Civil Law

NIKKO HOTEL MANILA GARDEN and RUBY LIM v. ROBERTO REYES, a.k.a. “AMAY BISAYA” G.R. No. 154259 February 28, 2005 Abuse of Rights, Article 19, Article 20, Article 21 Civil Code, damages, doctrine of volenti non fit injuria

FACTS:

Reyes, more popularly known by the screen name “Amay Bisaya,” alleged that while he was having coffee at the lobby of Hotel Nikko, Mrs. Filart, his friend of several years, approached him and invited him to join her in a party at the hotel’s penthouse for the birthday of the hotel’s manager, Mr. Tsuruoka. Mr. Reyes asked if she could vouch for him for which she replied: “of course.” Mr. Reyes then went up with Dr. Filart carrying the basket of fruits which was the latter’s present for the celebrant.

After a couple of hours, when the buffet dinner was ready, Mr. Reyes lined-up at the buffet table but, to his great shock, shame and embarrassment, he was stopped by petitioner Ruby Lim, Executive Secretary of Hotel Nikko. In a loud voice and within the presence and hearing of the other guests who were making a queue at the buffet table, Ruby Lim told him to leave the party (“huwag ka nang kumain, hindi ka imbitado, bumaba ka na lang”).

Mr. Reyes tried to explain that he was invited by Dr. Filart. Dr. Filart, who was within hearing distance, however, completely ignored him thus adding to his shame and humiliation. Not long after, while he was still recovering from the traumatic experience, a Makati policeman approached and asked him to step out of the hotel.

Claiming damages, Mr. Reyes asked for One Million Pesos actual damages, One Million Pesos moral and/or exemplary damages and Two Hundred Thousand Pesos attorney’s fees.

Ruby Lim, for her part, admitted having asked Mr. Reyes to leave the party but not denied the claims of the latter. Ms. Lim narrated that for Mr. Tsuruoka’s party, Ms. Lim generated an exclusive guest list limited to Mr. Tsuruoka’s closest friends and some hotel employees and that Mr. Reyes was not one of those invited.

Dr. Filart gave her version of the story to the effect that she never invited Mr. Reyes to the party. According to her, it was Mr. Reyes who volunteered to carry the basket of fruits intended for the celebrant as he was likewise going to take the elevator. When they reached the penthouse, she reminded Mr. Reyes to go down as he was not properly dressed and was not invited.

The court a quo dismissed the complaint, giving more credence to the testimony of Ms. Lim. The trial court likewise ratiocinated that Mr. Reyes assumed the risk of being thrown out of the party as he was uninvited:

On appeal, the CA reversed the ruling of the trial court.

Thus, the instant petition for review.

Petitioners Lim and Hotel Nikko contend that pursuant to the doctrine of volenti non fit injuria, they cannot be made liable for damages as respondent Reyes assumed the risk of being asked to leave (and being embarrassed and humiliated in the process) as he was a “gate-crasher.”

The doctrine of volenti non fit injuria (“to which a person assents is not esteemed in law as injury” ) refers to self-inflicted injury or to the consent to injury which precludes the recovery of damages by one who has knowingly and voluntarily exposed himself to danger, even if he is not negligent in doing so. As formulated by petitioners, however, this doctrine does not find application to the case at bar because even if respondent Reyes assumed the risk of being asked to leave the party, petitioners, under Articles 19 and 21 of the New Civil Code, were still under obligation to treat him fairly in order not to expose him to unnecessary ridicule and shame.

ISSUE:

Whether or not Ruby Lim acted abusively in asking Roberto Reyes, a.k.a. “Amay Bisaya,” to leave the party where he was not invited by the celebrant thereof thereby becoming liable under Articles 19 and 21 of the Civil Code. Parenthetically, and if Ruby Lim were so liable, whether or not Hotel Nikko, as her employer, is solidarily liable with her.

RULING:

Indeed, the general rule is that we are not a trier of facts as our jurisdiction is limited to reviewing and revising errors of law. One of the exceptions to this general rule, however, obtains herein as the findings of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court.

From an in depth review of the evidence, we find more credible the lower court’s findings of fact.

We are dealing with a formal party in a posh, five-star hotel, for-invitation-only, thrown for the hotel’s former Manager, a Japanese national. Then came a person who was clearly uninvited (by the celebrant) and who could not just disappear into the crowd as his face is known by many, being an actor. While he was already spotted by the organizer of the party, Ms. Lim, the very person who generated the guest list, it did not yet appear that the celebrant was aware of his presence.

In the absence of any proof of motive on the part of Ms. Lim to humiliate Mr. Reyes and expose him to ridicule and shame, it is highly unlikely that she would shout at him from a very close distance. Ms. Lim having been in the hotel business for twenty years wherein being polite and discreet are virtues to be emulated, the testimony of Mr. Reyes that she acted to the contrary does not inspire belief and is indeed incredible. Thus, the lower court was correct in observing that –

Considering the closeness of defendant Lim to plaintiff when the request for the latter to leave the party was made such that they nearly kissed each other, the request was meant to be heard by him only and there could have been no intention on her part to cause embarrassment to him.

Had plaintiff simply left the party as requested, there was no need for the police to take him out.

Moreover, another problem with Mr. Reyes’s version of the story is that it is unsupported. It is a basic rule in civil cases that he who alleges proves. Mr. Reyes, however, had not presented any witness to back his story up.

Ms. Lim, not having abused her right to ask Mr. Reyes to leave the party to which he was not invited, cannot be made liable to pay for damages under Articles 19 and 21 of the Civil Code. Necessarily, neither can her employer, Hotel Nikko, be held liable as its liability springs from that of its employee.

Article 19, known to contain what is commonly referred to as the principle of abuse of rights, is not a panacea for all human hurts and social grievances.

Article 19 states:

Art. 19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.

Elsewhere, we explained that when “a right is exercised in a manner which does not conform with the norms enshrined in Article 19 and results in damage to another, a legal wrong is thereby committed for which the wrongdoer must be responsible.”

The object of this article, therefore, is to set certain standards which must be observed not only in the exercise of one’s rights but also in the performance of one’s duties. These standards are the following: act with justice, give everyone his due and observe honesty and good faith.

Its elements are the following:

(1) There is a legal right or duty;

(2) which is exercised in bad faith;

(3) for the sole intent of prejudicing or injuring another. When Article 19 is violated, an action for damages is proper under Articles 20 or 21 of the Civil Code. Article 20 pertains to damages arising from a violation of law which does not obtain herein as Ms. Lim was perfectly within her right to ask Mr. Reyes to leave. Article 21, on the other hand, states:

Art. 21. Any person who willfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage.

Article 21 refers to acts contra bonus mores and has the following elements: (1) There is an act which is legal;

(2) but which is contrary to morals, good custom, public order, or public policy; and

(3) it is done with intent to injure.

A common theme runs through Articles 19 and 21, and that is, the act complained of must be intentional.

As applied to herein case and as earlier discussed, Mr. Reyes has not shown that Ms. Lim was driven by animosity against him. These two people did not know each other personally before the evening of 13 October 1994.

All told, and as far as Ms. Lim and Hotel Nikko are concerned, any damage which Mr. Reyes might have suffered through Ms. Lim’s exercise of a legitimate right done within the bounds of propriety and good faith, must be his to bear alone.

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