November 2005 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 148361 - Rafael Bautista, et al., v. Maya-Maya Cottages, Inc.
[G.R. NO. 148361 November 29, 2005]
RAFAEL BAUTISTA and LIGAYA ROSEL, Petitioners, v. MAYA-MAYA COTTAGES, INC., Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
SANDOVAL GUTIERREZ, J.:
For our resolution is the instant Petition for Review on Certiorari assailing the Decision1 and Resolution of the Court of Appeals, dated November 24, 2000 and May 30, 2001, respectively, in CA-G.R. SP No. 43574.
The facts are:
Spouses Rafael and Ligaya Bautista, petitioners herein, are the registered owners of a 3,856-square meter lot located at Natipuan, Nasugbu, Batangas, as evidenced by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-1436 issued in their names on January 15, 1989 by the Register of Deeds, same province.
On May 13, 1996, Maya-Maya Cottages, Inc. (MMCI), respondent, filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Nasugbu, Batangas a complaint for cancellation of petitioners' title and damages, with application for a preliminary injunction, docketed as Civil Case No. 371. Respondent alleged inter alia that "without any color of right and through dubious means," petitioners were able to obtain OCT No. P-1436 in their names.
On May 29, 1996, petitioners filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it does not state a cause of action. They averred that respondent is a private corporation, hence, disqualified under the Constitution2 from acquiring public alienable lands except by lease. Respondent cannot thus be considered a real party in interest.
In its Order dated August 30, 1996, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that since the property is an alienable public land, respondent is not qualified to acquire it except by lease. Thus, it has no cause of action.
Respondent then filed a motion for reconsideration with motion for leave to file an amended complaint for quieting of title. Respondent alleged that the technical description in petitioners' title does not cover the disputed lot.
Thereupon, petitioners filed their opposition, contending that the amended complaint does not also state a cause of action and if admitted, respondent's theory of the case is substantially modified.
On November 18, 1996, the trial court issued an Order denying petitioners' motion to dismiss, thus, reversing its Order of August 30, 1996 dismissing the complaint in Civil Case No. 371.
Petitioners then filed with the Court of Appeals a special civil action for certiorari and prohibition, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 43574. They alleged that the amended complaint does not cure the defect in the original complaint which does not state a cause of action. Clearly, in admitting respondent's amended complaint, the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
On November 24, 2000, the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision dismissing the Petition for Certiorariand prohibition.
Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but was denied by the Appellate Court in its Resolution of May 30, 2001.
Hence, the instant petitioner for review on certiorari.
The sole issue for our resolution is whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the trial court did not commit grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in admitting respondent's amended complaint.
Section 2, Rule 10 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, provides:
"SEC. 2. Amendments as a matter of right. - A party may amend his pleading once as a matter of right at any time before a responsive pleading is served or, in the case of a reply, at any time within ten (10) days after it is served."
The above provision clearly shows that before the filing of any responsive pleading, a party has the absolute right to amend his pleading, regardless of whether a new cause of action or change in theory is introduced. It is settled that a motion to dismiss is not the responsive pleading contemplated by the Rule.3 Records show that petitioners had not yet filed a responsive pleading to the original complaint in Civil Case No. 371. What they filed was a motion to dismiss. It follows that respondent, as a plaintiff, may file an amended complaint even after the original complaint was ordered dismissed, provided that the order of dismissal is not yet final,4 as in this case.
Verily, the Court of Appeals correctly held that in issuing the assailed Order admitting the amended complaint, the trial court did not gravely abuse its discretion. Hence, neither certiorari nor prohibition would lie.
As to petitioners' contention that respondent corporation is barred from acquiring the subject lot, suffice it to say that this is a matter of defense which can only be properly determined during the full-blown trial of the instant case.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The challenged Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 43574 are AFFIRMED IN TOTO. Costs against petitioners.
1 Rollo, pp. 30-42. Per Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes with Associate Justice Ramon A. Barcelona (retired) and Associate Justice Rodrigo V. Cosico, concurring.
2 Art. XII, Sec. 3.
3 Radio Communications of the Phils., Inc., v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 121397, April 17, 1997, 271 SCRA 286, citing Prudence Realty and Dev't . Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 231 SCRA 379 (1994); Soledad v. Mamangun, 8 SCRA 110 (1963).
4 Salazar v. Bartolome, G.R. No. 43364, September 30, 1976, 73 SCRA 247, 250, citing Paeste and Carpio v., Jaurigue, 94 Phil. 179 (1953),