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Velasquez vs Lisondra Land Inc.
[G.R. No. 231290, August 27, 2020]
In 1998, petitioner Perfecto Velasquez, Jr. and respondent company Lisondra Land Incorporated entered into a joint venture agreement to develop a 7,200-square meter parcel of land into a memorial park. However, due to numerous issues surrounding the project, including Lisondra Land’s failing to acquire an HLURB on time, failing to provide insurance coverage and to pay its share in the realty taxes, and receiving kickbacks from contractors and agents, Perfecto filed a complaint for breach of contract before the Regional Trial Court (RTC);
RTC: Lisondra claimed that RTC had no jurisdiction, as the violations involved real estate trade and business practices which are within the HLURB exclusive authority; Lisondra later appeals to CA via special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65
CA: Appeal granted. RTC committed grave abuse of discretion, as complaint is regarding unsound real estate business practices, which fall under HLURB jurisdiction (Section 1, PD 1344); Petitioner files new complaint at HLURB for unsound real estate business practices vs respondent
HLURB: Lisondra LaZe parties, and orders respondent to pay fines, damages and attorney's fees. Respondent appeals to HLURB BoC, alleging that HLURB lacks jurisdiction since dispute is between joint venture partners and is an intra-corporate controversy, thus jurisdiction falls under RTC.
HLURB BoC: Dismissed prior ruling due to lack of jurisdiction… *BUT* reverses ruling again after petitioner motions for reconsideration; Lisandro appeals case to Office of the President…
OP: Affirms HLURB ruling; Lisandro files petition for review with CA, alleging that that HLURB has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case.
CA: Sets aside OP decision. Petitioner’s complaint dismissed on grounds that HLURB authority is limited only to cases filed by the buyers or owners of subdivision lots and condominium units.
In his current petition before the SC, Perfecto argued that Lisandro Land is now estopped from assailing the HLURB's jurisdiction. It is not allowed to make a complete mockery of the judicial system resulting in two conflicting appellate court Decisions.
Whether or not respondent is estopped from assailing HLURB for lack of jurisdiction.
Yes. CA ruling reversed, OP ruling reinstated with modification.
In People v. Casiano: The operation of the principle of estoppel on the question of jurisdiction seemingly depends upon whether the lower court actually had jurisdiction or not. If it had no jurisdiction, but the case was tried and decided upon the theory that it had jurisdiction, the parties are not barred, on appeal, from assailing such jurisdiction, for the same "must exist as a matter of law, and may not be conferred by consent of the parties or by estoppel". However, if the lower court had jurisdiction, and the case was heard and decided upon a given theory, such, for instance, as that the court had no jurisdiction, the party who induced it to adopt such theory will not be permitted, on appeal, to assume an inconsistent position - that the lower court had jurisdiction. Here, the principle of estoppel applies. The rule that jurisdiction is conferred by law, and does not depend upon the will of the duties, has no bearing thereon.
In the current case, Perfecto originally filed his complaint before the RTC which, has jurisdiction over the controversy between the parties. Lisondra Land claimed that the case is within the HLURB's exclusive authority. It maintained this theory before the CA which eventually ordered the dismissal of the complaint. Perfecto relied on the final decision of the appellate court and refiled the action against Lisondra Land with the HLURB. Lisondra Land actively participated in the proceedings before the HLURB. After receiving an adverse decision, Lisondra Land questioned the jurisdiction of the HLURB and claimed that the RTC has the authority to hear the case. This is where estoppel operates and bars Lisondra Land from assailing the HLURB's jurisdiction. The Court cannot countenance Lisondra Land's act of adopting inconsistent postures - first, by attacking the jurisdiction of the trial court and, subsequently, the authority of the HLURB. Otherwise, the consequence is revolting as Lisondra Land would be allowed to make a complete mockery of the judicial system.