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G.R. No. 155990 - UNIVERSAL AQUARIUS, INC., ET AL. v. Q.C. HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGEMENT CORPORATION

G.R. No. 155990 - UNIVERSAL AQUARIUS, INC., ET AL. v. Q.C. HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGEMENT CORPORATION

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 155990 : September 12, 2007]

UNIVERSAL AQUARIUS, INC. and CONCHITA TAN, Petitioners, v. Q.C. HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, Respondent * .

D E C I S I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision1 dated August 23, 2002 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 65570 and the CA Resolution2 dated October 22, 2002 which denied petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration.

The facts:

Universal Aquarius, Inc. (Universal) is engaged in the manufacture and distribution of chemical products in Metro Manila. It operates a chemical plant in Antipolo City. Conchita Tan (Tan), as a proprietor under the name and style of Marman Trading (Marman), is engaged in the trading, delivery and distribution of chemical products in Metro Manila, with a depot in Antipolo City adjoining Universal's chemical plant.

Q.C. Human Resources Management Corporation (Resources) is engaged in supplying manpower to various establishments. It supplied Universal with about seventy-four (74) temporary workers to assist Universal in the operation of its chemical plant in Antipolo City.

On December 13, 2000, Rodolfo Capocyan (Capocyan), claiming to be the general counsel/national president of the labor organization called Obrero Pilipino (Universal Aquarius Chapter), hereinafter referred to as Obrero Filipino, sent a Notice of Strike to Universal.

On the same date, Resources informed the Regional Office of the Department of Labor and Employment that the officers and members of Obrero Pilipino are its employees and not employees of Universal.

Five days later, or on December 19, 2000, Capocyon and 36 other union officers and members3 of Obrero Pilipino, picketed, barricaded and obstructed the entry and exit of Universal's Antipolo City chemical plant and intercepted Universal's delivery trucks thereby disrupting its business operations. Marman's depot, which adjoined Universal's plant, suffered a similar fate.

On December 27, 2000, Universal and Tan filed a Complaint against the strikers and Resources before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 74, Antipolo City (RTC) for breach of contract and damages suffered due to the disruption of their respective business operations, docketed as Civil Case No. 00-6029.4 The Complaint alleges, in part:

(17) On December 19, 2000, at about 2:00 o'clock in the morning, in gross violation of all applicable laws, rules and regulations, defendants Capocyan, et al., willfully, unlawfully and feloniously picketed, barricaded and otherwise obstructed entry and exit to and from the main gate of plaintiff Universal's plant; x x x

(23) In a parallel move, and a companion activity to their unlawful obstruction of plaintiff Universal's premises, Capocyan, et al., likewise picketed, obstructed and otherwise barricaded the premises of plaintiff Marman, whose depot adjoined that of plaintiff Universal; x x x

(26) As a consequence of the companion blockade on plaintiff Marman's premises, its business operations were paralyzed;

(27) Plaintiff Universal's and plaintiff Marman's operations continue to be at a standstill, causing damages in the form of unearned sales x x x

(31) Defendant Resources represented itself to be able to provide temporary workers who are competent to assist in plaintiff Universal's plant operations; it held itself out as a manpower firm with a pool of what can generally be described as law-abiding workers, as that is essential in its business of job-contracting;

(32) Defendant Resources instead sent a band of scoundrels who allowed themselves to be misdirected and misguided by Capocyan, an attorney (?), and "national president" of Obrero Pilipino (?)

x x x5

On January 3, 2001, Universal forged an Agreement (To End Labor Dispute) with Obrero Pilipino.6 Thus, the strike which affected the business operations of Universal and Marman ended. Universal and Tan then filed a Notice of Dismissal as against the strikers.7

On January 8, 2001, Resources filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that the complaint stated no cause of action against it; that, assuming the existence of such cause of action, the same was lost upon dismissal of the case against the individual defendants; and lack of jurisdiction.8

In an Order dated February 2, 2001, the RTC denied the Motion to Dismiss.9 Resources filed a Motion for Reconsideration10 but it was denied by the RTC in its Order dated May 11, 2001.11

On July 11, 2001, Resources filed a Petition for Certiorari and prohibition with the CA.12 On August 23, 2002, the CA rendered a Decision which set aside the Orders dated February 2, 2001 and May 11, 2001 of the RTC and dismissed the complaint for lack of cause of action.13 The CA held that:

It was very clear from the allegations in the complaint that the claims of plaintiffs (private respondents in this case) stemmed from the strike, which resulted in the disruption of their business operations. From the four corners of the complaint, it was apparent that the right of the plaintiffs to operate their business was violated when the defendants, Rodolfo Capocyan and company, staged the strike in the premises of Universal Aquarius and Marman, thereby disrupting the plant's operations. Q.C. Human Resources Management Corporation (the petitioner in this case) was made defendant in the complaint only because it was the employer of the strikers. However, subsequent events erased the cause of action of plaintiffs, that is, when Universal Aquarius agreed to end the dispute by giving financial assistance to the striking workers and the dismissal of the case against them. With this turn of events, the trial court had no more issue to resolve, and the dismissal of the complaint against the strikers necessarily warranted the dismissal of the complaint against Q.C. Human Resources Management Corporation because plaintiffs had no more cause of action against it.14

Universal and Tan filed a Motion for Reconsideration15 but it was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated October 22, 2002.16

The present petition is anchored on the following grounds:

The Honorable Court of Appeals seriously erred in dismissing Civil Case No. 00-6829 for lack of cause of action.

The Honorable Court of Appeals seriously erred in holding that the lower court committed grave abuse of discretion tantamount to lack of jurisdiction when he denied the motion to dismiss filed by respondent Resources.17

Universal and Tan aver that the complaint stated a cause of action against Resources that would warrant cognizance by the RTC; the allegations of the complaint clearly point out that Universal is suing Resources for the latter's failure to supply the former with temporary workers who will help in its business.

On the other hand, Resources contends that the complaint stated no cause of action against it since there is nothing in the allegations thereof that it participated in the acts committed by its employees.

The petition is partly impressed with merit.

Section 1(g) Rule 1618 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure makes it clear that failure to make a sufficient allegation of a cause of action in the complaint warrants the dismissal thereof. Section 2, Rule 2 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure defines a cause of action as the act or omission by which a party violates the right of another. It is the delict or the wrongful act or omission committed by the defendant in violation of the primary right of the plaintiff.19 Its essential elements are as follows:

1. A right in favor of the plaintiff by whatever means and under whatever law it arises or is created;

2. An obligation on the part of the named defendant to respect or not to violate such right; andcralawlibrary

3. Act or omission on the part of such defendant in violation of the right of the plaintiff or constituting a breach of the obligation of the defendant to the plaintiff for which the latter may maintain an action for recovery of damages or other appropriate relief.20

It is only upon the occurrence of the last element that a cause of action arises, giving the plaintiff the right to maintain an action in court for recovery of damages or other appropriate relief.21

In Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited v. Catalan,22 this Court held:

The elementary test for failure to state a cause of action is whether the complaint alleges facts which if true would justify the relief demanded. Stated otherwise, may the court render a valid judgment upon the facts alleged therein? The inquiry is into the sufficiency, not the veracity of the material allegations. If the allegations in the complaint furnish sufficient basis on which it can be maintained, it should not be dismissed regardless of the defense that may be presented by the defendants.23

Verily, it is beside the point whether or not the allegations in the complaint are true, for with a motion to dismiss complaint based on lack of cause of action, the movant only hypothetically admits the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint; that is, assuming arguendo that the facts alleged are true, those allegations are insufficient for the court to render a valid judgment upon the same in accordance with the prayer of the complaint.24

The complaint does not have to establish or allege facts proving the existence of a cause of action at the outset; this will have to be done at the trial on the merits of the case.25 To sustain a motion to dismiss for lack of cause of action, the complaint must show that the claim for relief does not exist, rather than that a claim has been defectively stated, or is ambiguous, indefinite or uncertain.26

Anent Universal's claim for breach for contract and damages, the Court is convinced that the Complaint sufficiently states a cause of action against Resources. The Complaint alleged that Universal had a contract of employment of temporary workers with Resources; and that Resources violated said contract by supplying it with unfit, maladjusted individuals who staged a strike and disrupted its business operations. Given these hypothetically admitted facts, the RTC, in the exercise of its original and exclusive jurisdiction,27 could have rendered judgment over the dispute.

However, with regard to Tan's claim for damages, the Court finds that she has no cause of action against Resources. A thorough reading of the allegations of the Complaint reveals that Tan's claim for damages clearly springs from the strike effected by the employees of Resources. It is settled that an employer's liability for acts of its employees attaches only when the tortious conduct of the employee relates to, or is in the course of, his employment.28 The question then is whether, at the time of the damage or injury, the employee is engaged in the affairs or concerns of the employer or, independently, in that of his own. An employer incurs no liability when an employee's conduct, act or omission is beyond the range of employment.29 Unquestionably, when Resources' employees staged a strike, they were acting on their own, beyond the range of their employment. Thus, Resources cannot be held liable for damages caused by the strike staged by its employees.

WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The Decision dated August 23, 2002 and Resolution dated October 22, 2002 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 65570 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE insofar only as the dismissal of the complaint in Civil Case No. 00-6029 for lack of cause of action of Universal Aquarius, Inc. against Q.C. Human Resources Management Corporation is concerned. The complaint against the latter is REINSTATED.The Regional Trial Court, Branch 74, Antipolo City is DIRECTED to continue with the proceedings on the cause of action of Universal Aquarius, Inc. against Q.C. Human Resources Management Corporation.

The dismissal of the complaint in Civil Case No. 00-6029 for lack of cause of action of Conchita Tan against Q.C. Human Resources Management Corporation is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Ynares-Santiago, J., Chairperson, Chico-Nazario, Nachura, Reyes, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


* The Court of Appeals, impleaded as co-respondent, is deleted from the title pursuant to Section 4, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

1 Penned by Associate Justice Sergio L. Pestaño and concurred in by Associate Justices Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis and Edgardo F. Sundiam; CA rollo, p. 166.

2 CA rollo, p. 189.

3 Namely: Ruperto Awat, Noel Covera, Rodolfo De Guzman, Manuel Erickson, Alex Aucena, Jonathan Orbe, Anastacio Morillo, Elizaded Lora, Rogen Posada, Roberto Lumosad, Lyndon Bergula, Antonio Osinsao, Roebr Monajan, Richard Alijandro, Ferdinand Valle, Jeremy Medrano, Herminigildo Magno, Charlito Sibol, Regidor Equillos, Enrico Sernas, Roberto Panaligan, Ali Garlan, Reynaldo Valerio, Alexander Banago, Reynante Cortez, Marlon Navat, Rhoderick Manahan, Eddie Amosco, Mario Mariposte, Francisco Garnica, Rojo Joenefer and Romero Beros; CA rollo, p. 18.

4 Id. at 18.

5 Id. at 23-26.

6 Id. at 43.

7 Id. at 108.

8 Id. at 35.

9 Id. at 16.

10 Id. at 125.

11 Id. at 17.

12 Id. at 2.

13 Id. at 166.

14 Id. at 170.

15 Id. at 176.

16 Id. at 189.

17 Rollo, p. 21.

18 Section 1. Grounds. - Within the time for but before filing the answer to the complaint or pleading asserting a claim, a motion to dismiss may be made on any of the following grounds:

(a) That the court has no jurisdiction over the person of the defending party;

(b) That the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim;

(c) That venue is improperly laid;

(d) That the plaintiff has no legal capacity to sue;

(e) That there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause;

(f) That the cause of action is barred by a prior judgment or by the statute of limitations;

(g) That the pleading asserting the claim states no cause of action;

(h) That the claim or demand set forth in the plaintiff's pleading has been paid, waived, abandoned,or otherwise extinguished;

(i) That the claim on which the action is founded is unenforceable under the provisions of the statute of frauds; and

(j) That a condition precedent for filing the claim has not been complied with.

19 Ferrer v. Ferrer, G.R. No. 166496, November 29, 2006, 508 SCRA 570, 578-579; Danfoss, Incorporated v. Continental Cement Corporation, G.R. No. 143788, September 9, 2005, 469 SCRA 505, 511.

20 Agoy v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 162927, March 6, 2007, p. 6; Swagman Hotels and Travel, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 161135, April 8, 2005,455 SCRA 175, 183.

21 Zepeda v. China Banking Corporation, G.R. No. 172175, October 9, 2006, 504 SCRA 126, 131; Swagman Hotels and Travel, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, supra note 20.

22 G.R. No. 159590, October 18, 2004, 440 SCRA 498.

23 Id . at 510.

24 Santiago v. Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, G.R. No. 156888, November 20, 2006, 507 SCRA 283, 298.

25 Pioneer Concrete Philippines, Inc. v. Todaro, G.R. No. 154830, June 8, 2007, p. 8; Santos v. De Leon, G.R. No. 140892, September 21, 2005, 470 SCRA 455, 460.

26 Id .

27 '19, Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, as amended by Republic Act No. 7691.

28 Art. 2180. The obligation imposed by Article 2176 is demandable not only for one's own acts or omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.

(1) The father and, in case of his death or incapacity, the mother, are responsible for the damages caused by the minor children who live in their company.

(2) Guardians are liable for damages caused by the minors or incapacitated persons who are under their authority and live in their company.

(3) The owners and managers of an establishment or enterprise are likewise responsible for damages caused by their employees in the service of the branches in which the latter are employed or on the occasion of their functions.

(4) Employers shall be liable for the damage caused by their employees and household helps acting within the scope of their assigned task, even though the former are not engaged in any business or industry.

(5) The State is responsible in like manner when it acts through a special agent; but not when the damage has been caused by the official to whom the task done properly pertains, in which case what is provided in Article 2176 shall be applicable.

(6) Lastly, teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades shall be liable for damages caused by their pupils and students or apprentices, so long as they remain in their custody.

The responsibility treated of in this article shall be when the persons herein mentioned prove that they observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage. (Emphasis supplied.)

29 See Marquez v. Castillo, 68 Phil. 568 (1939).

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