Civil Law, Remedial Law

LACHES; ESTOPPEL BY LACHES; Elements & Principles — Recent Rulings of the Supreme Court

VICTORIA MANUFACTURING CORP. EMPLOYEES UNION v. VICTORIA MANUFACTURING CORP. G.R. No. 234446 July 24, 2019

The doctrine of estoppel by laches, pursuant to the ruling in Tijam, et al. v. Sibonghanoy, may operate to bar jurisdictional challenges. In that case, lack of jurisdiction was raised for the first time only in a motion for reconsideration filed before the CA fifteen (15) years after the commencement of the action. Prior thereto, the party that belatedly raised the jurisdictional issue had actively participated in the proceedings before the trial and appellate courts, seeking affirmative relief and, thereafter, submitting the case for adjudication on the merits. 

Based on public policy considerations, it was ruled that jurisdiction could no longer be questioned. The Court held that no tolerance should be afforded to the practice of submitting a case for resolution, only to accept a favorable judgment, and to raise a jurisdictional issue in case of a decision that is adverse.

Estoppel by laches has been broadly defined as “failure or neglect for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier.”41 As applied to jurisdictional challenges, it is the failure to timely raise a court’s lack of jurisdiction, ultimately resulting in a binding judgment, not because said judgment is valid as an adjudication, but because public policy looks with disfavor on the belated invocation of jurisdictional issues.

Notwithstanding the unequivocal dictum in Sibonghanoy, it must be emphasized that the general rule remains to be that jurisdiction is not to be left to the will or stipulation of the parties; it cannot be lost by estoppel.

Taking the foregoing into account, it is clear that estoppel will not operate to confer jurisdiction upon a court, save in the most exceptional of cases. Without a law that grants the power to hear, try, and decide a particular type of action, a court may not, regardless of what the parties do or fail to do, afford any sort of relief in any such action filed before it. It follows then that, in those cases, any judgment or order other than one of dismissal is void for lack of jurisdiction.

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Clemente v. Republic G.R. No. 220008, February 20, 2019

Laches is defined as the failure or neglect for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier; it is negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable time, warranting a presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned it or declined to assert it.

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Elements –– As prescribed in the ruling of Phil-Air Conditioning Center vs. RCJ Lines, the following elements must all be present in order to constitute laches:

(1) Conduct on the part of the defendant, or of one under whom he claims, giving rise to the situation of which complaint is made for which the complaint seeks a remedy;

(2) Delay in asserting the complainant’s rights, the complainant having had knowledge or notice, of the defendant’s conduct and having been afforded an opportunity to institute a suit;

(3) Lack of knowledge or notice on the part of the defendant that the complainant would assert the right on which he bases his suit; and

(4) Injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event relief is accorded to the complainant, or the suit is not held to be barred; not established in this case. (Dept. of Education, Culture and Sports vs. Heirs of Regino Banguilan, G.R. No. 230399, June 20, 2018)

––      To wit:

1) conduct on the part of the defendant, or one under whom he claims, giving rise to the situation that led to the complaint and for which the complaint seeks a remedy;

2) delay in asserting the complainant’s rights, the complainant having had knowledge or notice of the defendant’s conduct and having been afforded an opportunity to institute a suit;

3) lack of knowledge or notice on the part of the defendant that the complainant would assert the right on which he bases his suit; and

4) injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event relief is accorded to the complainant or the suit is not held barred. (Rep. of the Phils. vs. Heirs of Cirilo Gotengco, G.R. No. 226355, Jan. 24, 2018)

Principle of –– Defined as the failure or neglect for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier; it is negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable time, warranting a presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned it or declined to assert it. (Gambito vs. Bacena, G.R. No. 225929, Jan. 24, 2018)

––      Jurisprudence is replete with cases which hold that the doctrine of prescription or laches is inapplicable to registered lands covered by the Torrens System; the Court has consistently held that laches cannot apply to registered land covered by a Torrens Title because under the Property Registration Decree, no title to registered land in derogation to that of the registered owner shall be acquired by prescription or adverse possession. (Dept. of Education, Culture and Sports vs. Heirs of Regino Banguilan, G.R. No. 230399, June 20, 2018)

––      The Court concurs with the CA in its application of the case of Tuliao to the herein controversy with regard to the issue of laches; in said case, the Court unequivocally stated that laches can only apply to one whose possession of the property was open, continuous, exclusive, adverse, notorious, and in the concept of an owner for a prolonged period of time; additionally, physical possession must be coupled with intent to possess as an owner in order for it to be considered as adverse; explained; petitioner’s defense of laches has no merit either. (Dept. of Education, Culture and Sports vs. Heirs of Regino Banguilan, G.R. No. 230399, June 20, 2018)

––       The principle of laches or “stale demands” is the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which by exercising due diligence could or should have been done earlier; it is based on the grounds of public policy in order to maintain peace in the society and equity in order to avoid recognizing a right when to do so would result in a clearly unfair situation. (Dept. of Education, Culture and Sports vs. Heirs of Regino Banguilan, G.R. No. 230399, June 20, 2018)

Concept and elements —Distinguished fromprescription; laches concerns itself with the effect of delay and not the period of time that has lapsed; the defense of laches is based on equity; it is not based on the title of the party invoking it, but on the right holder’s “long inaction or inexcusable neglect” to assert his claim. (Sps. Aboitiz vs. Sps. Po, G.R. No. 208450, June 05, 2017)

––      Laches has been defined as the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, by exercising due diligence could or should have been done earlier. (Buisan vs. COA, G.R. No. 212376, Jan. 31, 2017)

—      There is laches when a party was negligent or has failed “to assert a right within a reasonable time,” giving rise to the presumption that he or she has abandoned it; there is laches when: (1) the conduct of the defendant or one under whom he claims, gave rise to the situation complained of; (2) there was delay in asserting a right after knowledge of the defendant’s conduct and after an opportunity to sue; (3) defendant had no knowledge or notice that the complainant would assert his right; and (4) there is injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event relief is accorded to the complainant; clearly lacking in this case. (Sps. Aboitiz vs. Sps. Po, G.R. No. 208450, June 05, 2017)

Concept — As the registered owners, petitioners’ right to eject any person illegally occupying their property cannot be barred by laches; Labrador v. Pobre and Bishop v. Court of Appeals, cited; as a registered owner, petitioner has a right to eject any person illegally occupying his property; this right is imprescriptible and can never be barred by laches”;  even if it be supposed that they were aware of the petitioners’ occupation of the property, and regardless of the length of that possession, the lawful owners have a right to demand the return of their property at any time as long as the possession was unauthorized or merely tolerated, if at all. (Diaz, Jr. vs. Valenciano, Jr., G.R. No. 209376, Dec. 06, 2017)

—      Failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which by the exercise of due diligence could or should have been done earlier; it is the negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable period, warranting the presumption that the party entitled to assert it has either abandoned or declined to assert it. (Ocampo vs. Ocampo, Sr., G.R. No. 227894, July 05, 2017)

––      The Court does not agree that the doctrine of laches is applicable here; the interval of six years between the date of execution of the Partition Agreement and that of the institution of the Complaint in this case does not, by itself, render the demands of petitioner stale; laches does not merely concern the lapse of time; explained in Heirs of Nieto v. Municipality of Meycauayan.(Guison vs. Heirs of Loreño Terry, G.R. No. 191914, Aug. 09, 2017)

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