Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Appeal; interlocutory order vs. final order, judgment; remedy when interlocutory order is adverse.


“x x x.

This Court has laid down the distinction between interlocutory and final orders, as follows:

x x x A “final” judgment or order is one that finally disposes of a case, leaving nothing more to be done by the Court in respect thereto, e.g., an adjudication on the merits which, on the basis of the evidence presented at the trial, declares categorically what the rights and obligations of the parties are and which party is in the right; or a judgment or order that dismisses an action on the ground, for instance, of res judicata or prescription. Once rendered, the task of the Court is ended, as far as deciding the controversy or determining the rights and liabilities of the litigants is concerned. Nothing more remains to be done by the Court except to await the parties’ next move (which among others, may consist of the filing of a motion for new trial or reconsideration, or the taking of an appeal) and ultimately, of course, to cause the execution of the judgment once it becomes “final” or, to use the established and more distinctive term, “final and executory.”

x x x x

Conversely, an order that does not finally dispose of the case, and does not end the Court’s task of adjudicating the parties’ contentions and determining their rights and liabilities as regards each other, but obviously indicates that other things remain to be done by the Court, is “interlocutory” e.g., an order denying a motion to dismiss under Rule 16 of the Rules, or granting a motion for extension of time to file a pleading, or authorizing amendment thereof, or granting or denying applications for postponement, or production or inspection of documents or things, etc. Unlike a “final” judgment or order, which is appealable, as above pointed out, an “interlocutory” order may not be questioned on appeal except only as part of an appeal that may eventually be taken from the final judgment rendered in the case.1 
[Emphasis supplied]

The assailed orders relative to the incident of support pendente lite and support in arrears, as the term suggests, were issued pending the rendition of the decision on the main action for declaration of nullity of marriage, and are therefore interlocutory. They did not finally dispose of the case nor did they consist of a final adjudication of the merits of petitioner’s claims as to the ground of psychological incapacity and other incidents as child custody, support and conjugal assets.

The Rules of Court provide for the provisional remedy of support pendente litewhich may be availed of at the commencement of the proper action or proceeding, or at any time prior to the judgment or final order.2 

On March 4, 2003, this Court promulgated the Rule on Provisional Orders⁠3  which shall govern the issuance of provisional orders during the pendency of cases for the declaration of nullity of marriage, annulment of voidable marriage and legal separation. These include orders for spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation rights, hold departure, protection and administration of common property.

Petitioner contends that the CA failed to recognize that the interlocutory aspect of the assailed orders pertains only to private respondent’s motion to reduce support which was granted, and to her own motion to increase support, which was denied. Petitioner points out that the ruling on support in arrears which have remained unpaid, as well as her prayer for reimbursement/payment under the May 19, 1998 Order and related orders were in the nature of final orders assailable by ordinary appeal considering that the orders referred to under Sections 1 and 4 of Rule 61 of the Rules of Court can apply only prospectively. Thus, from the moment the accrued amounts became due and demandable, the orders under which the amounts were made payable by private respondent have ceased to be provisional and have become final.

We disagree.

The word interlocutory refers to something intervening between the commencement and the end of the suit which decides some point or matter but is not a final decision of the whole controversy.4  An interlocutory order merely resolves incidental matters and leaves something more to be done to resolve the merits of the case. In contrast, a judgment or order is considered final if the order disposes of the action or proceeding completely, or terminates a particular stage of the same action.5  Clearly, whether an order or resolution is final or interlocutory is not dependent on compliance or non- compliance by a party to its directive, as what petitioner suggests. It is also important to emphasize the temporary or provisional nature of the assailed orders.

Provisional remedies are writs and processes available during the pendency of the action which may be resorted to by a litigant to preserve and protect certain rights and interests therein pending rendition, and for purposes of the ultimate effects, of a final judgment in the case. They are provisional because they constitute temporary measures availed of during the pendency of the action, and they are ancillary because they are mere incidents in and are dependent upon the result of the main action.6 The subject orders on the matter of support pendente lite are but an incident to the main action for declaration of nullity of marriage.
Moreover, private respondent’s obligation to give monthly support in the amount fixed by the RTC in the assailed orders may be enforced by the court itself, as what transpired in the early stage of the proceedings when the court cited the private respondent in contempt of court and ordered him arrested for his refusal/failure to comply with the order granting support pendente lite.7  A few years later, private respondent filed a motion to reduce support while petitioner filed her own motion to increase the same, and in addition sought spousal support and support in arrears. This fact underscores the provisional character of the order granting support pendente lite. Petitioner’s theory that the assailed orders have ceased to be provisional due to the arrearages incurred by private respondent is therefore untenable.

Under Section 1, Rule 41 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, appeal from interlocutory orders is not allowed. Said provision reads:

SECTION 1. Subject of appeal. – An appeal may be taken from a judgment or final order that completely disposes of the case, or of a particular matter therein when declared by these Rules to be appealable.

No appeal may be taken from:

(a) An order denying a motion for new trial or reconsideration;
(b) An order denying a petition for relief or any similar motion seeking relief from judgment;
(c) An interlocutory order;
(d) An order disallowing or dismissing an appeal;
(e) An order denying a motion to set aside a judgment by consent, confession or compromise on the ground of fraud, mistake or duress, or any other ground vitiating consent;
(f) An order of execution;
(g) A judgment or final order for or against one or more of several parties or in separate claims, counterclaims, cross-claims and third-party complaints, while the main case is pending, unless the court allows an appeal therefrom; and
(h) An order dismissing an action without prejudice;

In all the above instances where the judgment or final order is not appealable, the aggrieved party may file an appropriate special civil action under Rule 65. (Emphasis supplied.)

The remedy against an interlocutory order not subject of an appeal is an appropriate special civil action under Rule 65 provided that the interlocutory order is rendered without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion. Having chosen the wrong remedy in questioning the subject interlocutory orders of the RTC, petitioner’s appeal was correctly dismissed by the CA.

X x x.”