CASE BRIEF 2009-978

CASE: RE: Query of Mr. Roger C. Prioreschi, Re: Exemption from Legal and Filing Fees of the GOOD SHEPHERD FOUNDATION, INC. (A. M. No. 09-6-9-SC August 19, 2009)

PONENTE: Bersamin, J.:

SUBJECT: Filing Fees; Indigent Litigant

FACTS:

Mr. Roger C. Prioreschi, administrator of the Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc., wrote the Supreme Court requesting for exemption from payment of legal fees granted to indigent litigants. He pointed out that Good Shepherd works with and for the most Indigent persons such as “the poorest among the poor, to the newly born and abandoned babies, to children who never saw the smile of their mother, to old people who cannot afford a few pesos to pay for common prescriptions, to broken families who returned to a normal life”. 

ISSUE: 

Can the Courts grant to Good Shepherd who works for indigent and underprivileged people, from payment of legal fees? 

RULING:

No. The Courts cannot grant to foundations like the Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc. the same exemption from payment of legal fees granted to indigent litigants even if the foundations are working for indigent and underprivileged people.

The basis for the exemption from legal and filing fees is the free access clause, embodied in Sec. 11, Art. III of the 1987 Constitution, thus:

Sec. 11. Free access to the courts and quasi judicial bodies and adequate legal assistance shall not be denied to any person by reason of poverty.

In implementation of the right of free access under the Constitution, the Supreme Court promulgated rules, specifically, Sec. 21, Rule 3, Rules of Court, and Sec. 19, Rule 141, Rules of Court, which respectively state thus:

Sec. 21. Indigent party. A party may be authorized to litigate his action, claim or defense as an indigent if the court, upon an ex parte application and hearing, is satisfied that the party is one who has no money or property sufficient and available for food, shelter and basic necessities for himself and his family.

Such authority shall include an exemption from payment of docket and other lawful fees, and of transcripts of stenographic notes which the court may order to be furnished him. The amount of the docket and other lawful fees which the indigent was exempted from paying shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorable to the indigent, unless the court otherwise provides.

Any adverse party may contest the grant of such authority at any time before judgment is rendered by the trial court. If the court should determine after hearing that the party declared as an indigent is in fact a person with sufficient income or property, the proper docket and other lawful fees shall be assessed and collected by the clerk of court. If payment is not made within the time fixed by the court, execution shall issue for the payment thereof, without prejudice to such other sanctions as the court may impose. (22a)

Sec. 19.  Indigent litigants exempt from payment of legal fees. Indigent litigants (a) whose gross income and that of their immediate family do not exceed an amount double the monthly minimum wage of an employee and (b) who do not own real property with a fair market value as stated in the current tax declaration of more than three hundred thousand (P300,000.00) pesos shall be exempt from payment of legal fees.

The legal fees shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorable to the indigent litigant unless the court otherwise provides.

To be entitled to the exemption herein provided, the litigant shall execute an affidavit that he and his immediate family do not earn a gross income abovementioned, and they do not own any real property with the fair value aforementioned, supported by an affidavit of a disinterested person attesting to the truth of the litigants affidavit.  The current tax declaration, if any, shall be attached to the litigants affidavit.

Any falsity in the affidavit of litigant or disinterested person shall be sufficient cause to dismiss the complaint or action or to strike out the pleading of that party, without prejudice to whatever criminal liability may have been incurred. 

The clear intent and precise language of the aforequoted provisions of the Rules of Court indicate that only a natural party litigant may be regarded as an indigent litigant. The Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc., being a juridical person, therefore, it cannot be accorded the exemption from legal and filing fees granted to indigent litigants.

That the Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc. is working for indigent and underprivileged people is of no moment. Clearly, the Constitution has explicitly premised the free access clause on a person’s poverty, a condition that only a natural person can suffer.


THINGS DECIDED:

A) The Courts cannot grant to foundations like the Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc. the same exemption from payment of legal fees granted to indigent litigants even if the foundations are working for indigent and underprivileged people.

B) The clear intent and precise language of Sec. 21, Rule 3, Rules of Court, and Sec. 19, Rule 141, Rules of Court indicate that only a natural party litigant may be regarded as an indigent litigant. The Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc., being a juridical person, therefore, it cannot be accorded the exemption from legal and filing fees granted to indigent litigants.

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Read Full Text: RE: Query of Mr. Roger C. Prioreschi, Re: Exemption from Legal and Filing Fees of the GOOD SHEPHERD FOUNDATION, INC. (A. M. No. 09-6-9-SC August 19, 2009)

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