G. R. No. 143376 - November 26, 2002
LENI O. CHOA, Petitioner, vs. ALFONSO C. CHOA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Though interlocutory in character, an order denying a demurrer to evidence may be the subject of a certiorari proceeding, provided the petitioner can show that it was issued with grave abuse of discretion; and that appeal in due course is not plain, adequate or speedy under the circumstances. Indeed, when the plaintiffs evidence is utterly and patently insufficient to prove the complaint, it would be capricious for a trial judge to deny the demurrer and to require the defendant to present evidence to controvert a nonexisting case. Verily, the denial constitutes an unwelcome imposition on the courts docket and an assault on the defendants resources and peace of mind. In short, such denial needlessly delays and, thus, effectively denies justice.
Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the March 16, 2000 Decision1 and the May 22, 2000 Resolution2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-GR SP No. 53100. The decretal portion of the Decision reads as follows:
"WHEREFORE, the instant Petition is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit."3
The assailed Resolution denied petitioners Motion for Reconsideration.4
Petitioner and respondent were married on March 15, 1981. Out of this union, two children were born, Cheryl Lynne and Albryan. On October 27, 1993, respondent filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Negros Occidental, Branch 51, a Complaint5 for the annulment of his marriage to petitioner. The Complaint was docketed as Civil Case No. 93-8098. Afterwards he filed an Amended Complaint6 dated November 8, 1993 for the declaration of nullity of his marriage to petitioner based on her alleged psychological incapacity.
The case went to trial with respondent presenting his evidence in chief. After his last witness testified, he submitted his Formal Offer of Exhibits7 dated February 20, 1998. Instead of offering any objection to it, petitioner filed a Motion to Dismiss (Demurrer to Evidence)8 dated May 11, 1998. The lower court then allowed a number of pleadings to be filed thereafter.
Finally, the RTC issued its December 2, 1998 Order9 denying petitioners Demurrer to Evidence. It held that "[respondent] established a quantum of evidence that the [petitioner] must controvert."10 After her Motion for Reconsideration11 was denied in the March 22, 1999 Order,12 petitioner elevated the case to the CA by way of a Petition for Certiorari,13 docketed as CA-GR No. 53100.
Ruling of the Court of Appeals
The CA held that the denial of the demurrer was merely interlocutory; hence, certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court was not available. The proper remedy was for the defense to present evidence; and if an unfavorable decision was handed down later, to take an appeal therefrom.14 In any event, no grave abuse of discretion was committed by respondent judge in issuing the assailed Orders.15
The CA also ruled that "the propriety of granting or denying a demurrer to evidence rests on the sound exercise of the [trial] courts discretion."16 Further, the "[p]etitioner failed to show that the issues in the court below [had] been resolved arbitrarily or without basis."17
Hence, this Petition.18
In her Memorandum,19 petitioner submits the following issues for our consideration:
Simply stated, the issues are: (1) is certiorari available to correct an order denying a demurrer to evidence? and (2) in its denial, did the RTC commit grave abuse of discretion by violating or ignoring the applicable law and jurisprudence?
The Courts Ruling
The Petition is meritorious.
Resort to Certiorari
Petitioner argues that the RTC denied her Demurrer to Evidence despite the patent weakness and gross insufficiency of respondents evidence. Thus, she was entitled to the immediate recourse of the extraordinary remedy of certiorari. Echoing the CA, respondent counters that appeal in due course, not certiorari, is the proper remedy.
We clarify. In general, interlocutory orders are neither appealable nor subject to certiorari proceedings.
However, this rule is not absolute. In Tadeo v. People,21 this Court declared that appeal -- not certiorari -- in due time was indeed the proper remedy, provided there was no grave abuse of discretion or excess of jurisdiction or oppressive exercise of judicial authority.
In fact, Rules 41 and 65 of the Rules of Court expressly recognize this exception and allow certiorari when the lower court acts with grave abuse of discretion in the issuance of an interlocutory order. Rule 41 provides:
"No appeal may be taken from:
x x x - x x x - x x x
(c) An interlocutory order;
x x x - x x x - x x x
"In all the above instances where the judgment or final order is not appealable, the aggrieved party may file an appropriate special civil action under Rule 65." 22
In turn, Section 1 of Rule 65 reads as follows:
"SEC. 1. Petition for certiorari -- When any tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of its or his jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and there is no appeal, nor any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, a person aggrieved thereby may file a verified petition in the proper court, alleging the facts with certainty and praying that judgment be rendered annulling or modifying the proceedings of such tribunal, board or officer, and granting such incidental reliefs as law and justice may require."23
Thus, a denial of a demurrer that is tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction may be assailed through a petition for certiorari.24 In Cruz v. People, this exception was stressed by the Court in this wise:
"Admittedly, the general rule that the extraordinary writ of certiorari is not available to challenge interlocutory orders of the trial court may be subject to exceptions. When the assailed interlocutory orders are patently erroneous or issued with grave abuse of discretion, the remedy of certiorari lies."25
Denial of Demurrer to Evidence
Having established that a writ of certiorari may be issued in exceptional circumstances, this Court is now tasked to determine whether the present case falls under the exception; that is, whether the RTC indeed committed a "patent error" or grave abuse of discretion in denying petitioners Demurrer to Evidence.
A demurrer to evidence is defined as "an objection or exception by one of the parties in an action at law, to the effect that the evidence which his adversary produced is insufficient in point of law (whether true or not) to make out his case or sustain the issue."26 The demurrer challenges the sufficiency of the plaintiffs evidence to sustain a verdict.27 In passing upon the sufficiency of the evidence raised in a demurrer, the court is merely required to ascertain whether there is competent or sufficient proof to sustain the indictment or to support a verdict of guilt.28
We have thoroughly reviewed the records of the present case, and we are convinced that the evidence against respondent (herein petitioner) is grossly insufficient to support any finding of psychological incapacity that would warrant a declaration of nullity of the parties marriage.
Even if taken as true, the testimony of respondent basically complains about three aspects of petitioners personality; namely, her alleged (1) lack of attention to their children, (2) immaturity and (3) lack of an "intention of procreative sexuality." None of these three, singly or collectively, constitutes "psychological incapacity." Far from it.
In Santos v. CA,37 this Court clearly explained that "psychological incapacity must be characterized by (a) gravity, (b) juridical antecedence and (c) incurability."38 Said the Court:
"It should be obvious, looking at all the foregoing disquisitions, including, and most importantly, the deliberations of the Family Code Revision Committee itself, that the use of the phrase psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Code has not been meant to comprehend all such possible cases of psychoses as, likewise mentioned by some ecclesiastical authorities, extremely low intelligence, immaturity, and like circumstances (cited in Fr. Artemio Baluma's Void and Voidable Marriages in the Family Code and their Parallels in Canon Law, quoting from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder by the American Psychiatric Association; Edward Hudson's Handbook II for Marriage Nullity Cases). Article 36 of the Family Code cannot be taken and construed independently of but must stand in conjunction with, existing precepts in our law on marriage. Thus correlated, psychological incapacity should refer to no less than a mental (not physical) incapacity that causes a party to be truly incognitive of the basic marital covenants that concomitantly must be assumed and discharged by the parties to the marriage which, as so expressed by Article 68 of the Family Code, include their mutual obligations to live together, observe love, respect and fidelity and render help and support. There is hardly any doubt that the intendment of the law has been to confine the meaning of psychological incapacity to the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage. This psychologic condition must exist at the time the marriage is celebrated."39
Furthermore, in Republic v. Molina,40 we ruled that the psychological incapacity must be more than just a "difficulty," a "refusal" or a "neglect" in the performance of some marital obligations. We stressed that a mere showing of irreconcilable differences and conflicting personalities in no wise constitutes psychological incapacity.
In the case at bar, the evidence adduced by respondent merely shows that he and his wife could not get along with each other. There was absolutely no showing of the gravity or juridical antecedence or incurability of the problems besetting their marital union.
Sorely lacking in respondents evidence is proof that the psychological incapacity was grave enough to bring about the disability of a party to assume the essential obligations of marriage. In Molina, we affirmed that "mild characterological peculiarities, mood changes and occasional emotional outbursts cannot be accepted as root causes of psychological incapacity. The illness must be shown as downright incapacity or inability, not a refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will. In other words, there should be a natal or supervening disabling factor in the person, an adverse integral element in the personality structure that effectively incapacitates the person from really accepting and thereby complying with the obligations essential to marriage."41
Respondents pious peroration that petitioner "lacked the intention of procreative sexuality" is easily belied by the fact that two children were born during their union. Moreover, there is absolutely no showing that the alleged "defect" was already existing at the time of the celebration of the marriage.
His testimony established merely that the spouses had an "incompatibility," a "defect" that could possibly be treated or alleviated through psychotherapy. We need not expound further on the patent insufficiency of the expert testimony to establish the psychological incapacity of petitioner.
Furthermore, the assessment of petitioner by Dr. Gauzon was based merely on descriptions communicated to him by respondent. The doctor never conducted any psychological examination of her. Neither did he ever claim to have done so. In fact, his Professional Opinion47 began with the statement "[I]f what Alfonso Choa said about his wife Leni is true, x x x."48 The expert witness testified thus:
Obviously, Dr. Gauzon had no personal knowledge of the facts he testified to, as these had merely been relayed to him by respondent. The former was working on pure suppositions and secondhand information fed to him by one side. Consequently, his testimony can be dismissed as unscientific and unreliable.
Dr. Gauzon tried to save his credibility by asserting that he was able to assess petitioners character, not only through the descriptions given by respondent, but also through the formers at least fifteen hours50 of study of the voluminous transcript of records of this case. Even if it took the good doctor a whole day or a whole week to examine the records of this case, we still find his assessment of petitioners psychological state sorely insufficient and methodologically flawed.
As to respondents argument -- that because Dr. Gauzons testimony had never been objected to, the objection raised thereafter was deemed waived -- the Supreme Court has already ruled on the matter. It held that although the question of admissibility of evidence could not be raised for the first time on appeal, hearsay or unreliable evidence should be disregarded whether objected to or not, because it has no probative value.51
We are, of course, mindful of the ruling that a medical examination is not a conditio sine qua non to a finding of psychological incapacity, so long as the totality of evidence presented is enough to establish the incapacity adequately.52 Here, however, the totality of evidence presented by respondent was completely insufficient to sustain a finding of psychological incapacity -- more so without any medical, psychiatric or psychological examination.
The trial court should have carefully studied and assessed the evidence presented by respondent and taken into account the prevailing jurisprudence on the matter. It could then have easily concluded, as we conclude now, that it was useless to proceed further with the tedious process of hearing contravening proof. His evidence was obviously, grossly and clearly insufficient to support a declaration of nullity of marriage based on psychological incapacity. Withal, it was grave abuse of discretion for the RTC to deny the Demurrer and to violate or ignore this Courts rulings in point. Indeed, continuing the process of litigation would have been a total waste of time and money for the parties and an unwelcome imposition on the trial courts docket.
We have already ruled that grave abuse of discretion may arise when a lower court or tribunal violates or contravenes the Constitution, the law or existing jurisprudence.53 Any decision, order or resolution of a lower court tantamount to overruling a judicial pronouncement of the highest Court is unmistakably a very grave abuse of discretion.54
There is no reason to believe that an appeal would prove to be a plain, speedy or adequate remedy in the case at bar. An appeal would not promptly relieve petitioner from the injurious effects of the patently mistaken Orders maintaining the baseless action of respondent. It would only compel her to go needlessly through a protracted trial, which would further clog the court dockets with another futile case.55
WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby GRANTED and the assailed CA Decision REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Respondents Demurrer to Evidence is GRANTED, and the case for declaration of nullity of marriage based on the alleged psychological incapacity of petitioner is DISMISSED. No pronouncement as to costs.
Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
Search for www.chanrobles.com
|Copyright © ChanRoblesPublishing Company| Disclaimer | E-mailRestrictions|
ChanRobles™Virtual Law Library ™ | chanrobles.com™