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SECOND DIVISION

G. R. No. 161309 - February 23, 2005

DOUGLAS LU YM, petitioner, vs. GERTRUDES NABUA, GEORGE N. LU, ALEX N. LU, CAYETANO N. LU, JR., JULIETA N. LU AND BERNADITA N. LU, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

TINGA, J.:

One of the innovations introduced by the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure is that the resolution of a motion to dismiss shall state clearly and distinctly the reasons therefor. In the case at bar, the Court is provided with the opportunity and task to elucidate on the meaning and application of the new requirement.

Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari 1 dated February 11, 2004 filed by Douglas Lu Ym assailing the Court of Appeals Decision 2 and Resolution 3 respectively dated August 20, 2003 and December 16, 2003. The questioned Decision dismissed petitioners Petition 4 and affirmed the trial courts orders dated September 16, 2002 5 and October 16, 2002 6 which respectively denied petitioners Omnibus Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint 7 and Motion for Reconsideration. 8

The facts 9 as succinctly summarized by the Court of Appeals are as follows:

The instant petition stemmed from an Amended Complaint filed by the private respondents against the petitioner, for Accounting with TRO and Injunction, on May 15, 2002.

On August 16, 2002, the petitioner filed an Omnibus Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint based on the following grounds:

A. Plaintiffs claims are barred by a prior judgment or by the statute of limitations {Rule 16, Sec. 1 (f)}.

B. Plaintiffs have no legal capacity to sue and/or do not have a cause of action {Rule 16, Sec. 1(d) and/or 1(g)}.

C. Fraud and equity.

D. Docket fees not deemed paid, therefore, a condition precedent for filing the claim has not been complied with {Rule 16, Sec. 1(j)}.

On August 29, 2002, the private respondents filed their Opposition to the Omnibus Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint alleging the following:

1. Plaintiffs claims are not barred by prior judgment nor by statute of limitations;

2. Plaintiffs have the legal capacity to sue and have valid cause of action;

3. Docket fees have been paid by plaintiffs.

After the filing of petitioners Reply to the Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint, the incident was submitted for resolution pursuant to the August 30, 2002 Order of the court a quo.

In resolving the Omnibus Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, the lower court ruled as follows:

There are justiciable questions raised in the pleadings of the herein parties which are proper subject of a full blown trial. The Omnibus Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint is hereby denied.

SO ORDERED.

The Motion for Reconsideration filed by the petitioner was resolved by the trial court in this wise:

An attempt to discuss on the merit of the case might be interpreted as prejudgment. It is the better part of discretion, for the Court to deny the Motion Reconsideration of the order denying the Motion to Dismiss.

WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration is hereby denied.

SO ORDERED.

Petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition Under Rule 65 With Prayer for the Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction, contending that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion in denying his motion to dismiss. The appellate court dismissed the petition holding that the assailed orders may only be reviewed in the ordinary course of law by an appeal from the judgment after trial. Thus, the proper recourse was for petitioner to have filed an answer and proceeded to trial since the issues raised in his motion to dismiss require presentation of evidence aliunde. An exception is when the trial court acts with grave abuse of discretion in denying the motion to dismiss, in which case a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 may be proper. This, the trial court did not commit. Moreover, the Court of Appeals declared that although the assailed orders were briefly phrased, the trial court complied with the requirements set forth under Rule 16 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure (Rules) on the resolution of motions to dismiss.

With the denial of his Motion for Reconsideration, petitioner is now before this Court seeking a review of the appellate courts Decision and Resolution claiming that the denial of his motion to dismiss was a disguised deferment of the resolution of the said motion and that the trial court failed to discuss and address each of the grounds cited therein contrary to the express mandate of Section 3, Rule 16 of the Rules. Petitioner further argues that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion in refusing to address his grounds to dismiss and thereby postponing their proper ventilation until trial. According to him, Section 2 of the Rules provides that all available evidence on the question of fact involved in the motion to dismiss may be presented including evidence aliunde. Thus, the grounds for dismissal raised in his motion to dismiss could have been resolved in a hearing prior to a full-blown trial.

Even assuming that the presentation of evidence aliunde is not allowed, petitioner contends that the trial court and the Court of Appeals both erred in refusing to rule on the other grounds to dismiss which do not require presentation of evidence aliunde such as failure of the Amended Complaint to state a cause of action/the application of the "clean hands" doctrine, and the trial courts lack of jurisdiction for failure of the respondents to pay the proper filing and docket fees.

Petitioner also avers that there are other grounds to dismiss the case such as res judicata, respondents lack of capacity to sue/waiver and prescription, all of which are allegedly supported by evidence on record. It is petitioners theory that the Amended Complaint is a collateral attack on the duly probated and fully implemented Last Will and Testament of Cayetano Ludo. 10 According to petitioner, Cayetano Ludos estate had been distributed by virtue of a Project of Partition 11 approved by the estate court in its Order 12 dated January 18, 1984 in Sp. Proc. No. 167-CEB. There are, between the estate case and Civil Case No. 27717, identity of parties, subject matter and cause of action. Hence, any further issue regarding the recovery of respondents supposed shares in Mr. Ludos estate through Civil Case No. 27717 is precluded by the estate courts final and fully executed orders.

Petitioner moreover contends that respondents George, Alex, Cayetano, Jr., Julieta and Bernadita Lu have lost standing to sue as a result of the document entitled Assignment of Rights and Interests to the Inheritance from Don Cayetano Ludo 13 by which they supposedly conveyed their interest to their inheritance to Ludo and Lu Ym Corporation. As regards respondent Gertrudes Nabua, petitioner alleges that the Amended Complaint fails to plead his actual contribution to the properties acquired by Mr. Ludo as required by Article 148 of the Family Code. Hence, she too lacks capacity to sue.

Finally, petitioner claims that the case is already barred by prescription and laches. Petitioner asserts that nearly 20 years had passed since (i) Mr. Ludo passed away on April 14, 1983; (ii) petitioner and respondents George, Alex, Cayetano, Jr., Julieta and Bernadita Lu executed the Project of Partition dated November 25, 1983; (iii) respondents George, Alex, Cayetano, Jr., Julieta and Bernadita Lu executed the Assignment of Rights and Interests to the Inheritance from Don Cayetano Ludo dated February 22, 1984; and (iv) the estate court issued its (a) July 6, 1983 Order 14 admitting Mr. Ludos Will to probate; (b) January 18, 1984 Order 15 approving the Project of Partition and terminating the estate case; and (c) May 18, 1984 Order 16 discharging petitioner and Silvano Ludo from all their duties, liabilities and responsibilities as executors of Mr. Ludos estate.

In their Comment 17 dated May 28, 2004, respondents contend that the trial court did not defer the resolution of petitioners motion to dismiss. On the contrary, the trial court denied the motion considering that there are justiciable questions raised in the pleadings of the parties which require a full-blown trial. According to respondents, the appellate court properly considered this a sufficient disposition of the motion because the Rules do not require courts at all times to cite the law and the facts upon which a resolution is based, it being sufficient, in case of resolutions that do not finally dispose of a case such as the denial of a motion to dismiss, to cite the legal basis therefor.

Moreover, the estate proceedings allegedly do not bar the instant case. Having hypothetically admitted that Mr. Ludos Will was simulated, respondents contend that petitioner cannot invoke the finality of the probate proceedings as a shield against the instant case because the simulation and fraud attendant in the execution of the Will are personal to petitioner. Besides, the properties included in Mr. Ludos Will are not the same properties sought to be accounted in the instant case. Allegedly, the properties subject of this case are those which petitioner excluded from Mr. Ludos Will during the probate proceedings, whose titles and evidence of ownership were earlier transferred to petitioner for him to hold in trust for respondents.

Respondents contend that the issue as to respondent Gertrudes Nabuas shares in Mr. Ludos properties as the latters common law wife, raised as a specific allegation in the Amended Complaint, has been joined by petitioners denial. Hence, a hearing on this matter is necessary.

Moreover, respondents insist that the trial court correctly declared that there are justiciable questions necessitating trial on the merits because the Assignment of Rights and Interests to the Inheritance from Don Cayetano Ludo dated February 22, 1984, by which respondents George, Alex, Cayetano, Jr., Julieta and Bernadita Lu allegedly transferred their interest in Mr. Ludos estate to Ludo and Lu Ym Corporation, was allegedly not offered and admitted in evidence. Hence, any conclusion drawn from this document would be unwarranted.

Finally, respondents contend that petitioner never raised the issues of prescription and laches in his motion to dismiss.

In his Reply 18 dated September 30, 2004, petitioner reiterates his submissions.

At issue is whether the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing the petition for certiorari and in holding that the trial court did not commit grave abuse of discretion in denying petitioners motion to dismiss.

An order denying a motion to dismiss is an interlocutory order which neither terminates nor finally disposes of a case, as it leaves something to be done by the court before the case is finally decided on the merits. As such, the general rule is that the denial of a motion to dismiss cannot be questioned in a special civil action for certiorari which is a remedy designed to correct errors of jurisdiction and not errors of judgment. Neither can a denial of a motion to dismiss be the subject of an appeal unless and until a final judgment or order is rendered. In order to justify the grant of the extraordinary remedy of certiorari, the denial of the motion to dismiss must have been tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. 19

At the core of the present petition is the question of whether the trial courts denial of petitioners motion to dismiss on the ground that "[T]here are justiciable questions raised in the pleadings of the herein parties which are proper subject of a full blown trial" 20 contravenes Sec. 3, Rule 16 of the Rules and constitutes grave abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court.

Sec. 3, Rule 16 of the Rules provides:

Sec. 3. Resolution of motion.After the hearing, the court may dismiss the action or claim, deny the motion or order the amendment of the pleading.

The court shall not defer the resolution of the motion for the reason that the ground relied upon is not indubitable.

In every case, the resolution shall state clearly and distinctly the reasons therefor.

Under this provision, there are three (3) courses of action which the trial court may take in resolving a motion to dismiss, i.e., to grant, to deny, or to allow amendment of the pleading. Deferment of the resolution of a motion to dismiss if the ground relied upon is not indubitable is now disallowed in view of the provision 21 requiring presentation of all available arguments and evidence. Thus, there is no longer any need to defer action until the trial as the evidence presented, and such additional evidence as the trial court may require, would already enable the trial court to rule upon the dubitability of the ground alleged. 22

Further, it is now specifically required that the resolution on the motion shall clearly and distinctly state the reasons therefor. This proscribes the common practice of perfunctorily dismissing the motion for "lack of merit." Such cavalier dispositions can often pose difficulty and misunderstanding on the part of the aggrieved party in taking recourse therefrom and likewise on the higher court called upon to resolve the same, usually on certiorari. 23

The questioned order of the trial court denying the motion to dismiss with a mere statement that there are justiciable questions which require a full blown trial falls short of the requirement of Rule 16 set forth above. Owing to the terseness of its expressed justification, the challenged order ironically suffers from undefined breadth which is a hallmark of imprecision. With its unspecific and amorphous thrust, the issuance is inappropriate to the grounds detailed in the motion to dismiss.

While the requirement to state clearly and distinctly the reasons for the trial courts resolutory order under Sec. 3, Rule 16 of the Rules does call for a liberal interpretation, especially since jurisprudence dictates that it is decisions on cases submitted for decision that are subject to the stringent requirement of specificity of rulings under Sec. 1, Rule 36 24 of the Rules, the trial courts order in this case leaves too much to the imagination.

It should be noted that petitioner raised several grounds in his motion to dismiss, i.e., bar by prior judgment or by the statute of limitations, lack of capacity to sue, lack of cause of action, and non-payment of docket fees.

Specifically, petitioner sought the dismissal of the complaint, arguing as follows:

A. Plaintiffs claims are barred by a prior judgment or by the statute of limitations (Rule 16, Sec. 1(f))

.

5. Plaintiffs now raise the issue that Cayetano Ludo, allegedly then "in failing health" was unduly influenced by the defendant to execute a "simulated will" to cheat the government of enormous amounts of estate and inheritance taxes.

6. Plaintiffs may no longer do so, for, subject to the right to appeal, the allowance of a will is conclusive as to its due execution, Rule 75, Sec. 1. "Due execution" settles the extrinsic validity of the will, i.e., whether the testator, being of sound mind freely executed the will in accordance with the formalities by law.

7. It was conclusively established by the allowance of the will, which plaintiffs did not appeal, that the following circumstances were not present:

Rule 76, Sec. 9

(b) the testator was insane, or otherwise mentally incapable to make a will, at the time of its execution;

(c) (the will) was executed under duress, or the influence of fear, or threats;

(d) (the will) was procured by undue and improper pressure and influence, on the part of the beneficiary, or of some other person for his benefit;

8. The foregoing are the precise sort of questions and issues plaintiffs Nabua and her children are illicitly seeking to try by independent action in a different sala. Why are they doing this? Because the time for them to bring their claims in the probate court has prescribed. The judicial decree of distribution vests title in the distributees and any objections thereto should be raised in a seasonable appeal , otherwise it will have binding effect like any other judgment in rem .

. . . .

B. Plaintiffs have no legal capacity to sue and/or do not have a cause of action (Rule 16, Secs. 1(d) and/or 1(g))

12. The following documents reveal that the plaintiff Nabua could never have been the common-law wife that she claims to be, because Cayetano Ludo was married to someone else:

(a) Petition for Naturalization by Cayetano Ludo filed in 1946, wherein he declares in paragraph FIFTH that he is married to Uy Ching Gee (ANNEX "J");

(b) Order of the Court of First Instance dated June 7, 1949, wherein it is stated that Cayetano Ludo has established in open court that he is married to Uy Ching Gee, a native of Amoy, China, who likewise lived with him in the Philippines and that they have three legitimate children born 1937, 1939 and 1942 (ANNEX "K");

(c) Identification Certificate No. 5697 issued by the Bureau of Immigration to Liong Cheng on November 18, 1957, also known as Visitacion Uy Ching Gui, recognizing her as a citizen of the Philippines being the lawful wife of Cayetano Ludo (ANNEX "L");

(d) Death Certificate of Visitacion Uy dated August 7, 1969, wherein it is indicated that her civil status is married and the surviving spouse is Cayetano Ludo (ANNEX "M");

(e) Death Certificate of Cayetano Ludo dated July 16, 1986, wherein it is indicated that his surviving spouse is Florame delos Reyes Ludo (ANNEX "B").

13. Plaintiffs-children of Nabua do not have legal capacity or cause of action because they are not the real parties in interest.

13. [sic] Their distributive share in the estate of Cayetano Ludo having been assigned to Ludo and LuYm Corporation (ANNEX "G"), plaintiffs-children of Nabua are not real parties in interest; Ludo & LuYm Corp. is. Every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest.

. . . .

C. Fraud and Equity

14. The "fraud" (confused by plaintiffs to mean undue influence) of "imposing" a "stimulated will" on Cayetano Ludo has been conclusively negated by the allowance of the will, as provided in Rule 75, Sec. 1, above discussed.

15. Furthermore, an action for fraud prescribes 4 years from the execution of the "fraudulent" or "simulated will," which was long ago in this case.

16. But more important than any of the foregoing is that plaintiffs who participated in the probate proceedings and signed the settlement are precluded by "dirty hands" from claiming relief.

17. By their own admission (to which they are bound by Rule 130, Sec. 26), plaintiffs were parties to a settlement pursuant to a fraudulent "simulated will" which they portrayed as a massive scheme to defraud the government of estate and inheritance taxes.

. . . . 25 (Emphases in the original.)

Having raised substantial grounds for dismissal, the trial court should have, at the very least, specified which of these grounds require a full-blown trial. This would have enabled the defendant to determine the errors that should be the subject of his motion for reconsideration or petition for certiorari, and given the appellate court sufficient basis for determining the propriety of the denial of the motion to dismiss.

In this regard, judges should be reminded to take pains in crafting their orders, stating therein clearly and comprehensively the reasons for their issuance, which are necessary for the full understanding of the action taken. 26

Accordingly, considering that the order of the trial court is a patent nullity for failure to comply with a mandatory provision of the Rules, petitioner was correct in directly assailing the order on certiorari before the Court of Appeals.

However, while it was error for the appellate court to rule that the trial court did not commit grave abuse of discretion in denying petitioners motion to dismiss, it does not necessarily follow that the motion to dismiss should have been granted. The instant petition raises significant factual questions as regards petitioners claim that the Amended Complaint should have been dismissed which are properly addressed to the trial court. Moreover, it cannot be gainsaid that the trial court should be given the opportunity to correct itself by evaluating the evidence, applying the law and making an appropriate ruling. 27 A remand of the case to the trial court for further proceedings is, therefore, in order.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED in part. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated August 20, 2003 sustaining the trial courts denial of petitioners motion to dismiss, as well as its Resolution dated December 16, 2003 denying reconsideration, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The case is REMANDED to the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City for further proceedings to resolve anew with deliberate dispatch the motion to dismiss in accordance with Section 3, Rule 16 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure as elucidated in this Decision.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.



Endnotes:

1 Rollo, pp. 21-529 with Annexes.

2 Id. at 78-84. Penned by Associate Justice Amelita G. Tolentino and concurred in by Associate Justices Eloy R. Bello, Jr. and Jose C. Mendoza.

3 Id. at 86.

4 Id. at 289-316.

5 Id. at 280.

6 Id. at 288.

7 Id. at 181-187

8 Id. at 281-284.

9 Supra, note 2 at 79-80.

10 Id. at 105-111.

11 Id. at 118-121.

12 Id. at 128. This Order approved the Project of Partition and considered the case closed and terminated.

13 Id. at 129-132.

14 Id. at 115-117.

15 Supra note 11.

16 Id. at 150.

17 Id. at 539-552.

18 Id. at 571-591.

19 Bernardo v. CA, 388 Phil. 793 (2000); Diaz v. Diaz, 387 Phil. 314 (2000).

20 Supra note 1 at 280.

21 Sec. 2. Hearing of motion.At the hearing of the motion, the parties shall submit their arguments on the questions of law and their evidence on the questions of fact involved except those not available at that time. Should the case go to trial, the evidence presented during the hearing shall automatically be part of the evidence of the party presenting the same. [Rule 16, Rules of Court]

22 F. Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Vol. I, (1999), pp. 258-259.

23 Pefianco v. Moral, 379 Phil. 468 (2000); Intramuros Administration v. Contacto, G.R. No. 152576, May 5, 2003, 402 SCRA 581.

24 Sec. 1. Rendition of judgments and final orders.A judgment or final order determining the merits of the case shall be in writing personally and directly prepared by the judge, stating clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based, signed by him, and filed with the clerk of the court. (Emphasis supplied).

25 Supra note 1 at 182-185.

26 Pefianco v. Moral, supra at note 23.

27 Parañaque Kings Enterprises, Inc. v. CA, 335 Phil. 1124 (1997).



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335 Phil. 1124 (1997).



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