Case Brief: Negros Navigation Co. Inc., v CA

G.R. No. 110398 November 7, 1997
NEGROS NAVIGATION CO., INC., petitioner,
vs.
THE COURT OF APPEALS, RAMON MIRANDA, SPS. RICARDO and VIRGINIA DE LA VICTORIA, respondents.

Facts:

Private respondent Ramon Miranda purchased from the Negros Navigation Co., Inc. four special cabin tickets. The tickets were for Voyage No. 457-A of the M/V Don Juan, leaving Manila and going to Bacolod.

Subsequently, the Don Juan collided off the Tablas Strait in Mindoro, with the M/T Tacloban City, an oil tanker owned by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and the PNOC Shipping and Transport Corporation (PNOC/STC). As a result, the M/V Don Juan sank. Several of her passengers perished in the sea tragedy. The bodies of some of the victims were found and brought to shore, but the four members of private respondents’ families were never found.

Private respondents filed a complaint against the Negros Navigation, the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), and the PNOC Shipping and Transport Corporation (PNOC/STC), seeking damages for the death. Petitioner, however, denied that the four relatives of private respondents actually boarded the vessel as shown by the fact that their bodies were never recovered. Petitioner further averred that the Don Juan was seaworthy and manned by a full and competent crew, and that the collision was entirely due to the fault of the crew of the M/T Tacloban City.

In finding petitioner guilty of negligence and in failing to exercise the extraordinary diligence required of it in the carriage of passengers, both the trial court and the appellate court relied on the findings of this Court in Mecenas v. Intermediate Appellate Court, which case was brought for the death of other passengers. In Mecenas, SC found petitioner guilty of negligence in (1) allowing or tolerating the ship captain and crew members in playing mahjong during the voyage, (2) in failing to maintain the vessel seaworthy and (3) in allowing the ship to carry more passengers than it was allowed to carry. Petitioner is, therefore, clearly liable for damages to the full extent.

Petitioner criticizes the lower court’s reliance on the Mecenas case, arguing that, although this case arose out of the same incident as that involved in Mecenas, the parties are different and trial was conducted separately. Petitioner contends that the decision in this case should be based on the allegations and defenses pleaded and evidence adduced in it or, in short, on the record of this case.

Issues:

1. Whether the ruling in Mecenas v. Court of Appeals, finding the crew members of petitioner to be grossly negligent in the performance of their duties, is binding in this case;

2. Whether the award for damages in Mecenas v. Court of Appeals is applicable in this case.

Held:

1. No. The contention is without merit.

Adherence to the Mecenas case is dictated by this Court’s policy of maintaining stability in jurisprudence. Where, as in this case, the same questions relating to the same event have been put forward by parties similarly situated as in a previous case litigated and decided by a competent court, the rule of stare decisis is a bar to any attempt to relitigate the same issue.

2.  No, it is not applicable.

Petitioner contends that, assuming that the Mecenas case applies, private respondents should be allowed to claim only P43,857.14 each as moral damages because in the Mecenascase, the amount of P307,500.00 was awarded to the seven children of the Mecenas couple. Here is where the principle of stare decisis does not apply in view of differences in the personal circumstances of the victims. For that matter, differentiation would be justified even if private respondents had joined the private respondents in the Mecenas case.

The doctrine of stare decisis works as a bar only against issues litigated in a previous case. Where the issue involved was not raised nor presented to the court and not passed upon by the court in the previous case, the decision in the previous case is not stare decisis of the question presently presented.

The Mecenas case cannot be made the basis for determining the award for attorney’s fees. The award would naturally vary or differ in each case.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED with modification and petitioner is ORDERED to pay private respondents damages.

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Case Brief: Abad v NLRC

G.R. No. 108996 February 20, 1998

Domingo Abad, et. al., petitioners
vs.
Hon. National Labor Relations Commission, Third Division, and Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co., respondents.

Facts:

Private respondent Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co. is a construction company engaged, among other things, in building offshore marine structures for third parties. Petitioners were hired by private respondent. Private respondent treated petitioners as project workers, claiming that the hiring of workers was based on the availability of project contracts and was thus done on and off. Workers were hired for definite periods of time, with tenure depending on the need for each worker’s particular skills.
Petitioners had been in the service of private respondent for a period of three to ten years until their termination on different dates during the period 1973-1976. They instituted two separate complaints before the NLRC praying for reinstatement. They alleged that they were non-project employees who should have become regular employees after completing one year of service and that, as regular employees, they would have been entitled to benefits extended to regular employees under the company’s CBA as well as to other benefits enjoyed by regular employees.

In 1977, both complaints were archived upon motion of petitioners to hold hearings on the cases in abeyance. They filed the motion because at that time an “identical and analogous” case (Jose Abuan, et al. v. AG&P, docketed as NLRC Case No. RBIV-1746-75) was pending appeal in the Office of the Secretary of Labor. The Abuan case was elevated to the Supreme Court and was finally decided on July 11, 1980 when this Court denied for lack of merit the motion filed by petitioners in that case for reconsideration of the Court’s earlier resolution denying their petition for certiorari.

Petitioners moved for the revival of the cases, and the Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of the petitioners. He held that petitioners were non-project employees. In addition, the Labor Arbiter found that petitioners continued working for private respondent even when there were no major projects to work on. Accordingly, the Labor Arbiter ordered private respondent to reinstate petitioners.

Private respondent appealed to the NLRC which reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter in a ruling dated November 17, 1992. The NLRC cited the case of Abuan, et al. v. AG&P which it said presented substantially the same facts as these cases. It pointed out that petitioners, like the complainants in the Abuan case, also worked in private respondent’s Poro Point Project with contracts of employment with durations ranging from 15 to 30 days. The contracts specified the projects to which the complainants were assigned. The complainants in Abuan were separated from employment due to the expiration of their employment contracts. The workers in that case were held to be project employees, and so should it be for the workers in these cases.

Petitioners assert that the NLRC should have ruled on the issue of whether or not the workers were regular employees based on the available evidence instead of merely invoking stare decisis.

Issue:

Whether NLRC is correct in invoking stare decisis and reversing the decision of the Labor Arbiter.

Held:

Yes.

Stare decisis declares that, for the sake of certainty, a conclusion reached in one case should be applied to those which follow, if the facts are substantially the same, even though the parties may be different.

Indeed, the facts and the questions involved in Abuan and the present case are the same. Petitioners themselves did admit as much when they filed their motion to hold hearings in abeyance pending the final determination of the issues in Abuan, to avoid any conflict in the decisions in the two cases.

The workers in Abuan and the petitioners were all hired to work in private respondent’s Poro Point Project, and were attached to private respondent’s Offshore and Marine Services Division. Therein, ¾ the workers in the Abuan case had essentially the same nature of employment as petitioners.

Like the workers in Abuan, petitioners in this case also had contracts with periods ranging from 15 days to 30 days. The contracts of both sets of workers were renewed several times such that the workers spent more than a year working for private respondent. The workers in Abuan as well as the petitioners were separated from the service upon the completion of the projects to which they were assigned. After such separation, they filed separate complaints seeking the same relief: recognition of their regular status, their reinstatement and payment of salaries and benefits due regular workers. Thus the workers in Abuan and petitioners in the present case were similarly situated.

Petitioners herein, like the workers in Abuan, are project employees, assigned to work in a particular construction project. They are workers whose employment has been fixed for a specific project or undertaking the completion or termination of which has been determined at the time of their engagement.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the decision of the NLRC is AFFIRMED.

Thoughts: There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer

Have you read “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov? It’s a brilliant short story.

Sometimes, you’re at the point of questioning the significance of humanity in the universe; that the ever-so-expanding space has no time to bother about the human race which comprises a very small portion thereof; that the people, in general, have no power to affect anything that is naturally-occuring in the cosmos.

And then at times, you can’t help but wonder about the question that we had to come from elsewhere; and for the human race to continue existing, we had to continue evolving, producing. For that to happen, we must consume, on and on. This cycle of production and consumption, while inevitable, poses a threat if the equilibrium is thrown off. If left unguarded, we may reach to a point where everything descends down to what I would like to call as “nothingness”, or that state where everything ceased to exist because the very own source of our existence is gone.

Still, I strongly believe that the humankind is intelligent enough to pave way for efficient innovations. We may be getting “THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.” prompts if Cosmos AC exists right now in our world; however, my current thoughts also believe that humans are still a healthy race once Cosmos AC, or any machine for that matter, is able to provide a good answer. For we are at the stage where we do not only create, but also foresee future problems and address it. I still have my hopes up for humanity.

It is amazing how the author was able to connect three, normally-irreconcileable schools of thought into one single short story. Definitely worth the read!

The link above will take you to the aforecited short story as shown in Princeton University’s Physics Department site.  Credits to them.