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Ching vs. Cheng
[G.R. No. 175507, October 8, 2014]
Petitioner Ramon Ching is the adopted son of Antonio Ching, via the latter’s common-law wife Lucina Santos. Meanwhile, respondents Joseph Cheng and Jaime Cheng were Antonio’s illegitimate children with his housemaid, Mercedes Igne. Antonio Ching owned several businesses and properties worth 380 million, including Po Wing Properties, of which Ramon was a primary stockholder. Antonio was later murdered and Ramon was the primary suspect.
First case: After Antonio’s death, Joseph, Jaime, and Mercedes filed a complaint before the Manila RTC Branch 6 for declaration of nullity of titles against petitioner; The complaint was later amended, with leave of court, to include Po Wing Properties, and for "Annulment of Agreement, Waiver, Extra-Judicial Settlement of Estate and the Certificates of Title Issued by Virtue of Said Documents with Prayer for Temporary Restraining Order and Writ of Preliminary Injunction." Lucina later joined the respondents after successfully filing a motion for intervention. Petitioner company (defendant) later successfully had the case dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction, and respondents failed to respond with proper pleadings after 15 days.
Second Case: Respondents later filed the same list of complaints against petitioner, which was raffled off to RTC Manila Branch 20, which later transferred the case to Branch 6 (same court as First Case), on the grounds that the case involved substantially the same parties and causes of action. Respondents then filed for a motion to have the case dismissed without prejudice, which was granted by Manila RTC Branch 6, as summons had not yet been served on petitioners, nor was a responsive pleading filed.
Third Case: During the pendency of a motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner against the dismissal of the second case, respondents filed a complaint for "Disinheritance and Declaration of Nullity of Agreement and Waiver, Affidavit of Extra judicial Agreement, Deed of Absolute Sale, and Transfer Certificates of Title with Prayer for TRO and Writ of Preliminary Injunction" against petitioners, which was subsequently docketed with RTC Manila Branch 6.
Petitioners then filed a motion to dismiss the third case on the ground of res judicata, litis pendencia, forum-shopping, and failure of the complaint to state a cause of action. RTC Manila Branch 6 subsequently denied both the motion for reconsideration (for 2nd case) and the motion to dismiss, holding that the dismissal of the second case was without prejudice and, hence, would not bar the filing of the third case.
Petitioners then filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals, assailing the RTC order upholding dismissal of the second case. The CA dismissed the petition, ruling that petitioners’ reliance on the "two-dismissal rule" was misplaced since the rule involves two motions for dismissals filed by the plaintiff only. In this case the dismissal of the first case was upon the motion of the defendants, while the dismissal of the second case was at the instance of the plaintiffs. Hence the current petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Whether or not RTC’s dismissal of the second case operated as a bar to the filing of a third case, asper the "two-dismissal rule".
No. Petition denied, Manila RTC Branch 6 ordered to proceed with Civil Case No. 02-105251 with due and deliberate dispatch.
Dismissals of actions are governed by Rule 17 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 1 contemplates a situation where motion to dismiss is filed before any responsive pleadings have been filed, while Section two contemplates a situation where a counterclaim has been pleaded by the defendant, before he can be served a copy of the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss. Section 3 contemplates dismissal due to plaintiff’s fault, such as failure to prosecute. The first two are dismissals without prejudice unless otherwise declared by the court, while the third is with prejudice. In all instances, Rule 17 governs dismissals at the instance of the plaintiff, not of the defendant. Dismissals upon the instance of the defendant are generally governed by Rule 16, which covers motions to dismiss.
In the current case, the facts show that the first case the dismissal was done at instance of the defendants under Rule 16, Section 1(b) (lack of jurisdiction). Meanwhile, the second dismissal was requested by respondents before the service of any responsive pleadings. Such dismissal at this instance is a matter of right that is not subject to the trial court’s discretion, and was granted specifically without prejudice.
Furthermore, the third case filed by respondents cannot be deemed as forum shopping. As the SC ruled in Yap vs Chua, the test for determining forum shopping is whether in the two (or more) cases pending, there is identity of parties, rights or causes of action, and reliefs sought.
In this case, however, the dismissal of the first case became final and executory upon the failure of respondents’ counsel to file the appropriate pleading. They filed the correct pleading the second time around but eventually sought its dismissal as they"[suspected] that their counsel is not amply protecting their interests as the case is not moving for almost three (3) years." The filing of the third case, therefore, was not precisely for the purpose of obtaining a favorable result but only to get the case moving, in an attempt to protect their rights.