Remedial Law

RUSSELL, et al., v. VESTIL G.R. No. 119347 March 17, 1999 B.P. Blg. 129, RTC Jurisdiction, Actions Incapable of Pecuniary Estimation

FACTS:

Petitioners filed a complaint against private respondents, denominated “DECLARATION OF NULLITY AND PARTITION,” with the RTC, alleging that petitioners are co-owners of that parcel of land [Lot 6149], previously owned by the spouses Tautho. Upon the death of said spouses, the property was inherited by their legal heirs, herein petitioners and private respondents.

Since then, the lot had remained undivided until petitioners discovered a public document denominated “DECLARATION OF HEIRS AND DEED OF CONFIRMATION OF A PREVIOUS ORAL AGREEMENT OF PARTITION,” executed on June 6, 1990.

By virtue of this deed, private respondents divided the property among themselves to the exclusion of petitioners who are also entitled to the said lot as heirs of the late spouses Tautho.

The complaint prayed that the document be declared null and void and an order be issued to partition the land among all the heirs.

Private respondents filed a Motion to Dismiss the complaint on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the nature of the case as the total assessed value of the subject land is P5,000.00 which under BP Blg. 129, falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the MCTC.

Petitioners filed an Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, saying that the RTC has jurisdiction over the case since the action is one which is incapable of pecuniary estimation within the contemplation of Section 19(1) of B.P. 129.

Respondent Judge Augustine A. Vestil  issued an Order granting the Motion to Dismiss.

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was denied by respondent Judge.

Hence, the instant petition.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the Regional Trial Court has jurisdiction over the case at bar.

RULING:

We find merit in the petition.

The complaint filed before the RTC is doubtless one incapable of pecuniary estimation and therefore within the jurisdiction of said court.

In Singsong vs. Isabela Sawmill,  we had the occasion to rule that:

[I]n determining whether an action is one the subject matter of which is not capable of pecuniary estimation this Court has adopted the criterion of first ascertaining the nature of the principal action or remedy sought. If it is primarily for the recovery of a sum of money, the claim is considered capable of pecuniary estimation, and whether jurisdiction is in the municipal courts or in the courts of first instance would depend on the amount of the claim.

However, where the basic issue is something other than the right to recover a sum of money, where the money claim is purely incidental to, or a consequence of, the principal relief sought, this Court has considered such actions as cases where the subject of the litigation may not be estimated in terms of money, and are cognizable exclusively by courts of first instance (now Regional Trial Courts).

Examples of actions incapable of pecuniary estimation are those for specific performance, support, or foreclosure of mortgage or annulment of judgment; also actions questioning the validity of a mortgage, annulling a deed of sale or conveyance and to recover the price paid and for rescession, which is a counterpart of specific performance.

While actions under Sec. 33(3) of B.P. 129 are also incapable of pecuniary estimation, the law specifically mandates that they are cognizable by the MTC, METC, or MCTC where the assessed value of the real property involved does exceed P20,000.00 in Metro Manila, or P50,000.00, if located elsewhere.

If the value exceeds P20,000.00 or P50,000.00 as the case may be, it is the Regional Trial Courts which have jurisdiction under Sec. 19(2).

However, the subject matter of the complaint in this case is annulment of a document denominated as “DECLARATION OF HEIRS AND DEED OF CONFIRMATION OF PREVIOUS ORAL PARTITION.”

The main purpose of petitioners in filing the complaint is to declare null and void the document in which private respondents declared themselves as the only heirs of the late spouses Tautho and divided his property among themselves to the exclusion of petitioners who also claim to be legal heirs and entitled to the property.

While the complaint also prays for the partition of the property, this is just incidental to the main action, which is the declaration of nullity of the document above-described. 

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