SANSIO PHILIPPINES vs. SPOUSES MOGOL
G.R. No. 177007
July 14, 2009
FACTS: Petitioner Sansio Philippines, Inc. is a domestic corporation that is engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling appliances and other related products.
Petitioner filed a Complaint for Sum of Money and Damages against respondent spouses Mogol before the MeTC of Manila. At the request of herein petitioner, the process server of the MeTC of Manila served the summons and the copy of the complaint on respondent spouses Mogol at the courtroom of the MeTC. Respondent spouses were in the said premises, as they were waiting for the scheduled hearing of the criminal cases filed by petitioner against respondent Alicia for violations of BP 22. Upon being so informed of the summons and the complaint, respondent spouses Mogol referred the same to their counsel, who was also present in the courtroom. The counsel of respondent spouses Mogol took hold of the summons and the copy of the complaint and read the same. Thereafter, he pointed out to the process server that the summons and the copy of the complaint should be served only at the address that was stated in both documents, i.e., at Lucena City, and not anywhere else. The counsel of respondent spouses Mogol apparently gave back the summons and the copy of the complaint to the process server and advised his clients not to obtain a copy and sign for the same. As the process server could not convince the respondent spouses Mogol to sign for the aforementioned documents, he proceeded to leave the premises of the courtroom.
The process server of the MeTC of Manila issued a Return on Service of Summons, declaring that:
RETURN ON SERVICE OF SUMMONS
This is to certify that on October 3, 2000, the undersigned tried to serve a copy of the Summons issued by the Court .. together with a copy of Complaint upon defendant Leodegario .. and Alicia Mogol .. as requested by plaintiff counsel, but failed for the reason that they refused to received (sic) with no valid reason at all.
The original and duplicate copies of the Summons are hereby respectfully returned, (sic) UNSERVED. xx
Petitioner filed a Motion to Declare [Respondents] in Default. Petitioner averred that the summons and the copy of the complaint were already validly served upon the respondent spouses Mogol at the courtroom of the MeTC. From the date of said service up to the time of the filing of the above-stated motion, respondent spouses Mogol had yet to file any responsive pleading.
Through a special appearance of their counsel, respondent spouses Mogol filed an Opposition to the Motion to Declare [Respondents] in Default. Respondent spouses Mogol averred the service should have been effected at the respondent spouses’ residential address, as stated in the summons and the copy of the complaint.
The MeTC of Manila ruled that Section 6, Rule 14 of the ROC does not specify where service is to be effected.. Respondent spouses Mogol were, thus, validly served with summons and a copy of the complaint. For failing to file any responsive pleading before the lapse of the reglementary period therefor, the Motion to Declare [Respondents] in Default filed by petitioner was declared to be meritorious. Respondent spouses Mogol filed an MR on the above Order, but the same was denied by the MeTC of Manila,
Respondent spouses filed a Petition for Certiorari, Prohibition and/or Injunction before the RTC of Manila against Judge de Castro, Jr. of the MeTC of Manila, and herein petitioner. Respondent spouses insisted there was no valid service of summons per return of the process server, which was binding on the MeTC judge, who did not acquire jurisdiction over the persons of respondent spouses. They contended that the MeTC of Manila acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in declaring them in default.
The RTC of Manila issued an Order dismissing the petition. It held that Section 6, Rule 14 of the ROC does not mandate that summons be served strictly at the address provided by the plaintiff in the complaint. Contrarily, said provision states that the service of summons may be made wherever such is possible and practicable. Therefore, it did not matter much that the summons and the copy of the complaint in this case were served inside the courtroom of the MeTC of Manila, Branch 24, instead of the address at Lucena City. The primordial consideration was that the service of summons was made in the person of the respondent spouses Mogol.
Respondent spouses Mogol filed a Notice of Appeal on the above-mentioned Order of the RTC of Manila, which was given due course. The CA rendered the assailed Decision, the relevant portions of which read: xx
We find the appeal meritorious.
After a careful perusal of the records, We hold that there was no valid service of summons upon the [respondent] Mogol spouses … Perforce, the MeTC never acquired jurisdiction over them. We explain. xx
Petitioner filed an MR thereon, but the same was denied by the CA in the assailed Resolution
ISSUE: WON there was a valid service of summons to the respondent spouses
HELD: WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 is GRANTED
YES; A summon is a writ by which the defendant is notified of the action brought against him or her. In a civil action, jurisdiction over the defendant is acquired either upon a valid service of summons or the defendant’s voluntary appearance in court. When the defendant does not voluntarily submit to the court’s jurisdiction, or when there is no valid service of summons, any judgment of the court, which has no jurisdiction over the person of the defendant, is null and void. Where the action is in personam, i.e., one that seeks to impose some responsibility or liability directly upon the person of the defendant through the judgment of a court, and the defendant is in the Philippines, the service of summons may be made through personal or substituted service in the manner provided for in Sections 6 and 7, Rule 14 of the ROC, which read:
SEC. 6. Service in person on defendant. – Whenever practicable, the summons shall be served by handing a copy thereof to the defendant in person, or, if he refuses to receive and sign for it, by tendering it to him.
SEC. 7. Substituted service. – If, for justifiable causes, the defendant cannot be served within a reasonable time as provided in the preceding section, service may be effected (a) by leaving copies of the summons at the defendant’s residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein; or (b) by leaving the copies at defendant’s office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.
It is well-established that summons upon a respondent or a defendant must be served by handing a copy thereof to him in person or, if he refuses to receive it, by tendering it to him. The essence of personal service is the handing or tendering of a copy of the summons to the defendant himself, wherever he may be found; that is, wherever he may be, provided he is in the Philippines.
In the instant case, the Court finds that there was already a valid service of summons in the persons of respondent spouses Mogol. The act of the counsel of respondent spouses Mogol of receiving the summons and the copy of the complaint already constituted receipt on the part of his clients, for the same was done with the latter’s behest and consent. Already accomplished was the operative act of “handing” a copy of the summons to respondent spouses in person. Thus, jurisdiction over the persons of the respondent spouses Mogol was already acquired by the MeTC of Manila. That being said, the subsequent act of the counsel of respondent spouses of returning the summons and the copy of the complaint to the process server was no longer material.
Section 6, Rule 14 of the ROC does not require that the service of summons on the defendant in person must be effected only at the latter’s residence as stated in the summons. On the contrary, said provision is crystal clear that, whenever practicable, summons shall be served by handing a copy thereof to the defendant; or if he refuses to receive and sign for it, by tendering it to him. Nothing more is required
Much more important than considerations of practicality, however, is the fact that respondent spouses Mogol based their case on a wrong appreciation of the above-stated provisions of the ROC. Respondent spouses principally argue that Section 6 of Rule 14 cannot be singled out without construing the same with Section 7. Axiomatically, Sections 6 and 7 of Rule 14 of the ROC cannot be construed to apply simultaneously. Said provisions do not provide for alternative modes of service of summons, which can either be resorted to on the mere basis of convenience to the parties. Under our procedural rules, service of summons in the persons of the defendants is generally preferred over substituted service.
As to the reliance of the CA on the second paragraph of the Return on Service of Summons stating that the original and duplicate copies of the Summons were returned “UNSERVED,” the Court finds the same utterly misplaced. A simple reading of the first paragraph of the Return on Service of Summons, which contains the circumstances surrounding the service of the summons on the persons of the respondent spouses Mogol, manifestly reveals that the summons and the copy of the complaint were already validly served on the said respondents. They merely refused to receive or obtain a copy of the same.
Although We find lamentable the apparently erroneous statement made by the process server in the aforesaid second paragraph – an error that undoubtedly added to the confusion of the parties to this case – the same was, nonetheless, a mere conclusion of law, which does not bind the independent judgment of the courts. Indeed, it cannot be said that because of such a statement, respondent spouses Mogol had the right to rely on said return informing them that the summons had been unserved, thus justifying their non-filing of any responsive pleading.
The constitutional requirement of due process exacts that the service be such as may be reasonably expected to give the notice desired. Once the service provided by the rules reasonably accomplishes that end, the requirement of justice is answered; the traditional notions of fair play are satisfied and due process is served.
In fine, we rule that jurisdiction over the persons of the respondent spouses Mogol was validly acquired by the MeTC in this case. For their failure to file any responsive pleading to the Complaint filed against them, in violation of the order of the said court as stated in the summons, respondent spouses Mogol were correctly declared in default.