Philippine Supreme Court Jurisprudence


Philippine Supreme Court Jurisprudence > Year 2005 > January 2005 Decisions > G.R. No. 161730 - JAPAN AIRLINES v. MICHAEL ASUNCION, ET AL.:




G.R. No. 161730 - JAPAN AIRLINES v. MICHAEL ASUNCION, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 161730 : January 28, 2005]

JAPAN AIRLINES, Petitioner, v. MICHAEL ASUNCION and JEANETTE ASUNCION, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

This Petition for Review seeks to reverse and set aside the October 9, 2002 decision1 of the Court of Appeals and its January 12, 2004 resolution,2 which affirmed in toto the June 10, 1997 decision of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 61 in Civil Case No. 92-3635.3

On March 27, 1992, respondents Michael and Jeanette Asuncion left Manila on board Japan Airlines' (JAL) Flight 742 bound for Los Angeles. Their itinerary included a stop-over in Narita and an overnight stay at Hotel Nikko Narita. Upon arrival at Narita, Mrs. Noriko Etou-Higuchi of JAL endorsed their applications for shore pass and directed them to the Japanese immigration official.4 A shore pass is required of a foreigner aboard a vessel or aircraft who desires to stay in the neighborhood of the port of call for not more than 72 hours.

During their interview, the Japanese immigration official noted that Michael appeared shorter than his height as indicated in his passport. Because of this inconsistency, respondents were denied shore pass entries and were brought instead to the Narita Airport Rest House where they were billeted overnight.

The immigration official also handed Mrs. Higuchi a Notice5 where it was stated that respondents were to be "watched so as not to escape".

Mr. Atsushi Takemoto of the International Service Center (ISC), the agency tasked by Japan's Immigration Department to handle passengers who were denied shore pass entries, brought respondents to the Narita Airport Rest House where they stayed overnight until their departure the following day for Los Angeles. Respondents were charged US$400.00 each for their accommodation, security service and meals.

On December 12, 1992, respondents filed a complaint for damages6 claiming that JAL did not fully apprise them of their travel requirements and that they were rudely and forcibly detained at Narita Airport.

JAL denied the allegations of respondents. It maintained that the refusal of the Japanese immigration authorities to issue shore passes to respondents is an act of state which JAL cannot interfere with or prevail upon. Consequently, it cannot impose upon the immigration authorities that respondents be billeted at Hotel Nikko instead of the airport resthouse.7

On June 10, 1997, the trial court rendered its decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE PREMISES CONSIDERED, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of plaintiffs ordering defendant JAL to pay plaintiffs as follows:

1. the sum of US$800.00 representing the expenses incurred at the Narita Airport with interest at 12% per annum from March 27, 1992 until the sum is fully paid;

2. the sum of P200,000.00 for each plaintiff as moral damages;

3. the amount of P100,000.00 for each plaintiff as exemplary damages;

4. the amount of P100,000.00 as attorney's fees; andcralawlibrary

5. costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.8

The trial court dismissed JAL's counterclaim for litigation expenses, exemplary damages and attorney's fees.

On October 9, 2002, the Court of Appeals affirmed in toto the decision of the trial court. Its motion for reconsideration having been denied,9 JAL now files the instant petition.

The basic issue for resolution is whether JAL is guilty of breach of contract.

Under Article 1755 of the Civil Code, a common carrier such as JAL is bound to carry its passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with due regard for all the circumstances. When an airline issues a ticket to a passenger, confirmed for a particular flight on a certain date, a contract of carriage arises. The passenger has every right to expect that he be transported on that flight and on that date and it becomes the carrier's obligation to carry him and his luggage safely to the agreed destination.10 If the passenger is not so transported or if in the process of transporting he dies or is injured, the carrier may be held liable for a breach of contract of carriage.11

We find that JAL did not breach its contract of carriage with respondents. It may be true that JAL has the duty to inspect whether its passengers have the necessary travel documents, however, such duty does not extend to checking the veracity of every entry in these documents. JAL could not vouch for the authenticity of a passport and the correctness of the entries therein. The power to admit or not an alien into the country is a sovereign act which cannot be interfered with even by JAL. This is not within the ambit of the contract of carriage entered into by JAL and herein respondents. As such, JAL should not be faulted for the denial of respondents' shore pass applications.

Prior to their departure, respondents were aware that upon arrival in Narita, they must secure shore pass entries for their overnight stay. Respondents' mother, Mrs. Imelda Asuncion, insisted though that Ms. Linda Villavicencio of JAL assured her that her children would be granted the passes.12 This assertion was satisfactorily refuted by Ms. Villavicencio's testimony during the cross examination, to wit:

ATTY. GONZAGA:

Q I will show to you Exh. 9 which is the TIM and on page 184 hereof, particularly number 10, and I quote, "Those holding tickets with confirmed seats and other documents for their onward journey and continuing their journey to a third country provided that they obtain an indorsement with an application of shore pass or transit pass from the airline ground personnel before clearing the immigration formality?"

WITNESS:

A Yes, Sir.

Q Did you tell this provision to Mrs. Asuncion?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A Yes, Sir. I did.

Q Are you sure?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A Yes, Sir.

Q Did you give a copy?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A No, Sir, I did not give a copy but verbally I explained to her the procedure they have to undergo when they get to narita airport.

Q And you read the contents of this [TIM]?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A No, Sir, I did not read it to her but I explained to her the procedure that each passenger has to go through before when they get to narita airport before they line up in the immigration counter.

Q In other words, you told Mrs. Asuncion the responsibility of securing shore passes bears solely on the passengers only?

A Yes, Sir.

Q That the airline has no responsibility whatsoever with regards (sic) to the application for shore passes?

A Yes, Sir.13

Next, respondents claimed that petitioner breached its contract of carriage when it failed to explain to the immigration authorities that they had overnight vouchers at the Hotel Nikko Narita. They imputed that JAL did not exhaust all means to prevent the denial of their shore pass entry applications.

To reiterate, JAL or any of its representatives have no authority to interfere with or influence the immigration authorities. The most that could be expected of JAL is to endorse respondents' applications, which Mrs. Higuchi did immediately upon their arrival in Narita.

As Mrs. Higuchi stated during her deposition:

ATTY. QUIMBO

Q: Madam Witness, what assistance did you give, if any, to the plaintiffs during this interview?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A: No, I was not present during their interview. I cannot assist.

Q: Why not?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A: It is forbidden for a civilian personnel to interfere with the Immigration agent's duties.14

Q: During the time that you were in that room and you were given this notice for you to sign, did you tell the immigration agent that Michael and Jeanette Asuncion should be allowed to stay at the Hotel Nikko Narita because, as passengers of JAL, and according to the plaintiff, they had vouchers to stay in that hotel that night?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A: No, I couldn't do so.

Q: Why not?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A: This notice is evidence which shows the decision of immigration authorities. It shows there that the immigration inspector also designated Room 304 of the Narita Airport Resthouse as the place where the passengers were going to wait for their outbound flight.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ

I cannot interfere with that decision.15

Mrs. Higuchi did all she could to assist the respondents. Upon being notified of the denial of respondents' applications, Mrs. Higuchi immediately made reservations for respondents at the Narita Airport Rest House which is really more a hotel than a detention house as claimed by respondents.16

More importantly, nowhere in respondent Michael's testimony did he state categorically that Mrs. Higuchi or any other employee of JAL treated them rudely or exhibited improper behavior throughout their stay. We therefore find JAL not remiss in its obligations as a common carrier.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ

Moral damages may be recovered in cases where one willfully causes injury to property, or in cases of breach of contract where the other party acts fraudulently or in bad faith. Exemplary damages are imposed by way of example or correction for the public good, when the party to a contract acts in wanton, fraudulent, oppressive or malevolent manner. Attorney's fees are allowed when exemplary damages are awarded and when the party to a suit is compelled to incur expenses to protect his interest.17 There being no breach of contract nor proof that JAL acted in wanton, fraudulent or malevolent manner, there is no basis for the award of any form of damages.

Neither should JAL be held liable to reimburse respondents the amount of US$800.00. It has been sufficiently proven that the amount pertained to ISC, an agency separate and distinct from JAL, in payment for the accommodations provided to respondents. The payments did not in any manner accrue to the benefit of JAL.

However, we find that the Court of Appeals correctly dismissed JAL's counterclaim for litigation expenses, exemplary damages and attorney's fees. The action was filed by respondents in utmost good faith and not manifestly frivolous. Respondents honestly believed that JAL breached its contract. A person's right to litigate should not be penalized by holding him liable for damages. This is especially true when the filing of the case is to enforce what he believes to be his rightful claim against another although found to be erroneous.18

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The October 9, 2002 decision of the Court of Appeals and its January 12, 2004 resolution in CA-G.R. CV No. 57440, are REVERSED and SET ASIDE insofar as the finding of breach on the part of petitioner and the award of damages, attorney's fees and costs of the suit in favor of respondents is concerned. Accordingly, there being no breach of contract on the part of petitioner, the award of actual, moral and exemplary damages, as well as attorney's fees and costs of the suit in favor of respondents Michael and Jeanette Asuncion, is DELETED for lack of basis. However, the dismissal for lack of merit of petitioner's counterclaim for litigation expenses, exemplary damages and attorney's fees, is SUSTAINED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Quisumbing, J., no part.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Associate Justice Elvi John S. Asuncion as concurred in by Associate Justices Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos and Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr., Rollo, pp. 67-74.

2 Rollo, p. 76.

3 Penned by Judge Fernando V. Gorospe, Jr., Rollo, pp. 87-92.

4 Mrs. Higuchi's Deposition, 21 September 1994, Records, pp. 583-585.

5 Exhibit 1-E-Deposition, Records, p. 627.

6 Rollo, pp. 77-81.

7 Id., p. 84.

8 Id., p. 92

9 Id., p. 76.

10 Cathay Pacific Airways, Ltd. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 60501, 5 March 1993, 219 SCRA 520, 524.

11 Singapore Airlines Limited v. Fernandez, G.R. No. 142305, 10 December 2003, 417 SCRA 474, 480, citing Alitalia Airways v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 77011, 24 July 1990, 187 SCRA 763, 770.

12 Records, p. 327.

13 TSN, Linda Villavicencio, 21 July 1994, Records, pp. 403-406.

14 Mrs. Higuchi's Deposition, Records, p. 586.

15 Id., pp. 589-590.

16 Exhibits 1-H-Deposition, 1-J-Deposition to 1-N-Deposition, Records, pp. 630, 632-634.

17 Rivera, et al. v. Del Rosario, et al., G.R. No. 144934, 15 January 2004.

18 J. Marketing Corp. v. Sia, Jr., 349 Phil. 513, 517 (1998).




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