G.R. No. 123332 February 3, 1997
AUGUSTO GATMAYTAN, Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS, and METROPOLITAN BANK & TRUST COMPANY, Respondents.
Involved in this contempt proceeding are no less than nine (9) separate judicial remedies availed of by the same party, all directed principally at impugnation of the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Court over an ejectment suit, in order to cause its indefinite delay if not indeed to bring about its dismissal. The resort to these remedies has prevented the progress of the ejectment suit. More than ten (10) years after its commencement, it has yet to be tried and resolved in the court of origin.
On November 3, 1986, Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company (Metrobank) filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court of Makati, Branch 61, 1 an ejectment suit against the law firm identified as "CIAGLO" (Caparas Ilagan Alcantara & Gatmaytan Law Office). The suit was docketed as Civil Case No. 32033. 2 It was instituted by Metrobank as successor-in-interest of the owner of the building in question - Fortune Motors, Inc. The defendant, CIAGLO, was occupying space in the building as sub-lessee of a lessee. Canlubang Automotive Resources Corporation (CARCO); and it was sued for its failure to pay rentals and electric bills amounting to P76,224.99. In its Answer with Counterclaim, CIAGLO set up the defenses, among others, that (a) ownership of the leased premises was subject of a pending case between METROBANK and Fortune Motors, Inc.; (b) implementation of METROBANK's writ of possession had been enjoined by the Court of Appeals; (c) it (CIAGLO) had a valid and effective arrangement with CARCO regarding the leased area; (d) the rent and electricity charges were unreasonable and unconscionable. 3
Thereafter, the cases and proceedings hereunder outlined were instituted by Augusto Gatmaytan, a partner of CIAGLO, singly or jointly with his law firm.
1. Civil Case No. 17873
On September 21, 1987 - during the pendency of Civil Case No. 32033 - Gatmaytan filed an action in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati, Branch 145. 4 It was described as one "for declaratory relief, prohibition and damages, " 5 and docketed as Civil Case No. 17873. CIAGLO later joined as plaintiffs. The complaint alleged that in Case No. 32033, "the question of possession . . . (was) intertwined with that of ownership;" "METROBANK's alleged ownership . . . is pending determination . . . by the Regional Trial Court;" there is "no privity of contract" between METROBANK and CIAGLO, and the latter's sub-lessor has not been impleaded; METROBANK "is bound to respect the lease between Fortune and CARGO." The prayer was chiefly to declare (a) the MTC without jurisdiction over the unlawful detainer case and without power to conduct further proceedings therein; and (b) Metrobank, as bound to respect CIAGLO's sublease. 6 Named respondents were Metrobank and the presiding Judge of Branch 61, Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) of Makati.
This action was however given short shrift by the Makati RTC, Br. 145, which dismissed it in an Order dated January 28, 1988 7 for the reason that: (a) Gatmaytan could not ask that METROBANK be declared bound to respect CIAGLO's sub-lease "because there is already an action pending in another court involving the same issue;" (b) prohibition was improper because Gatmaytan had an adequate remedy in the unlawful detainer case filed against his firm from which, in case of an adverse judgment, appeal could be taken; (c) the MTC had exclusive original jurisdiction over the ejectment case filed by METROBANK against CIAGLO the pendency whereof abates Case No. 17873 filed by CIAGLO against METROBANK; and (d) damages may not be claimed in an action of prohibition or certiorari.
Gatmaytan filed a motion for reconsideration, and an "amended complaint (by substitution before responsive pleading)" 8 in connection with which he subsequently twice moved that respondents be declared in default, allegedly for failure to answer.
2. CA-GR SP No. 14116
Before the RTC could act on the motion for reconsideration, the amended complaint, and the motions for default, CIAGLO filed a petition with the Court of Appeals against the Makati RTC, Branch 145; the Makati MTC, Branch 61; and METROBANK. In that petition, docketed as CA-GR SP No. 14116, 9 CIAGLO prayed for judgment commanding (a) the Makati RTC (Br. 145) to give due course to its amended complaint in Civil Case 17873; (b) the MTC (Br. 61), to dismiss or suspend proceedings in Civil Case No. 32033; and (c) METROBANK to pay it damages of at least P200,000.00. Named respondents were (i) the RTC of Makati (Br. 145), (ii) the MTC of Makati (Br. 61), and (iii) Metrobank. 10
3. CA-GR CV No. 18292
Meanwhile, by Order dated April 18, 1988, the Makati RTC (Br. 145) denied CIAGLO's motion for reconsideration of its order dismissing Civil Case 17873. CIAGLO thereupon appealed the order to the Court of Appeals, its appeal being docketed as CA-GR CV No. 18292. 11 CIAGLO contended that (a) as sub-lessee, it was a possessor in good faith entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of the leased premises; (b) its rights under its sub-lease from CARGO were violated by METROBANK when it attempted to impose and collect a much higher and exorbitant rental, etc.; (c) since METROBANK failed to pursue any action against CARGO, it (CIAGLO) is not bound to pay any rental to the bank; (d) there is a pending action between Fortune and METROBANK involving ownership of the building; and (e) the result of the action brought by CIAGLO in the RTC "would be conclusive adjudication" of the ejectment suit in the MTC.
By Resolution dated July 16 1990, the appeal was dismissed and the challenged dispositions affirmed. 12 The Appellate Tribunal pointed out that (a) under the law, "the rights of a possessor in good faith do(*) not apply to a lessee or sub-lessee;" (b) the issues raised by CIAGLO "are matters and defenses that it may set up in the ejectment suit earlier filed against it . .; in fact, . . (it) set up these defenses in its answer;" (c) CIAGLO's "linking the issue of ownership with the issue of possession . . (did) not divest the MTC of its exclusive jurisdiction over cases of forcible entry and unlawful detainer;" (d) in not claiming ownership of the building, CIAGLO "cannot in an ejectment raise such issue and deny title to Metrobank;" (e) in any case, "Metrobank's title over said building is already beyond debate at this time." The Court also rejected CIAGLO's contention that its amended complaint in C.C. No. 17873 should have been admitted as "fallacious and untenable," the original complaint having already been dismissed for want of jurisdiction and the amendment being precisedly aimed at conferring jurisdiction by eliminating the objectionable portion thereof.
4. G.R. No. 87891
CA-GR SP No. 14116 was also dismissed by the Court of Appeals (First Division) by judgment promulgated on December 16, 1988, 13 The Court adjudged CIAGLO's petition to be without "any grain of merit." It ruled that "linking the issue of ownership with the issue of possession cannot divest MTC with their exclusive original jurisdiction over cases of unlawful detainer," a proposition that CIAGLO could not circumvent "by later filing Civil Case No. 17873 in the respondent RTC." The Court observed that CIAGLO's remedy against the MTC interlocutory Order denying its motion to dismiss or suspend proceedings was a challenge "via certiorari," not the filing of Civil Case No. 17873 "which is a combination of an action for declaratory relief, prohibition and damages," and rightly ordered dismissed for being "inapropos." 14 Reconsideration was denied by Resolution dated April 10, 1989.
In an attempt to reverse that dismissal, CIAGLO "or Augusto Gatmaytan" came to this Court. The dismissal was however upheld by this Court in a Resolution dated July 13, 1989 in G.R. No. 87891. In throwing out CIAGLO's petition, this Court said:
CIAGLO's motion for reconsideration was denied by Resolution dated September 4, 1989. 15
5 G.R. No. 95992
CIAGLO challenged the judgment of the Court of Appeals of July 16, 1990 in CA-GR CV No. 18292, supra. It filed with this Court a petition for review, docketed as G.R. No. 95992, raising the following issues:
However, this Court dismissed the petition by Resolution dated February 25, 1991 "for failure to sufficiently show that the Court of Appeals had committed any reversible error in the questioned judgment." 16
6. Motion to Dismiss Case No. 32033
Earlier, or on October 10, 1989 - after the MTC (Branch 61) had scheduled Civil Case No. 32033 for trial on October 23, 1989 - CIAGLO filed a motion for the dismissal of Civil Case No. 32033, a motion it reiterated on June 5, 1990. The motions, founded upon substantially the same grounds previously alleged, were denied by an Order dated September 25, 1990, which also set the case for trial on November 9, 1990. On this date, CIAGLO filed a motion for postponement, a request for admission, written interrogatories, and an omnibus motion. These were all denied by the Court in an Order dated June 4, 1991.
7. Civil Case No. 91-1908
CIAGLO and/or Gatmaytan then filed with the Makati RTC (Br. 61 on July 9, 1991, a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus, particularly praying (a) that the Orders of the Makati MTC, Branch 61 of September 25, 1990 and June 4, 1991 be nullified; (b) that the MTC be prohibited to conduct further proceedings in Civil Case No. 32003; and (c) that Case No. 32003 be dismissed. This action was docketed as Civil Case No. 91-1908, 17
8. CA-GR SP No. 33314
Civil Case No. 91-1908 was dismissed by the Makati Regional Trial Court (Br. 61) by Order promulgated on September 30, 1992.
Its motion for reconsideration having been denied, CIAGLO filed a petition to set aside the Order of September 30, 1992 with the Court of
CA-G.R. SP No. 33314 was dismissed by the Court of Appeals, in a Decision promulgated on July 18, 1995. 20 It pronounced the issues raised to be barred by res judicata, and CIAGLO, guilty of forum shopping by the institution of multiple petitions, cases or proceedings focused on the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Makati, Branch 61, over the ejectment case instituted by METROBANK. The Court said:
CIAGLO's motion for reconsideration was later denied by Resolution of December 4, 1995 because "time-barred." 21 Its petition for relief was also denied by Resolution of January 4, 1996, for lack of merit.
9. G.R. No. 123332
To reverse these adverse dispositions of the Appellate Tribunal. Gatmaytan initiated the proceeding at bar, G.R. No. 123332, through a petition for the review on certiorari. 22 In his petition, he set up the following issues:
This petition was dismissed by this Court in a Resolution dated February 12, 1996. 23 The Court ruled that Gatmaytan's "motion for extension of time to file his petition for review on certiorari, . . (and his) petition, as well as the requisite docketing fees, were all delivered out of time, prescinding from the fact that the decision of the Court of Appeals sought to be reviewed has become final and executory. In any event, petitioner's cause is barred twice over by res judicata, raises questions too unsubstantial to merit consideration, and is prosecuted manifestly for delay."
In the same Resolution dated February 12, 1996, this Court resolved to "ORDER petitioner Augusto Gatmaytan to show cause, within ten (10) days from notice of this Resolution, why he should not be held liable and correspondingly punished for forum shopping." The order was reiterated in the Resolution dated March 27, 1996. 24
Atty. Gatmaytan filed his "Compliance (with motion for leave)" on May 2, 1996. 25 Essentially, his justification for his resort to the various remedies above mentioned, was:
The justification is not acceptable.
The facts plainly demonstrate Atty. Gatmaytan's guilt of forum shopping, i.e. "the institution of two (2) or more actions or proceedings grounded on the same cause on the supposition that one or the other court would make a favorable disposition" (or "the act of a party against whom an adverse judgment has been rendered in one forum, of seeking another (and possibly favorable) opinion in another forum other than by appeal or the special civil action of certiorari"). 27 In the case at bar, Atty. Gatmaytan repetitively availed of several judicial remedies in different courts, simultaneously or successively, all substantially founded on the same transactions and the same essential facts and circumstances, and all raising substantially the same issues either pending in, or already resolved adversely by, some other court. He did this obviously to increase his chances of obtaining a favorable decision if not in one court, then in another. A party is not permitted to "pursue simultaneous remedies in two different (fora)." 28 This is a practice which derogates and ridicules the judicial process, 29 plays havoc with the rules of orderly procedure, and is vexatious and unfair to the other parties to the case. Hence it is that, as observed in Ortigas, supra, 30 forum-shopping is both contumacious and an act of malpractice; it is "proscribed and condemned as trifling with the courts and abusive of their processes . . (warranting) prosecution for contempt of court and . . (constituting) ground for summary dismissal of the actions involved, without prejudice to appropriate administrative action against the counsel."
The Rules of Court, the code governing judicial procedure, prescribes the remedies (actions and special proceedings) that may be availed of for the myriad reliefs that persons may conceivably have need of and seek in this jurisdiction. But that the adjective law makes available several remedies does not imply that a party may resort to them simultaneously or at his pleasure or whim. There is a sequence and a hierarchical order which must be observed in availing of them. Impatience at what may be felt to be the slowness of the judicial process, or even a deeply held persuasion in the rightness of one's cause, does not justify short-cuts in procedure, or playing fast and loose with the rules thereof.
In the case at bar, as in the other proceedings instituted by him, Atty. Gatmaytan had one obvious and obsessive objective: put at issue the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Court at Makati over the ejectment case filed against him and his law partners and, by thereby preventing said case from continuing in due course in said court, defer and put off adjudication on the basic issue for as long as possible. It is an enterprise upon which he embarked for the ninth time in the case at bar, after he had already been rebuffed on the same fundamental issue a number of times by the Court of Appeals and this Court in various cases brought by him or his law firm, CIAGLO. He has frustrated and thwarted final and executory dispositions against him and his partners, and unwarrantedly imposed on the time and patience of this Court and others, in relation to what should have been a simple, summary ejectment action. He should no longer be permitted to do so; and he should be punished for having done so for years, with evident premeditation.
This opinion may fittingly be ended with a reiteration of the observations pointedly made by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 33314, supra: 31
WHEREFORE, Atty. Augusto Gatmaytan is found and declared guilty of contempt of court; and in accordance with the provisions of Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, as amended, 32 he is (a) ORDERED to pay a fine of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00) within ten (10) days from finality of this judgment, in default of which he shall suffer IMPRISONMENT of fifteen (15) days, and (b) SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of SIX (6) MONTHS effective also from finality of this judgment. Let a copy of this Decision be entered in his record.
Davide, Jr., Melo, Francisco, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.
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