Case Brief: Manchester v CA

To put a stop to this irregularity, henceforth all complaints, petitions, answers and other similar pleadings should specify the amount of damages being prayed for not only in the body of the pleading but also in the prayer, and said damages shall be considered in the assessment of the filing fees in any case. Any pleading that fails to comply with this requirement shall not be accepted nor admitted, or shall otherwise be expunged from the record.

G.R. No. 75919 May 7, 1987
MANCHESTER DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, ET AL., petitioners,
vs.
COURT OF APPEALS, CITY LAND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, STEPHEN ROXAS, ANDREW LUISON, GRACE LUISON and JOSE DE MAISIP, respondents.

Facts:
Manchester contended that the filing fee must be assessed on the basis of the amended complaint, citing the case of Magaspi v. Ramolete. The environmental facts of Magaspi as compared to the current Manchester case were as follows:

Magaspi v. Ramolete

Manchester v. CA

Action for recovery of ownership and possession of parcel of land with damages. Action for torts and damages and specific performance, with prayer for temporary restraining order
Seeks not only the annulment of title of defendant to property, the declaration of ownership and delivery of possession to Magaspi;

But also for the payment of A/M/E damages and attorney’s fees arising therefrom with the amounts specified therein

Prayer is for the issuance of writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction during the pendency of action against defendant’s announced forfeiture of P3M paid by Manchester for the property in question;

To attach such property of defendant that may be sufficient to satisfy any judgment that may be rendered;

And after hearing, order defendants to execute contract of purchase and sale of property and annul defendant’s illegal forfeiture of Manchester’s money;

Ordering them to pay A/C/E damages and attorney’s fees;

And declaring the tender of payment of purchase price of Manchester valid and producing the effect of payment and to make injunction permanent.;

The amount of damages sought is not specified in the prayer, although the body of the complaint alleges the total amount of P78M as damages.

There was an honest difference of opinion as to nature of action. The complaint was considered an action for recovery of ownership and possession of parcel of land. Damages were treated as merely to the main cause of action. Thus, docket fee of P60 and P10 for sherrif’s fee were paid. No such honest difference of opinion.   As per complaint, it is both an action for damages and specific performance;

Docket fee paid upon filing of complaint P410 because the action is merely one for specific performance where the amount involved is not capable of pecuniary estimation is wrong, because the body of complaint totaling P78M should be the basis of assessment of filing fee.

RTC ordered Magaspi to pay P3k as filing fee covering the damages alleged in the original complaint, as it did not consider the damages to be merely an or incidental to the action for recovery of ownership and possession of real property;

The amended complaint was filed by Magaspi with leave of court to include the State as defendant and reducing the amount of damages and attorney’s fees to P100k. Such amendment was admitted.

When the under-reassessment of the filing fee in Manchester was brought to the attention of SC together with other similar cases, an investigation was immediately ordered by the Court.

Manchester, thru another counsel and with leave of court, filed an amended complaint for the inclusion of Philips Wire and Cable Corporation as co-plaintiff, and by emanating any mention of the amount of damages in the body of complaint.

RTC directed Manchester to rectify the amended complaint by stating the amounts which they are asking for. It was only then that Manchester specified the amount of damages in the body of complaint in the reduced amount of P10M.

Still, no amount of damages were specified in the prayer. Such amendment was admitted.

Action was not only one for recovery of ownership but also for damages, so that the filing fee for damages should be the basis of assessment.

Although docket fee of P60 was insufficient, SC held that the payment was the result of an honest difference of opinion as to the correct amount to be paid as docket fee.   As such, the court had acquired jurisdiction over the case, and the proceedings thereafter were proper and regular.

Hence, as amended complaint superseded the original complaint, the allegations of damages in the amended complaint should be the basis of the computation of filing fee.

No such honest difference of opinion is possible as the allegations of the complaint, the designation, and the prayer showed clearly that it is an action for damages and specific performance.

The docket fee should be assessed by considering the amount of damages as alleged in the original complaint.

Issue:
In relation to docket fees as applied in Manchester case:
a) Must it be based in original complaint or in the amended complaint?
b) In which part of the pleading must the amount of damages being prayed for stated?
c) Is the court devoid of jurisdiction for failure to pay the correct docket fees?

Held:

1.a) It must be based in the original complaint (as compared from Magaspic case where the docket fee was based from amended complaint due to honest difference of opinion.
1.b) The amount of damages being prayed for must be stated in both the body of the pleading and the prayer. Such amount will be the basis of the filing fees.
1.c) Yes

In Magaspi case, SC declared that a case is deemed filed only upon payment of docket fee regardless of the actual date of filing in court. As such, in Manchester, the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over the case by payment of only P410 as docket fee. Neither the amendment of complaint vested jurisdiction upon the court because in essence, there was no such original complained that was duly filed which could be amended. The orders admitting the amended complaint and all subsequent proceedings and actions taken by the RTC are null and void.

CA was correct in ruling that the basis of assessment of docket fee should be the amount of damages sought in the original complaint and not in the amended complaint.

SC frowns at the practice of counsel who filed the original complaint by omitting any specification of the amount of damages in the prayer, although the real amount is alleged in the body of the complaint. This is clearly intended for no other purpose than to evade the payment of correct filing fees or to mislead the docket clear in the assessment of filing fee. Such fraudulent practice was compounded when Manchester, through another counsel, filed an amended complaint, deleting all mention of the amount of damages being asked for in the body of complaint. It was only when in obedience to the order of the SC that the amount of damages be specified in the amended complaint, that Manchester wrote the damages in a reduced amount in the body of the complaint but not in the prayer thereof. The design to avoid payment of the required docket fee was obvious.

To put a stop to this irregularity, henceforth all complaints, petitions, answers and other similar pleadings should specify the amount of damages being prayed for not only in the body of the pleading but also in the prayer, and said damages shall be considered in the assessment of the filing fees in any case. Any pleading that fails to comply with this requirement shall not be accepted nor admitted, or shall otherwise be expunged from the record.

The Court acquires jurisdiction over any case only upon the payment of the prescribed docket fee. An amendment of the complaint or similar pleading will not thereby vest jurisdiction in the Court, much less the payment of the docket fee based on the amounts sought in the amended pleading. The ruling in the Magaspi case in so far as it is inconsistent with this pronouncement is overturned and reversed.

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