Who may file an action for quieting of title?
“… [I]F you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides,” states Numbers 33:55 of the Bible. “They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.”
This may be the case in some properties, which individuals continue to occupy despite not being authorized or tolerated as such. Filing an action for quieting of title against these individuals may remedy this situation, though who can do so has been elaborated upon by the Supreme Court in the recent Serapion, Sr. v. Ambagan.
In this case, respondent Napoleon Ambagan was the caretaker of land leased by a certain corporation. He had been occupying the adjacent lot registered in the name of petitioner, Rodolfo Serapion, Sr. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a free patent in Napoleon’s name, which was subsequently cancelled, however, considering Rodolfo, Sr.’s previously issued title to the property.
Rodolfo, Sr. donated this lot to his son and co-petitioner, Rodolfo, Jr., after which both jointly filed a complaint for quieting of title and recovery of possession with damages before the Municipal Trial Court (MTC). In filing their complaint, the Rodolfos alleged that Napoleon had been unlawfully occupying the land and that their demands for him to vacate it remained unheeded.
In his answer, Napoleon countered that the title and free patent issued in favor of Rodolfo, Sr., was void and fraudulent since the latter had failed to comply with the requirements for applying for free patents. To be sure, Napoleon’s similar application had been allegedly pending for two years when Rodolfo, Sr. filed his. Moreover, he, his co-respondent, Philip Ambagan, and all persons claiming rights under them (collectively, “Napoleon, et al.”) had been in possession of the subject lot publicly, continuously, adversely, and in the concept of an owner for more than 30 years.
The MTC dismissed Rodolfos’ complaint and declared Rodolfo, Sr.’s title and free patent, and all derivative titles, void. In so doing, the MTC held that Rodolfo, Sr. had failed to prove his authority to file the complaint on Rodolfo, Jr.’s behalf, since the accompanying special power of attorney (SPA) issued in the former’s favor was executed long before the filing of the complaint. Moreover, Rodolfo, Sr. was found to have fraudulently applied for the free patent upon failing to prove that he had been cultivating and occupying the subject lot, and considering Napoleon’s sufficient evidence to the contrary.
The MTC, however, did not direct that the lot be reconveyed to Napoleon, et al., since the latter had failed to exhaust their remedies before the DENR by filing an appeal on the nullification of the free patent. Moreover, it directed that the subject lot be reverted back to the public domain, without prejudice to Napoleon, et al.’s reapplication.
Upon appeal, the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court affirmed with modification MTC’s findings. In particular, the Supreme Court held at the outset that every action must be filed by the real party-in-interest whose right or interest stands to benefit or get injured by the judgment of a case. Thus, one who does not have material interest to protect cannot seek relief before the concerned court as the plaintiff in an action.
Nevertheless, plaintiffs who are not the real parties-in-interest may be included in a suit as representatives of such parties. They must, however, be acting in a fiduciary capacity or otherwise authorized by law or the Rules of Court.
As previously held, Rodolfo, Sr. did not have the requisite interest or authority to file the complaint for quieting of title. For this action to prosper, it must: (a) have been filed by one who has a legal or equitable title to or interest in the subject property; and (b) refer to a deed, claim, encumbrance, or proceeding claimed to cast cloud on his title, and which, upon proof, is actually invalid or inoperative.
In this case, Rodolfo, Sr. does not have such title or interest since he has already donated the subject lot to Rodolfo, Jr. It was then incumbent on Rodolfo, Sr. to prove that he was authorized to file the complaint on behalf of his son, which he failed to do so.