[G.R. No. 187720, May 30 : 2011]
TRINIDAD ALICER AND ADMINISTRATOR OF INTESTATE ESTATE OF HEIRS OF ARTURO ALICER, PETITIONERS, VS. ALBERTO COMPAS, WINEFREDA AND AMANDO PINEDA, RURAL BANK OF CARIGARA, INC., AND EDGAR SELDA, RESPONDENTS.
R E S O L U T I O N
This petition for review
assails the 29 May 2007 Decision
and the 17 April 2009 Resolution
of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEBU-SP No. 00920. The Court of Appeals upheld the default order dated 25 July 2003 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 9, Tacloban City (trial court) in Civil Case No. 97-11-203 for Reconveyance of Title with Damages and the trial court's succeeding orders dated 23 February 2005 and 12 May 2005 denying the motion to lift order of default and motion for reconsideration, respectively.
The facts as found by the Court of Appeals are as follows:
The instant petition stems from the complaint filed by Alberto Compas against Winefreda Pineda and Amando Pineda, Trinidad Alicer and Heirs of Arturo Alicer, Edgar Selda and the Rural Bank of Carigara (Leyte) docketed before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 9, Tacloban City as Civil Case No. 97-11-203 for Reconveyance of Title and Damages.
After all the answers have been filed and preliminary matters disposed of, the court a quo on December 10, 2002 set the pre-trial conference on February 20, 2003 which was rescheduled to March 13-14, 2003 upon motion of defendant Rural Bank of Carigara (Leyte) per Order dated January 29, 2003.
However, prior to the March 13-14, 2003 pre-trial conference, counsel for the plaintiff Alberto Compas moved for the postponement of the hearings to March 20-21, 2003 on the ground of prior commitment.
Likewise on the same ground, defendants Trinidad Alicer and Administrator of Intestate Estate of the deceased Arturo Alicer through counsel moved for postponement of the suggested March 20 and 21, 2003 hearing dates to May 8, 2003.
It appears that both motions for postponement did not reach the trial court on time hence the case was still called for hearing on March 13, 2003. On the said date only the following parties were in attendance: Edgar Selda and his counsel Atty. Alexander Ang, Rural Bank of Carigara (Leyte) and its counsel Atty. Nilo Aldrin Lucinario and Trinidad Alicer and one of her counsels Atty. Samuel Lagunzad. Incidentally, the pre-trial conference was rescheduled to June 5, 2003 which was once more reset to July 25, 2003.
When the case was called for pre-trial on July 25, 2003, all parties were present except for defendants Trinidad Alicer and the heirs of Arturo Alicer and their counsel/s. Upon motion of counsel for the plaintiff, said defendants were declared in default by the court a quo. Afterward, pre-trial proceeded and after which a pre-trial order was issued by the trial court of even date. Thereafter, trial of the case ensued.
On August 13, 2004, defendants Trinidad Alicer and the Heirs of Arturo Alicer filed a "Motion to Lift Default Order dated July 25, 2003" alleging inter alia that they did not receive a notice of the pre-trial scheduled on July 25, 2003, which motion was denied by the trial court on February 23, 2005 for insufficiency in form and substance of the motion and for not being accompanied by an affidavit of merit. A motion for reconsideration thereon was also denied on May 12, 2005, hence the instant petition for certiorari.
Petitioners filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari, alleging that they did not receive a resolution from the trial court denying or granting their motion for postponement
dated 8 March 2003, requesting that the pre-trial conference be moved to 8 May 2003. Furthermore, they asserted that they were also not served a copy of the notice setting the pre-trial conference on 25 July 2003 and that such notice should have been served on Atty. Melencio Emata (Atty. Emata) and not on co-counsel Atty. Samuel Lagunzad (Atty. Lagunzad).
The Ruling of the Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition, finding no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court. The Court of Appeals stressed that it should never be presumed that a motion for postponement would be granted. Petitioners' counsel should have been put on guard when they received no action from the trial court regarding their motion.
On the alleged lack of notice of the pre-trial conference, the Court of Appeals found that the notice and a copy of the pre-trial order were actually sent to Atty. Lagunzad, one of the counsels of petitioner Trinidad Alicer. Contrary to petitioners' claim that Atty. Emata is the sole counsel of record for petitioners, the records reveal that petitioner Trinidad Alicer is actually represented by three counsels, namely, Atty. Emata, Atty. Lagunzad, and Atty. Von Kaiser Soro, who separately appeared in court on different dates and filed pleadings on behalf of petitioner Trinidad Alicer. Citing Section 2, Rule 13 of the Revised Rules of Court, the Court of Appeals held that if a party is represented by several counsels, service of pleadings, judgments and other papers may be made on any of them and that notice to one of the counsels is equivalent to notice to all.
With regard to petitioner heirs of Arturo Alicer, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court furnished both Atty. Lagunzad and Atty. Emata with the order dated 13 March 2003 scheduling the pre-trial on 5 June 2003, the order dated 5 June 2003 resetting the pre-trial to 25 July 2003 and the pre-trial order dated 25 July 2003. The Court of Appeals held that notice sent to Atty. Emata is deemed service of notice to the heirs of Arturo Alicer. If Atty. Emata failed to receive the notice, it was because of his negligence in informing the trial court of his change of address. As explained by the Court of Appeals:
Undeniably, due service of such orders were sent to Atty. Melecio Emata. It is legal presumption, born of wisdom and experience, that official duty has been regularly performed; that the proceedings of a judicial tribunal are regular and valid, and that judicial acts and duties have been and will be duly and properly performed. It has also been held that "when a mail matter is sent by registered mail, there exists a presumption, set forth under Section 3(v), Rule 131 of the Rules of Court, that it was received in the regular course of mail. Accordingly, notice sent to Atty. Melecio Emata is deemed service of notice to the heirs of Arturo Alicer.
At this juncture, it is not amiss to highlight Atty. Melecio Emata's use of various office addresses which according to private respondent Alberto Compas, generated bewilderment as to said counsel's exact and official address. We take cognizance of private respondent Alberto Compas' declaration that in the Answer to the "Amended [Amended] Complaint" dated September 10, 2001 filed by Atty, Emata for and on behalf of petitioners, he supplied the following address: Ground Floor, Door B, Lagasca Apartments, 8259 Constancia Street, Makati City. Thereafter, said counsel sometime in the middle of 2001 used another address, to wit: Rm. 416 Margarita Bldg., J. Rizal Ave., Cor. Cardona, Makati City. In the answer to the "Amended Complaint" dated September 25, 2002 filed by Atty. Emata for and on behalf of the Administrator of the Instestate Estate of Arturo Alicer and the Heirs of Arturo Alicer the address given this time is Constancia Street, Makati City. We note however that in the Order dated January 29, 2003 the address of Atty. Emata as appearing therein is the Cardona, Makati City address which is likewise the same address provided by private respondent Compas in his "Motion to Transfer Hearing" dated February 10, 2003. But in the contentious "Motion for Postponement" dated March 8, 2003 in response to the "Motion to Transfer Hearing" of private respondent Compas, Atty. Emata once more utilized the Constancia Street, Makati City address. Finally, in the "Motion to Lift Default Order" dated July 25, 2003, Atty. Melecio Emata gave a third address, that is, FH Center, LDS Chapel Compound, Dela Costa cor. Solaiman Streets, Salcedo Village, Makati which address is currently being used.
Evidently, Atty. Emata's employing simultaneous and different addresses has muddled the service of pleadings and court notices and orders. It is elementary that it is a counsel's duty to make of record in the court his address and notify the court of any change thereof. The fact that counsel used a different address in later pleadings does not constitute the notice required for indicating his change of address. Jurisprudence teaches that when a party is represented by counsel, notice should be made upon the counsel of record at his given address to which notices of all kinds emanating from the court should be sent in the absence of a proper and adequate notice to the court of a change of address.
The Court of Appeals likewise denied petitioners' motion for reconsideration, thus:
In the instant case, it is an admitted fact that petitioners' counsel, Atty. Emata, failed to notify the lower court of his change of address in violation of Rule 7, Sec. 3 (par. 3) of the 1997 Rules of Court. Atty. Emata claims that his failure to notify the lower court of his change of address was because of his elevated blood pressure and cerebral blood clot that he sustained which made him not intellectually functional to prepare the notice.
However, the Court finds the same lacking credibility considering that he was able to file a number of pleadings and motions for the petitioners using his new address. Why he did not endeavor to include a notice of change of address when he had the chance to do so was inexcusable negligence on his part. Jurisprudence is replete with pronouncements that clients are bound by the actions of their counsel in the conduct of their case. Counsel's omission was an inexcusable neglect binding upon petitioners.
It is not incumbent upon the court to determine the new address of party-litigants. On the contrary, it is the duty of the parties to inform the court of such change of address. Moreover, notices of the court processes are ordinarily taken cared of by clerks who are naturally guided by addresses of record. To require the court and its personnel before sending out the notices to be continuously checking the records and the various addresses from which a counsel may have filed his pleadings and sending them to such addresses instead of his address of record is to sow confusion and add an intolerable burden which is not permitted by the Rules of Court.
Hence, this petition.
The sole issue for resolution is whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the order of the trial court declaring petitioners in default.
The Ruling of the Court
The petition has no merit.
In this case, the trial court declared petitioners in default for failing to attend the pre-trial conference. Under Section 5, Rule 18 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, non-appearance of the defendant at the pre-trial conference allows the plaintiff to present his evidence ex parte
SEC. 5. Effect of failure to appear. ? The failure of the plaintiff to appear when so required pursuant to the next preceding section shall be cause for dismissal of the action. The dismissal shall be with prejudice, unless otherwise ordered by the court. A similar failure on the part of the defendant shall be cause to allow the plaintiff to present his evidence ex parte and the court to render judgment on the basis thereof. (Emphasis supplied)
The Court of Appeals, in dismissing the petition for certiorari filed by petitioners, found that the trial court furnished both Atty. Lagunzad and Atty. Emata with the order dated 13 March 2003 scheduling the pre-trial on 5 June 2003, the order dated 5 June 2003 resetting the pre-trial to 25 July 2003, and the pre-trial order dated 25 July 2003. If indeed Atty. Emata failed to receive any of these orders, the Court of Appeals stated that such failure could only be attributed to the negligence of Atty. Emata, petitioners' counsel. The Court of Appeals found that Atty. Emata failed to inform the trial court of his change of address, which Atty. Emata did not refute.
We agree with the Court of Appeals in sustaining the default order of the trial court. There was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court in declaring petitioners in default because they failed to appear during the pre-trial conference. The findings of fact of the Court of Appeals, specifically that petitioners were served notice of the pre-trial conference, is conclusive upon this Court which is limited to reviewing errors of law.
It is not this Court's function to analyze and weigh the evidence all over again.
Besides, petitioners cannot claim that they were denied substantial justice considering that they can still appeal the judgment of the trial court on the main case, which they did. Indeed, as held in Banco de Oro-EPCI, Inc. v. Tansipek
It is important to note that a party declared in default - respondent Tansipek in this case - is not barred from appealing from the judgment on the main case, whether or not he had previously filed a Motion to Set Aside Order of Default, and regardless of the result of the latter and the appeals therefrom. However, the appeal should be based on the Decision's being contrary to law or the evidence already presented, and not on the alleged invalidity of the default order.
In this case, it appears that while the issue of the propriety of the default order was still pending in the Court of Appeals, the trial court rendered a decision on 27 November 2006 in Civil Case No. 97-11-203 and petitioners then filed their Notice of Appeal.WHEREFORE
, we DENY
the petition. We AFFIRM
the 29 May 2007 Decision and the 17 April 2009 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEBU-SP No. 00920.SO ORDERED
Nachura, Peralta, Abad, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
 Under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
 Rollo, pp. 47-55. Penned by Associate Justice Agustin S. Dizon, with Associate Justices Arsenio J. Magpale and Francisco P. Acosta, concurring. In dismissing the petition for certiorari, the dispositive portion of the 29 May 2007 Decision of the Court of Appeals erroneously states that the "Resolutions dated June 25, 2004 and July 27, 2005 are AFFIRMED." Nowhere in the Decision was there a mention of said Resolutions. Based on the Decision itself, the dispositive portion should have stated that the Orders dated 25 July 2003, 23 February 2005 and 12 May 2005 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 9, Tacloban City in Civil Case No. 97-11-203 are affirmed.
 Id. at 57-63.
 Id. at 48-49.
 Id. at 115-117.
 Id. at 52-54.
 Id. at 61-62.
 Questions of fact are not reviewable in a petition for review under Rule 45 which specifically states in Section 1 thereof that the petition shall raise only questions of law.
 Development Bank of the Philippines v. Traders Royal Bank, G.R. No. 171982, 18 August 2010, 628 SCRA 404.
 G.R. No. 181235, 22 July 2009, 593 SCRA 456.
 Id. at 467.
 See Comment of respondent Rural Bank of Carigara, Inc., pp. 17-20; rollo, pp. 148-151. In their petition dated 22 June 2009, petitioners also mentioned the Decision dated 27 November 2006 of the trial court; rollo, p. 38.
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