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[G.R. No. 144484.June 27, 2001]

NAVARRO vs. ATTY. QUADRA

FIRST DIVISION

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 27 2001.

G.R. No. 144484(Magtanggol D. Navarro vs. Atty. Pedro Q. Quadra)

This is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Petitioner Magtanggol D. Navarro assails the Decision dated June 16, 2000 of the Court of Appeals, Fourth Division, in CA-G.R. CV No. 60412,1 Magtanggol D. Navarro, Plaintiff-Appellant, vs. Fil-Estate Management, Inc., Defendant-Intervenor, Atty. Perdo Q. Quadra, Movant-Appellee. affirming the trial court's award of attorney's fees to private respondent Atty. Pedro Q. Quadra, with the modification that petitioner should pay private respondent P583,333.33 instead of P500,000.00; and its Resolution dated August 11, 2000, denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration.

The facts of the case are as follows:

Petitioner Ligaya Navarro and the heirs of Vicente Navarro secured the legal services of private respondent as legal counsel in connection with their claims over certain parcels of land which conflicted with the claims of Fil-Estate Management, Inc. (Fil-Estate). Private respondent served as petitioner's lawyer from April 13, 1981 to June 23, 1995.

On March 1, 1991, petitioner Ligaya Navarro and the heirs of Vicente Navarro signed individual contracts engaging the legal services of private respondent. The contract between petitioner and private respondent stipulates:

xxx

3. In the event of any compromise or amicable settlement of our cases, or any quitclaim, waiver or sale of the property, I, MAGTANGGOL D. NAVARRO hereby agrees (sic) to pay Atty. Quadra twenty five percent (25%) of whatever amount I may receive from such compromise, amicable settlement, quitclaim, waiver, or sale of the property.2 Rollo, p.45.

In July 1994, Ligaya Navarro, assisted by private respondent, entered into a compromise agreement. Ligaya expressly waived, renounced and ceded in favor of Fil-Estate her rights over the land in dispute in exchange for Two Million Three Hundred Thirty Three Thousand Three Hundred Thirty Three Pesos and Thirty Three Centavos (P2,333,333.33). A similar compromise agreement was concluded between the heirs of Vicente Navarro, also assisted by private respondent, and Fil-Estate in November 1994. Petitioner, on the other hand, refused to settle his claim at once and demanded a bigger settlement fee of Ten Million Pesos (P10,000,000.00).

At around the same time as the aforementioned compromise agreements were executed, private respondent signed in favor of Fil-Estate an Undertaking dated July 18, 1994 and a Supplemental Undertaking dated November 29, 1994 whereby he agreed to perpetually and forever bar himself personally and professionally from any suit questioning in any manner Fil-Estate's ownership over the lands previously belonging to Ligaya Navarro and the heirs of Vicente Navarro. In exchange, private respondent received two parcels of land from Fil-Estate.3 Id., at 50.

On June 23, 1995, petitioner terminated private respondent's services due to loss of trust and confidence. Petitioner thereafter hired new lawyers to handle his claims against Fil-Estate.

On November 15, 1996, petitioner and Fil-Estate executed a compromise agreement whereby petitioner waived his rights over his land in exchange for Eight Million Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P8,500,000.00). On November 29, 1996, this compromise agreement was approved by the trial court where the case between petitioner and Fil-Estate involving the lot was pending.

On December 3, 1996, private respondent filed a Motion to Pay Attorney's Fees, alleging that he had not yet been paid for his services.

The RTC issued an Order dated July 16, 1997 finding that petitioner terminated private respondent's services without just cause and requiring him to pay the latter P500,000.00 as attorney's fees.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals dismissed petitioner's claim. The appellate court ruled that the appeal was filed late since petitioner failed to pay the docket fees on time. It also stated that since the termination of private respondent's services was unjustified, private respondent should be paid in accordance with the terms of their Contract for Legal Services.

Aggrieved, petitioner filed the present petition, alleging that the Court of Appeals committed grave and serious error in increasing the award of private respondent's fees. Petitioner contends that it was not through private respondent's efforts that he obtained a bigger settlement fee for his land, hence, private respondent does not deserve to be paid according to the terms of their contract.4 See Petition, Id., at. 34-38.

In his Comment, private respondent averred that he had not been paid a single centavo for his legal services to petitioner since 1981, which services included the preparation of numerous pleadings and extensive research in connection with petitioner's claims over the land in dispute.5 Comment, Id., at. 71-88, 119-174. He also clarified that the Undertaking dated July 18, 1994 and the Supplemental Undertaking dated November 29, 1994 which he signed in favor of Fil-Estate did not involve petitioner's claims.6 Comment, Id., at 94-95.

The Court does not find merit in the petition.

At the outset, it must be stated that the Court of Appeals dismissed petitioner's appeal therein for being filed beyond the period required under the Rules of Court. Petitioner's counsel received the trial court's Order dated July 16, 1997 on July 17, 1997. He filed a motion for reconsideration thereof on August 1, 1997, the last day of the fifteen-day period for perfecting an appeal. On September 9, 1997, petitioner received the trial court's order denying his motion for reconsideration. He therefore had five (5) days from receipt thereof within which to file his appeal. While petitioner was able to file his notice of appeal on September 10, 1997, he paid the docket fees only on September 17, 1997, or three days after the lapse of the five-day reglementary period. Section 1(c), Rule 50 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure expressly provides that the Court of Appeals may dismiss an appeal for failure to pay docket fees on time.7 Section 1(c), Rule 50 of the Revised Rules of Court reads:

Section 1. Grounds for dismissal of appeal. - An appeal may be dismissed by the Court of Appeals, on its own motion or on that of the appellee, on the following grounds:

xxx

(c) Failure of the appellant to pay the docket and other lawful fees as provided in Section 4 of Rule 41;

x x x.

Even if petitioner's appeal were to be considered a multiple appeal requiring a record of appeal to be filed, as the trial court erroneously held, the Court of Appeals was still correct in dismissing the same. Under the Rules petitioner had thirty (30) days to appeal from the date of his receipt of the trial court's order. As was noted earlier, petitioner received the trial court's order on July 17, 1997. Having filed his motion for reconsideration thereof on August 1, 1997, or fifteen (15) days from his receipt of the said order, petitioner still had fifteen (15) days from his receipt of the order denying the motion for reconsideration to perfect his appeal. Having received the order denying the motion for reconsideration on September 9, 1997, petitioner only had until September 24, 1997 to perfect his appeal. Thus, when he filed his motion for extension to file his record on appeal on September 26, 1997, such motion could no longer be acted upon since the order had already become final and executory.

Neither did the appellate court commit any reversible error in ruling that private respondent was terminated without just cause and that he should be paid the amount of Five Hundred Thirty Three Thousand Three Hundred Thirty Three Pesos and Thirty Three Centavos (P533,333.33), or twenty-five percent (25%) of the amount which petitioner could have received as settlement from Fil-Estate if private respondent was still his counsel. We agree with the following pronouncement of the appellate court:

It can be seen therefore that the reasons for the discharge of Atty. Quadra as Magtanggol Navarro's counsel are rather muddled. In the x x x letter of Magtanggol Navarro, he alleges that the reason he fired Atty. Quadra was that he had lost confidence in the latter when Atty. Quadra wanted him to sign a document, apparently a compromise agreement, that he did not understand. In the Opposition to the Motion to Pay Attorney's Fees, however, an altogether different reason was given, in that Magtanggol Navarro lost confidence in Atty. Quadra when the latter, among other reasons, accepted parcels of land from Fil-Estate. It appears that Magtanggol Navarro himself is not sure why he lost confidence in Atty. Quadra. This casts a serious doubt on the validity of the termination of Atty. Quadra's services.

Considering that the termination of Atty. Quadra's services was not justified, it follows that he should be paid according to the Contract of Legal Services executed on March 1, 1991 pursuant to Rule 138, Section 26 of the Rules of Court, which reads as follows:

"Sec. 26. Change of attorneys-

xxx

"A client may at any time dismiss his attorney or substitute another in his place, but if the contract between client and attorney has been reduced to writing and the dismissal of the attorney was without justifiable cause, he shall be entitled to recover from the client the full compensation stipulated in the contract. However, the attorney may, in the discretion of the court, intervene in the case to protect his rights. For the payment of his compensation the attorney shall have a lien upon all judgments for the payment of money, and executions issued in pursuance of such judgment, rendered in the case wherein his services had been retained by the client."

However, it does not necessarily follow that Atty. Quadra is entitled to the stipulated 25% of the P8,500,000.00 which Magtanggol Navarro received, which is P2,250,000.00. There is no showing that Magtanggol Navarro could have received that amount under Atty. Quadra's representation. In fact, under Atty. Quadra's representation, the heirs of Vicente Navarro as well as Ligaya D. Navarro-Garcia received only P2,333,333.33 each. It was only when Atty. Quadra was relieved by the WLAP lawyers that Magtanggol Navarro was able to wangle from Fil-Estate a compromise agreement wherein he was paid four times what each of his siblings received under Atty. Quadra's tutelage. Thus, the 25% should be reckoned from the amount which Magtanggol Navarro could have received if Atty. Quadra was still his counsel, which should be about P583,333.33.

While it appears that Atty. Quadra was paid P333,333.33, this is because Atty. Quadra also received two parcels of land from Fil-Estate pursuant to Atty. Quadra's Undertaking dated July 18, 1994 and the Supplemental Undertaking dated November 23, 1994 which, it should be pointed out, expressly excluded Magtanggol Navarro's interests.

The lower court thus was not far off the mark in fixing Atty. Quadra's compensation at P500,000.00, considering that this is approximately 25% of what the heirs of Vicente Navarro and Ligaya Navarro-Garcia received under Atty. Quadra's representation. The amount which should be paid to Atty. Quadra should thus be modified to P583,333,33. 8 Decision of the Court of Appeals dated June 16, 2000, Rollo, p. 56-58.

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED and the Decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby AFFIRMED.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) VIRGINIA ANCHETA-SORIANO
Clerk of Court


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