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Lawyers and judges, take note

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Point of Law

Lawyers and judges, take note

/ 12:20 AM June 09, 2016

What is the appropriate course of action if a case that should be filed or assigned or raffled to a special commercial court is filed with, or assigned or raffled to, the wrong court?

This question was the subject of a fairly recent case (Gonzales vs. GJH Land, Inc., G.R. No. 202664, Nov. 20, 2015) decided by the Supreme Court’s (SC) en banc.

The case was mistakenly raffled to Branch 276, a regular branch of the Muntinlupa RTC. Acting on respondents’ motion, Branch 276 dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction because it was an intracorporate dispute that should have been assigned to the designated Special Commercial Court (Branch 256) of Muntinlupa.

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The issue before the Supreme Court (SC) was whether or not the case must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction by Branch 276 of the RTC of Muntinlupa.

The SC said regional trial courts are courts of general jurisdiction because “[a]ll cases, the jurisdiction over which is not specifically provided for by law to be within the jurisdiction of any other court, fall under the jurisdiction of the regional trial court.”

The SC said jurisdiction over intracorporate disputes belongs to regional trial courts in general and not to particular branches of said courts. In the words of the SC, “one must be disabused of the notion that the transfer of jurisdiction was made only in favor of particular RTC branches, and not to the RTCs in general.”

Guidelines

This case is of paramount importance. It resolves with finality the long standing debate on whether it is the RTC in general or the particular branch designated as special commercial court that was given jurisdiction over intracorporate cases.

The ruling also applies to other commercial cases, such as for rehabilitation, liquidation in insolvency and intellectual property cases, that may have been filed with or raffled to the wrong court.

For the guidance of the bench and the bar, this case provided guidelines not only for intracorporate disputes but also for other commercial cases as follows:

  1. If a commercial case filed before the proper RTC is wrongly raffled to its regular branch, the proper courses of action are as follows:

1.1 If the RTC has only one branch designated as a Special Commercial Court, then the case shall be referred to the Executive Judge for re-docketing as a commercial case, and thereafter, assigned to the sole special branch;

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1.2 If the RTC has multiple branches designated as Special Commercial Courts, then the case shall be referred to the Executive Judge for re-docketing as a commercial case, and thereafter, raffled off among those special branches; and

1.3 If the RTC has no internal branch designated as a Special Commercial Court, then the case shall be referred to the nearest RTC with a designated Special Commercial Court branch within the judicial region. Upon referral, the RTC to which the case was referred to should re-docket the case as a commercial case, and then:

(a) If the said RTC has only one branch designated as a Special Commercial Court, assign the case to the sole special branch; or

(b) if the said RTC has multiple branches designated as Special Commercial Courts, raffle off the case among those special branches.

  1. If an ordinary civil case filed before the proper RTC is wrongly raffled to its branch designated as a Special Commercial Court, then the case shall be referred to the Executive Judge for re-docketing as an ordinary civil case. Thereafter, it shall be raffled off to all courts of the same RTC (including its designated special branches which, by statute, are equally capable of exercising general jurisdiction same as regular branches), as provided for under existing rules.
  1. All transfer/raffle of cases is subject to the payment of the appropriate docket fees in case of any difference. On the other hand, all docket fees already paid shall be duly credited, and any excess, refunded.
  1. Finally, to avert any future confusion, all initiatory pleadings must state the action’s nature both in its caption and body. Otherwise, the initiatory pleading may, upon motion or by order of the court motu proprio (on its own), be dismissed without prejudice to its re-filing after due rectification. This last procedural rule is prospective in application.

The author is a senior partner of the Angara Abello Concepcion & Regala Law Offices or Accralaw and a law professor in the Ateneo Law School. The views in this column are exclusively his and may not be attributed to any of the institutions with which he is presently connected. He may be contacted at: francis.ed.lim@gmail.com.

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