Civil Law, Remedial Law

Tijam v. Sibonghanoy G.R. No. L-21450 April 15, 1968 Estoppel by laches

FACTS:

The spouses Tijam filed a case against the spouses Sibonghanoy to recover the sum of P1,908.00, with legal interest, plus costs.

A writ of attachment was issued by the court against defendants’ properties, but the same was dissolved upon the filing of a counter-bond by defendants and the Manila Surety and Fidelity Co., Inc. (Surety).

The Court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and, after the same had become final and executory, the Court issued a writ of execution against the defendants.

The writ having been returned unsatisfied, the plaintiffs moved for the issuance of a writ of execution against the Surety’s bond. The Surety filed its opposition on these grounds: (1) Failure to prosecute and (2) Absence of a demand upon the Surety for the payment of the amount due under the judgment.

Thereafter the necessary demand was made, and upon failure of the Surety to satisfy the judgment, the plaintiffs filed a second motion for execution against the counterbond.

Upon failure of Surety to file an answer, the Court granted the motion for execution and the corresponding writ was issued.

Surety moved to quash the writ on the ground that the same was issued without the required summary hearing provided for in Section 17 of Rule 59 of the Rules of Court. As the Court denied the motion, the Surety appealed to the CA.

The CA affirmed the order appealed from.

Five days after the Surety received notice of the decision, it filed a motion asking for extension of time within which to file a motion for reconsideration.

The CA granted the motion.

Two days later the Surety filed a MOTION TO DISMISS, alleging:

that appellee’s action was filed in the CFI for the recovery of the sum of P1,908.00 only;

that a month before that date Republic Act No. 296, otherwise known as the Judiciary Act of 1948, had already become effective, Section 88 of which placed within the original exclusive jurisdiction of inferior courts all civil actions where the value of the subject-matter or the amount of the demand does not exceed P2,000.00, exclusive of interest and costs;

that the CFI therefore had no jurisdiction to try and decide the case.

The CA required the appellees to answer the motion to dismiss, but they failed to do so.

ISSUE:

Whether or not Surety can raise the question of lack of jurisdiction for the first time on appeal.

RULING:

The rule is that jurisdiction over the subject matter is conferred upon the courts exclusively by law, and as the lack of it affects the very authority of the court to take cognizance of the case, the objection may be raised at any stage of the proceedings.

However, considering the facts and circumstances of the present case, We are of the opinion that the Surety is now barred by laches from invoking this plea at this late hour for the purpose of annuling everything done heretofore in the case with its active participation.

The facts of this case show that from the time the Surety became a quasi-party, it could have raised the question of the lack of jurisdiction of the CFI to take cognizance of the present action by reason of the sum of money involved which, according to the law then in force, was within the original exclusive jurisdiction of inferior courts. It failed to do so. Instead, at several stages of the proceedings in the court a quo as well as in the Court of Appeals, it invoked the jurisdiction of said courts to obtain affirmative relief and submitted its case for a final adjudication on the merits.

It was only after an adverse decision was rendered by the CA that it finally woke up to raise the question of jurisdiction.

A party may be estopped or barred from raising a question in different ways and for different reasons. Thus we speak of estoppel in pais, or estoppel by deed or by record, and of estoppel by laches.

Laches, in a general sense is 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.

The doctrine of laches or of “stale demands” is based upon grounds of public policy which requires, for the peace of society, the discouragement of stale claims and, unlike the statute of limitations, is not a mere question of time but is principally a question of the inequity or unfairness of permitting a right or claim to be enforced or asserted.

It has been held that a party can not invoke the jurisdiction of a court to sure affirmative relief against his opponent and, after obtaining or failing to obtain such relief, repudiate or question that same jurisdiction.

The Court frowns upon the “undesirable practice” of a party submitting his case for decision and then accepting the judgment, only if favorable, and attacking it for lack of jurisdiction, when adverse.

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