Case Brief: Severino vs Severino

G.R. No. 18058   January 16, 1923

Fabiola Severino

vs.

Guillermo Severino

Facts:

Defendant Guillermo Severino, after the death of his brother (Melecio Severino), was the latter’s administrator and as such, continued to occupy the land owned by Melecio. Eventually, cadastral proceedings were instituted for the registration of the land titles. Guillermo claimed such land and since no opposition was presented, the court decreed the title in his favor.

Melecio’s daughter and sole heir, plaintiff Fabiola Severino, compelled Guillermo to convey to her the land. It bears noting that Fabiola was a minor during the time of the cadastral proceedings.

Issue:

Whether or not Guillermo can be compelled to convey the land to Fabiola, even if there is already a title in Guillermo’s name.

Held:

Yes. The relations of an agent to his principal are fiduciary. Guillermo’s position as agent is analogous to that of a trustee and he cannot consistently, with the principles of good faith, be allowed to create in himself an interest in opposition to that of his principal or cestui que trust. Whatever a trustee does for the advantage of the trust estate inures to the benefit of the cestui que trust.

SC cited the following jurisprudence:

A receiver, trustee, attorney, agent, or any other person occupying fiduciary relations respecting property or persons, is utterly disabled from acquiring for his own benefit the property committed to his custody for management. This rule is entirely independent of the fact whether any fraud has intervened. No fraud in fact need be shown, and no excuse will be heard from the trustee. It is to avoid the necessity of any such inquiry that the rule takes so general a form. The rule stands on the moral obligation to refrain from placing one’s self in positions which ordinarily excite conflicts between self-interest and integrity. It seeks to remove the temptation that might arise out of such a relation to serve one’s self-interest at the expense of one’s integrity and duty to another, by making it impossible to profit by yielding to temptation. It applies universally to all who come within its principle.

SC reiterated that an agent, who has entered and surveyed a portion of that land for himself and obtained a patent for it in his own name, becomes a trustee for his principal. He cannot hold the land under an entry for himself otherwise than as trustee for his principal.

The substance of these authorities is that, wherever a person obtains the legal title to land by any artifice or concealment, or by making use of facilities intended for the benefit of another, a court of equity will impress upon the land so held by him a trust in favor of the party who is justly entitled to them, and will order the trust executed by decreeing their conveyance to the party in whose favor the trust was created.

There have been a number of cases before this court in which a title to real property was acquired by a person in his own name, while acting under a fiduciary capacity, and who afterwards sought to take advantage of the confidence reposed in him by claiming the ownership of the property for himself. This court has invariably held such evidence competent as between the fiduciary and the cestui que trust. What judgment ought to be entered in this case? The court simply absolved the defendant from the complaint. The proper procedure in such a case, so long as the rights of innocent third persons have not intervened, is to compel a conveyance to the rightful owner.

The Land Registration Act cannot cut off, through an issuance of title, equitable rights or remedies. Torrens titles carries a strong presumption in favor of their regularity or validity, and in order to maintain an action such as the present, the proof as to the fiduciary relation of the parties and of the breach of trust must be clear and convincing. Such proof is not lacking in this case. But once the relation and the breach of trust on the part of the fiduciary is thus established, there is no reason, neither practical nor legal, why he should not be compelled to make such reparation as may lie within his power for the injury caused by his wrong, and as long as the land stands registered in the name of the party who is guilty of the breach of trust and no rights of innocent third parties are adversely affected, there can be no reason why such reparation should not, in the proper case, take the form of a conveyance or transfer of the title to the cestui que trust. No reasons of public policy demand that a person guilty of fraud or breach of trust be permitted to use his certificate of title as a shield against the consequences of his own wrong.

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