CASE BRIEF 2000-0003

CASE: Felizardo S. Obando and the Estates of Jose Figueras and Doña Alegria Figueras vs. Eduardo F. Figueras and Amigo Realty Corp. (G.R. No. 134854 January 18, 2000)

PONENTE: Panganiban, J.:

SUBJECT: (Rule 138 Sec. 26)Change of Attorney of Record; (Rule 16) Motion to Dismiss

FACTS: In the settlement of the estates of spouses Don Jose and Doña Alegria Figueras, Eduardo (stepson of Doña Alegria) assumed administration thereof. During the settlement proceedings Eduardo was served a Petition for Probate of what purported to be Doña Alegria’s Last Will and Testament, filed by Felizardo S. Obando (Obando), a nephew of Doña Alegria.

The alleged Will bequeathed to Obando and several other members of the Obando clan properties left by the Figueras couple. When the probate case was consolidated with the intestate proceedings, Obando was appointed as Eduardo’s co-administrator of the estates.

As Eduardo insisted that the alleged Will was a forgery, the document was submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for examination. The NBI found that the Will was indeed a forgery. This led to the conviction of Obando for estafa through falsification of a public document.

Meanwhile, Eduardo filed a motion for authority to sell two parcels of land owned by Don Jose and Doña Alegria but the probate court denied the same. Despite such denial, Eduardo sold the lots to Amigo Realty Corporation.

Obando, in his capacity as co-administrator, filed a civil case before the RTC against Eduardo and Amigo Realty for the nullification of the sale.

However, in the settlement proceedings, the probate court removed Obando from his office as co-administrator of the estate of the Figueras spouses. Consequently, in the civil case, Eduardo, thorugh Atty. Joaquin Yuseco, filed a Motion to Dismiss on the ground that Obando lost his legal standing to pursue the case. The trial court granted the Motion and dismissed the civil case filed by Obando.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, Obando raised the following issues:

The motion to dismiss should not be acted upon by the trial court since Atty. Joaquin Yuseco was no longer the counsel of Eduardo, as shown by Eduardo’s Manifestation and Motion dated January 8, 1998, dispensing with said counsel’s services.

The Rules provide that a motion to dismiss may be submitted only before the filing of a responsive pleading. Thus, Obando complain that it was already too late for Eduardo to file a Motion to Dismiss after Obando had finished presenting his evidence.

Obando also aver that it was premature for the trial court to dismiss the civil case because Obando’s conviction for estafa through falsification was still on appeal.

ISSUES:

(A) Whether the trial court could act on a motion filed by a lawyer who was allegedly no longer Eduardo’s counsel of record;

(B) Whether a motion to dismiss filed after the responsive pleadings were already made can still be granted;

(C) Whether the conviction of Obando for estafa through falsification and the revocation of his appointment as administrator, both of which are on appeal, constitute sufficient grounds to dismiss the civil case;

RULING:

(A)     Representation continues until the court dispenses with the services of counsel in accordance with Section 26, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Counsel may be validly substituted only if the following requisites are complied with: (1) new counsel files a written application for Substitution; (2) the client’s written consent is obtained; and (3) the written consent of the lawyer to be substituted is secured, if it can still be; if the written consent can no longer be obtained, then the application for substitution must carry proof that notice of the motion has been served on the attorney to be substituted in the manner required by the Rules.

In this case, we are convinced that Eduardo did not dismiss Attorney Yuseco. Besides, an attorney who has already been dismissed by the client is allowed to intervene in a case in order to protect the client’s rights. In the present case, had there been any irregularity, it should have been raised by the Eduardo, not Obando.

(B)     The period to file a motion to dismiss depends upon the circumstances of the case. Section 1 of Rule 16 of the Rules of Court requires that, in general, a motion to dismiss should be filed within the reglementary period for filing a responsive pleading.

However, even after an answer has been filed, the Court has allowed a defendant to file a motion to dismiss on the following grounds: (1) lack of jurisdiction, (2) litis pendentia, (3) lack of cause of action, and (4) discovery during trial of evidence that would constitute a ground for dismissal. Except for lack of cause of action or lack of jurisdiction, the grounds under Section 1 of Rule 16 may be waived. If a particular ground for dismissal is not raised or if no motion to dismiss is filed at all within the reglementary period, it is generally considered waived under Section 1, Rule 9 of the Rules.

Applying this principle to the case at bar, Eduardo did not waive his right to move for the dismissal of the civil case based on Obando’s lack of legal capacity. It must be pointed out that it was only after he had been convicted of estafa through falsification that the probate court divested him of his representation of the Figueras estates. It was only then that this ground became available to Eduardo. Hence, it could not be said that he waived it by raising it in a Motion to Dismiss filed after his Answer was submitted. Verily, if the plaintiff loses his capacity to sue during the pendency of the case, as in the present controversy, the defendant should be allowed to file a motion to dismiss, even after the lapse of the reglementary period for filing a responsive pleading.

(C)     Obando derived his power to represent the estate of the deceased couple from his appointment as co-administrator. When the probate court removed him from office, he lost that authority. Since he lacked the legal capacity to sue on behalf of the Figueras estates, he could not continue prosecuting the civil case. Thus the trial court properly granted the Motion to Dismiss on this ground.  Whether a final conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude is necessary to remove him from his administration is not a proper issue in this Petition. He should raise the matter in his appeal of the Decision removing him from administration of the Figueras estates.

————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

(A)     Representation continues until the court dispenses with the services of counsel in accordance with Section 26, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Counsel may be validly substituted only if the following requisites are complied with: (1) new counsel files a written application for Substitution; (2) the client’s written consent is obtained; and (3) the written consent of the lawyer to be substituted is secured, if it can still be; if the written consent can no longer be obtained, then the application for substitution must carry proof that notice of the motion has been served on the attorney to be substituted in the manner required by the Rules.

B) The Court has allowed a defendant to file a motion to dismiss on the following grounds: (1) lack of jurisdiction, (2) litis pendentia, (3) lack of cause of action, and (4) discovery during trial of evidence that would constitute a ground for dismissal.

Verily, if the plaintiff loses his capacity to sue during the pendency of the case, the defendant should be allowed to file a motion to dismiss, even after the lapse of the reglementary period for filing a responsive pleading.

 ‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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

======================