G.R. No. 166496 - JOSEFA BAUTISTA FERRER vs SPS. MANUEL M. FERRER, ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 166496 : November 9, 2006]
JOSEFA BAUTISTA FERRER, Petitioner, v. SPS. MANUEL M. FERRER & VIRGINIA FERRER and SPS. ISMAEL M. FERRER and FLORA FERRER, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is an Appeal by Certiorari which assails the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals dated 16 August 2004 in CA-G.R. SP No. 78525, reversing and setting aside the Order2 dated 16 December 2002 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Mandaluyong City, Branch 212 in Civil Case No. MC02-1780. The Court of Appeals ordered the dismissal of the Complaint3 filed by petitioner Josefa Bautista Ferrer against respondents Sps. Manuel M. Ferrer and Virginia Ferrer, and Sps. Ismael M. Ferrer and Flora Ferrer in the aforesaid Civil Case No. MC02-1780.
In her Complaint for payment of conjugal improvements, sum of money, and accounting with prayer for injunction and damages, petitioner alleged that she is the widow of Alfredo Ferrer (Alfredo), a half-brother of respondents Manuel M. Ferrer (Manuel) and Ismael M. Ferrer (Ismael). Before her marriage to Alfredo, the latter acquired a piece of lot, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 67927.4 He applied for a loan with the Social Security System (SSS) to build improvements thereon, including a residential house and a two-door apartment building. However, it was during their marriage that payment of the loan was made using the couple's conjugal funds. From their conjugal funds, petitioner posited, they constructed a warehouse on the lot. Moreover, petitioner averred that respondent Manuel occupied one door of the apartment building, as well as the warehouse; however, in September 1991, he stopped paying rentals thereon, alleging that he had acquired ownership over the property by virtue of a Deed of Sale executed by Alfredo in favor of respondents, Manuel and Ismael and their spouses. TCT No. 67927 was cancelled, and TCT. No. 2728 was issued and registered in the names of respondents.
It is petitioner's contention that on 2 October 1989, when her husband was already bedridden, respondents Ismael and Flora Ferrer made him sign a document, purported to be his last will and testament. The document, however, was a Deed of Sale covering Alfredo's lot and the improvements thereon. Learning of this development, Alfredo filed with the RTC of Pasig, a Complaint for Annulment of the said sale against respondents, docketed as Civil Case No. 61327.5 On 22 June 1993, the RTC dismissed the same.6 The RTC found that the terms and conditions of the Deed of Sale are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, and public policy, and should be complied with by the parties in good faith, there being no compelling reason
under the law to do otherwise. The dismissal was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Subsequently, on 7 November 1994, this Court, in G.R. No. L-117067, finding no reversible error committed by the appellate court in affirming the dismissal of the RTC, affirmed the Decision of the Court of Appeals.7
Further, in support of her Complaint, petitioner alluded to a portion of the Decision dated 22 June 1993 of the RTC in Civil Case No. 61327, which stated, to wit:
In determining which property is the principal and which is the accessory, the property of greater value shall be considered the principal. In this case, the lot is the principal and the improvements the accessories. Since Article 120 of the Family Code provides the rule that the ownership of accessory follows the ownership of the principal, then the subject lot with all its improvements became an exclusive and capital property of Alfredo with an obligation to reimburse the conjugal partnership of the cost of improvements at the time of liquidation of [the] conjugal partnership. Clearly, Alfredo has all the rights to sell the subject property by himself without need of Josefa's consent.8
According to petitioner, the ruling of the RTC shows that, when Alfredo died on 29 September 1999, or at the time of the liquidation of the conjugal partnership, she had the right to be reimbursed for the cost of the improvements on Alfredo's lot. She alleged that the cost of the improvements amounted to
P500,000.00; hence, one-half thereof should be reimbursed and paid by respondents as they are now the registered owners of Alfredo's lot. She averred that respondents cannot claim lack of knowledge about the fact that the improvements were constructed using conjugal funds as they had occupied one of the apartment buildings on Alfredo's lot, and even paid rentals to petitioner. In addition, petitioner prayed that respondents be ordered to render an accounting from September, 1991, on the income of the boarding house constructed thereon which they had appropriated for themselves, and to remit one-half thereof as her share. Finally, petitioner sought from respondents moral and exemplary damages, litigation and incidental expenses.
For their part, respondents filed a Motion to Dismiss,9 contending that petitioner had no cause of action against them, and that the cause of action was barred by prior judgment.
On 16 December 2002, the RTC rendered an Order,10 denying the Motion to Dismiss. According to the RTC, no pronouncement as to the improvements constructed on Alfredo's lot has been made in Civil Case No. 61327, and the payment of petitioner's share in the conjugal partnership constitutes a separate cause of action. A subsequent Order11 dated 17 January 2003 was issued by the RTC, denying respondents' Motion for Reconsideration.
Aggrieved, respondents elevated the case to the Court of Appeals by way of a Petition for Certiorari, alleging grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the RTC in denying the dismissal.
On 16 August 2004, the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision granting the Petition. It held that petitioner's Complaint failed to state a cause of action. The appellate court rationalized as follows:
[W]e believe that the instant complaint is not the proper action for the respondent to enforce her right of reimbursement of the cost of the improvement[s] on the subject property. As correctly pointed out by the petitioners, the same should be made and directed in the settlement of estate of her deceased husband Alfredo Ferrer pursuant to Article 12912 of the Family Code. Such being the case, it appears that the complaint herein fails to state a cause of action against the petitioners, the latter not being the proper parties against whom the subject action for reimbursement must be directed to. A complaint states a cause of action where it contains three essential elements of a cause of action, namely: (1) the legal right of the plaintiff; (2) the correlative obligation of the defendant, and (3) the act or omission of the defendant in violation of said legal right. If these elements are absent, the complaint becomes vulnerable to a motion to dismiss on the ground of failure to state a cause of action. Albeit the respondent herein has the legal right to be reimbursed of the cost of the improvements of the subject property, it is not the petitioners but the estate of her deceased husband which has the obligation to pay the same. The complaint herein is therefore dismissible for failure to state a cause of action against the petitioners. Needless to say, the respondent is not without any further recourse as she may file her claim against the estate of her deceased husband.
In light of the foregoing, we find that the public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion in denying the petitioners' motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.13
Aggrieved, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration thereon. However, on 17 December 2004, the Court of Appeals rendered a Resolution14 denying the motion.
Hence, the present recourse.
Petitioner submits the following grounds for the allowance of the instant Petition, to wit:
A. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN RULING THAT PETITIONER'S COMPLAINT FAILS TO STATE A CAUSE OF ACTION AGAINST THE RESPONDENTS, THE LATTER NOT BEING THE PROPER PARTIES AGAINST WHOM THE SUBJECT ACTION FOR REIMBURSEMENT MUST BE DIRECTED TO.
B. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN RULING THAT THE PUBLIC RESPONDENT, HON. RIZALINA T. CAPCO-UMALI, COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DENYING THE [RESPONDENTS'] MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CAUSE OF ACTION.15
Both arguments raise the sole issue of whether the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing petitioner's Complaint for failure to state a cause of action.
Section 1(g) Rule 1616 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure makes it clear that failure to make a sufficient allegation of a cause of action in the complaint warrants the dismissal thereof. Section 2, Rule 2 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure defines a cause of action as the act or omission by which a party violates the right of another. It is the delict or the wrongful act or omission committed by the defendant in violation of the primary right of the plaintiff.17
A cause of action has the following essential elements, viz:
(1) A right in favor of the plaintiff by whatever means and under whatever law it arises or is created;
(2) An obligation on the part of the named defendant to respect or not to violate such right; andcralawlibrary
(3) Act or omission on the part of such defendant in violation of the right of the plaintiff or constituting a breach of the obligation of the defendant to the plaintiff for which the latter may maintain an action for recovery of damages or other appropriate relief.18
A complaint states a cause of action only when it has the three indispensable elements.19
In the determination of the presence of these elements, inquiry is confined to the four corners of the complaint. Only the statements in the Complaint may be properly considered.20 The absence of any of these elements makes a complaint vulnerable to a Motion to Dismiss on the ground of a failure to state a cause of action.21
After a reading of the allegations contained in petitioner's Complaint, we are convinced that the same failed to state a cause of action.
In the case at bar, petitioner asserts a legal right in her favor by relying on the Decision of the RTC in Civil Case No. 61327. It can be recalled that the aforesaid case is an action for Annulment filed by Alfredo and petitioner against the respondents to seek annulment of the Deed of Sale, executed by Alfredo in respondents' favor and covering the herein subject premises. The Complaint was dismissed by the RTC, and subsequently affirmed by the Court of Appeals and by this Court in G.R. No. L-117067.
According to petitioner, while the RTC in Civil Case No. 61327 recognized that the improvements constructed on Alfredo's lots were deemed as Alfredo's exclusive and capital property, the court also held that petitioner, as Alfredo's spouse, has the right to claim reimbursement from the estate of Alfredo. It is argued by petitioner that her husband had no other property, and his only property had been sold to the respondents; hence, she has the legal right to claim for reimbursement from the respondents who are now the owners of the lot and the improvements thereon. In fine, petitioner asseverates that the Complaint cannot be dismissed on the ground of failure to state a cause of action because the respondents have the correlative obligation to pay the value of the improvements.
Petitioner was not able to show that there is an obligation on the part of the respondents to respect or not to violate her right. While we could concede that Civil Case No. 61327 made a reference to the right of the spouse as contemplated in Article 12022 of the Family Code to be reimbursed for the cost of the improvements, the obligation to reimburse rests on the spouse upon whom ownership of the entire property is vested. There is no obligation on the part of the purchaser of the property, in case the property is sold by the owner-spouse.
Indeed, Article 120 provides the solution in determining the ownership of the improvements that are made on the separate property of the spouses at the expense of the partnership or through the acts or efforts of either or both spouses. Thus, when the cost of the improvement and any resulting increase in value are more than the value of the property at the time of the improvement, the entire property of one of the spouses shall belong to the conjugal partnership, subject to reimbursement of the value of the property of the owner-spouse at the time of the improvement; otherwise, said property shall be retained in ownership by the owner-spouse, likewise subject to reimbursement of the cost of the improvement. The subject property was precisely declared as the exclusive property of Alfredo on the basis of Article 120 of the Family Code.
What is incontrovertible is that the respondents, despite the allegations contained in the Complaint that they are the buyers of the subject premises, are not petitioner's spouse nor can they ever be deemed as the owner-spouse upon whom the obligation to reimburse petitioner for her costs rested. It is the owner-spouse who has the obligation to reimburse the conjugal partnership or the spouse who expended the acts or efforts, as the case may be. Otherwise stated, respondents do not have the obligation to respect petitioner's right to be reimbursed.
On this matter, we do not find an act or omission on the part of respondents in violation of petitioner's rights. The right of the respondents to acquire as buyers the subject premises from Alfredo under the assailed Deed of Sale in Civil Case No. 61327 had been laid to rest. This is because the validity of the Deed of Sale had already been determined and upheld with finality. The same had been similarly admitted by petitioner in her Complaint. It can be said, thus, that respondents' act of acquiring the subject property by sale was not in violation of petitioner's rights. The same can also be said of the respondents' objection to reimburse petitioner. Simply, no correlative obligation exists on the part of the respondents to reimburse the petitioner. Corollary thereto, neither can it be said that their refusal to reimburse constituted a violation of petitioner's rights. As has been shown in the foregoing, no obligation by the respondents under the law exists. Petitioner's Complaint failed to state a cause of action against the respondents, and for this reason, the Court of Appeals was not in error in dismissing the same.
WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED. The Decision dated 16 August 2004 and the Resolution dated 17 December 2004 of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. SP. No. 78525 are AFFIRMED. Costs de oficio.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis with Associate Justices Eliezer R. De Los Santos and Arturo D. Brion, concurring; rollo, pp. 27-35.
2 Id. at 40-41.
3 Records, pp. 1-9.
4 Id. at 11-12.
5 Entitled, Sps. Alfredo S. Ferrer and Josefa Jimenez Ferrer v. Sps. Ismael R. Ferrer and Flora C. Ferrer and Sps. Manuel M. Ferrer and Virginia Ferrer.
6 Penned by Jose H. Hernandez; records, pp. 17-22.
7 Id. at 3.
8 Id. at 20.
9 Id. at 201-210.
10 Id. at 244-245.
11 Id. at 251.
12 Art. 129. Upon the dissolution of the conjugal partnership regime, the following procedure shall apply:
(1) An inventory shall be prepared, listing separately all the properties of the conjugal partnership and the exclusive properties of each spouse.
(2) Amounts advanced by the conjugal partnership in payment of personal debts and obligations of either spouse shall be credited to the conjugal partnership as an asset thereof.
(3) Each spouse shall be reimbursed for the use of his or her exclusive funds in the acquisition of property or for the value of his or her exclusive property, the ownership of which has been vested by law in the conjugal partnership. (4) The debts and obligations of the conjugal partnership shall be paid out of the conjugal assets. In case of insufficiency of said assets, the spouses shall be solidarily liable for the unpaid balance with their separate properties, in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (2) of Article 121.
(5) Whatever remains of the exclusive properties of the spouses shall thereafter be delivered to each of them.
(6) Unless the owner had been indemnified from whatever source, the loss or deterioration of movables used for the benefit of the family, belonging to either spouse, even due to fortuitous event, shall be paid to said spouse from the conjugal funds, if any.
(7) The net remainder of the conjugal partnership properties shall constitute the profits, which shall be divided equally between husband and wife, unless a different proportion or division was agreed upon in the marriage settlements or unless there has been a voluntary waiver or forfeiture of such share as provided in this Code.
(8) The presumptive legitimes of the common children shall be delivered upon the partition in accordance with Article 51.
(9) In the partition of the properties, the conjugal dwelling and the lot on which it is situated shall, unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties, be adjudicated to the spouse with whom the majority of the common children choose to remain. Children below the age of seven years are deemed to have chosen the mother, unless the court has decided otherwise. In case there is no such majority, the court shall decide, taking into consideration the best interests of said children.
13 Rollo, pp. 33-34.
14 Penned by Associate Justice Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis with Associate Justices Eliezer R. De Los Santos and Monina Arevalo Zenarosa, concurring; rollo, pp. 38-39.
15 Id. at 16.
16 Section 1. Grounds. - Within the time for but before filing the answer to the complaint or pleading asserting a claim, a motion to dismiss may be made on any of the following grounds:
(a) That the court has no jurisdiction over the person of the defending party;
(b) That the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim;
(c) That venue is improperly laid;
(d) That the plaintiff has no legal capacity to sue;
(e) That there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause;
(f) That the cause of action is barred by a prior judgment or by the statute of limitations;
(g) That the pleading asserting the claim states no cause of action;
(h) That the claim or demand set forth in the plaintiff's pleading has been paid, waived, abandoned,or otherwise extinguished;
(i) That the claim on which the action is founded is unenforceable under the provisions of the statute of frauds; and
(j) That a condition precedent for filing the claim has not been complied with.
17 Danfoss, Incorporated v. Continental Cement Corporation, G.R. No. 143788, 9 September 2005, 469 SCRA 505, 511.
18 Swagman Hotels and Travel, Inc. v. Court of Appeals and Neal B. Christian, G.R. No. 161135, 8 April 2005, 455 SCRA 175, 183.
19 Goodyear Philippines, Inc. v. Anthony Sy and Jose L. Lee, G.R. No. 154554, 9 November 2005, 474 SCRA 427, 435.
20 Concepcion V. Vda. De Daffon v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 129017, 436 Phil 233, 238 (2002).
21 Victoria J. Ilano v. Hon. Dolores L. Español, G.R. No. 161756, 16 December 2005, 478 SCRA 365, 372.
22 Art. 120. The ownership of improvements, whether for utility or adornment, made on the separate property of the spouses at the expense of the partnership or through the acts or efforts of either or both spouses shall pertain to the conjugal partnership, or to the original owner-spouse, subject to the following rules:
When the cost of the improvement made by the conjugal partnership and any resulting increase in value are more than the value of the property at the time of the improvement, the entire property of one of the spouses shall belong to the conjugal partnership, subject to reimbursement of the value of the property of the owner-spouse at the time of the improvement; otherwise, said property shall be retained in ownership by the owner-spouse, likewise subject to reimbursement of the cost of the improvement.
In either case, the ownership of the entire property shall be vested upon the reimbursement, which shall be made at the time of the liquidation of the conjugal partnership.
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