from the date of registration of the deed or the date of the issuance of the certificate of title over the property. When the plaintiff is in possession of the subject property, the action, being in effect that of quieting of title to the property, does not prescribe. In the case at bar, petitioners (who are the plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 98-021) are not in possession of the subject property. Civil Case No. 98-021, if it were to be considered as that of enforcing an implied trust, should have therefore been filed within ten years from the issuance of TCT No. T-5,427 on December 22, 1969. Civil Case No. 98-021 was, however, filed on August 20, 1998, which was way beyond the prescriptive period.



As an alternative argument, petitioners claim that the prescriptive period for filing their complaint is thirty years, pursuant to Article 1141 of the Civil Code, in connection with Articles 1134 and 1137 thereof, which respectively provide:



Art. 1141. Real actions over immovables prescribe after thirty years.



This provision is without prejudice to what is established for the acquisition of ownership and other real rights by prescription.



Art. 1134. Ownership and other real rights over immovable property are acquired by ordinary prescription through possession of ten years.



Art. 1137. Ownership and other real rights over immovables also prescribe through uninterrupted adverse possession thereof for thirty years, without need of title or of good faith.





The theory of petitioners is that the Motion to Dismiss hypothetically admits the allegations of the complaint, including the allegations thereon that the spouses Belen were successful in fraudulently acquiring TCT No. T-5,427 in their favor by means of the forged VENTA DEFINITIVA. Thus, for purposes of ruling on a Motion to Dismiss, it is hypothetically admitted that private respondent Minor’s predecessors-in-interest are in bad faith. The applicable prescriptive period, therefore, is that provided in Article 1141 in relation to Article 1137 of the Civil Code, which is thirty years. Civil Case No. 98-021 was filed on August 20, 1998, 28 years and eight months from the issuance of TCT No. T-5,427 on December 22, 1969.



Articles 1141, 1134 and 1137 of the Civil Code, however, are general rules on prescription which should give way to the special statute on registered lands, Presidential Decree No. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree. Under the Torrens System as enshrined in P.D. No. 1529, the decree of registration and the certificate of title issued become incontrovertible upon the expiration of one year from the date of entry of the decree of registration, without prejudice to an action for damages against the applicant or any person responsible for the fraud.[21]



As previously discussed, however, we have allowed actions for reconveyance based on implied trusts even beyond such one-year period, for such actions respect the decree of registration as incontrovertible. We explained this in Walstrom v. Mapa, Jr.[22]:



We have ruled before in Amerol vs. Bagumbaran that notwithstanding the irrevocability of the Torrens title already issued in the name of another person, he can still be compelled under the law to reconvey the subject property to the rightful owner. The property registered is deemed to be held in trust for the real owner by the person in whose name it is registered. After all, the Torrens system was not designed to shield and protect one who had committed fraud or misrepresentation and thus holds title in bad faith.



In an action for reconveyance, the decree of registration is respected as incontrovertible. What is sought instead is the transfer of the property, in this case the title thereof, which has been wrongfully or erroneously registered in another person's name, to its rightful and legal owner, or to one with a better right. This is what reconveyance is all about.



Yet, the right to seek reconveyance based on an implied or constructive trust is not absolute nor is it imprescriptible. An action for reconveyance based on an implied or constructive trust must perforce prescribe in ten years from the issuance of the Torrens title over the property.[23]





As discussed above, Civil Case No. 98-021 was filed more than 28 years from the issuance of TCT No. T-5,427. This period is unreasonably long for a party seeking to enforce its right to file the appropriate case. Thus, petitioners’ claim that they had not slept on their rights is patently unconvincing.





As a final note, it should be pointed out that in choosing to file a Petition for Certiorari before this Court, petitioners are required to prove nothing less than grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Court of Appeals. We have consistently held that “certiorari will not be issued to cure errors in proceedings or correct erroneous conclusions of law or fact. As long as a court acts within its jurisdiction, any alleged errors committed in the exercise of its jurisdiction will amount to nothing more than errors of judgment which are reviewable by timely appeal and not by a special civil action of certiorari.”[24] In the case at bar, petitioners proved neither grave abuse of discretion, nor even a simple error of judgment on the part of the Court of Appeals. The present petition should, therefore, fail.


x x x.

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