CASE BRIEF 2013-0369

CASE: Philippine National Construction Corp. vs. APAC Phils. Corporation (G.R. No. 190957 June 5, 2013)

PONENTE: Serreno, CJ.:

SUBJECT: Attorney’s Fees

FACTS:

APAC filed with the trial court a complaint against PNCC for collection of sum of money with damages, alleging that PNCC failed to pay the sum of ₱782,296.80 as payment for the crushed basalt rock APAC delivered to PNCC.

The trial court rendered a Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

“WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff, ordering defendants jointly and solidarily to pay:

1. ₱782,296.80 as actual damages;

2. ₱50,000.00 as attorney’s fees, plus ₱3,000.00 per court appearance;

3. Cost of suit.

SO ORDERED.”

The trial court in finding PNCC liable for attorney’s fees, it explained in its Decision that:

“X x x since it is clear that plaintiff was compelled to hire the services of a counsel, to litigate and to protect his interest by reason of an unjustified act of the other party, PNCC is entitled to recover attorney’s fees in the amount of ₱50,000.00 which it paid as acceptance fee and ₱3,000.00 as appearance fee.”

On appeal to the CA, the court a quo affirmed the ruling of the RTC.

PNCC filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which raised the lone issue of the propriety of the award of attorney’s fees in favor of respondent. The CA denied petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration.

ISSUE: Whether the CA gravely erred in awarding attorney’s fees to respondent.

RULING:

The CA erred.

As a general rule, the parties may stipulate the recovery of attorney’s fees because of the policy that no premium should be placed on the right to litigate.

In the absence of such stipulation, Article 2208 restrictively enumerates the instances when these fees may be recovered, to wit:

“Art. 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs, cannot be recovered, except:

(1) When exemplary damages are awarded;

(2) When the defendant’s act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest;

(3) In criminal cases of malicious prosecution against the plaintiff;

(4) In case of a clearly unfounded civil action or proceeding against the plaintiff;

(5) Where the defendant acted in gross and evident bad faith in refusing to satisfy the plaintiff’s plainly valid, just and demandable claim;

(6) In actions for legal support;

(7) In actions for the recovery of wages of household helpers, laborers and skilled workers;

(8) In actions for indemnity under workmen’s compensation and employer’s liability laws;

(9) In a separate civil action to recover civil liability arising from a crime;

(10) When at least double judicial costs are awarded;

(11) In any other case where the court deems it just and equitable that attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation should be recovered.

In all cases, the attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation must be reasonable.”

Attorney’s fees are not to be awarded every time a party wins a suit. The power of the court to award attorney’s fees under Article 2208 demands factual, legal, and equitable justification. Even when a claimant is compelled to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his rights, still attorney’s fees may not be awarded where no sufficient showing of bad faith could be reflected in a party’s persistence in a case other than an erroneous conviction of the righteousness of his cause.

In Benedicto v. Villaflores, the Court explained the dual concept of attorney’s fees as ordinary and extraordinary:

“Attorney’s fees, as part of damages, are not necessarily equated to the amount paid by a litigant to a lawyer. In the ordinary sense, attorney’s fees represent the reasonable compensation paid to a lawyer by his client for the legal services he has rendered to the latter; while in its extraordinary concept, they may be awarded by the court as indemnity for damages to be paid by the losing party to the prevailing party. Attorney’s fees as part of damages are awarded only in the instances specified in Article 2208 of the Civil Code. As such, it is necessary for the court to make findings of fact and law that would bring the case within the ambit of these enumerated instances to justify the grant of such award, and in all cases it must be reasonable.”

The Court has consistently held that an award of attorney’s fees under Article 2208 demands factual, legal, and equitable justification to avoid speculation and conjecture surrounding the grant thereof. Due to the special nature of the award of attorney’s fees, a rigid standard is imposed on the courts before these fees could be granted. Hence, it is imperative that they clearly and distinctly set forth in their decisions the basis for the award thereof. It is not enough that they merely state the amount of the grant in the dispositive portion of their decisions. It bears reiteration that the award of attorney’s fees is an exception rather than the general rule; thus, there must be compelling legal reason to bring the case within the exceptions provided under Article 2208 of the Civil Code to justify the award.

Here, there is an absence of an independent CA finding of the factual circumstances and legal or equitable basis to justify the grant of attorney’s fees. The CA merely adopted the RTC’s rational for the award, which in this case is inadequate.


THINGS DECIDED:

A) In the absence of such stipulation, Article 2208 restrictively enumerates the instances when these fees may be recovered, to wit:

Art. 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs, cannot be recovered, except:

  1. When exemplary damages are awarded;
  2. When the defendant’s act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest;
  3. In criminal cases of malicious prosecution against the plaintiff;
  4. In case of a clearly unfounded civil action or proceeding against the plaintiff;
  5. Where the defendant acted in gross and evident bad faith in refusing to satisfy the plaintiff’s plainly valid, just and demandable claim;
  6. In actions for legal support;
  7. In actions for the recovery of wages of household helpers, laborers and skilled workers;
  8. In actions for indemnity under workmen’s compensation and employer’s liability laws;
  9. In a separate civil action to recover civil liability arising from a crime;
  10. When at least double judicial costs are awarded. In any other case where the court deems it just and equitable that attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation should be recovered.

B) Dual concept of Attorney’s Fees:

(a) In the ordinary sense, attorney’s fees represent the reasonable compensation paid to a lawyer by his client for the legal services he has rendered to the latter; (b) while in its extraordinary concept, they may be awarded by the court as indemnity for damages to be paid by the losing party to the prevailing party. Attorney’s fees as part of damages are awarded only in the instances specified in Article 2208 of the Civil Code.

C) Attorney’s fees as part of damages are awarded only in the instances specified in Article 2208 of the Civil Code. As such, it is necessary for the court to make findings of fact and law that would bring the case within the ambit of these enumerated instances to justify the grant of such award, and in all cases it must be reasonable.

 ‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


For more Case Briefs visit us at Stare Decisis or like us on Facebook @staredecispage

Read Full Text:
Philippine National Construction Corp. vs. APAC Phils. Corporation

Stare Decisis