[A.M. NO. P-03-1684 : March 10, 2006]
PETER T. DONTON, Complainant, v. EDGARDO S. LORIA, Sheriff III, Metropolitan Trial Court, Quezon City, Branch 33, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is an administrative complaint against Edgardo S. Loria ("respondent sheriff"), Sheriff III of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC), Branch 33, Quezon City, for gross misconduct.
In his Affidavit-Complaint dated 26 August 2002, Peter T. Donton ("complainant") stated that he was the defendant in a civil case for forcible entry filed by plaintiffs Duane O. Stier and Emelyn Addun Maggay ("plaintiffs").1 Judge Maria Elisa Sempio Diy ("Judge Sempio Diy") of the MeTC, Branch 34, Quezon City, issued an order giving plaintiffs five days from receipt of the order to submit an inventory of their personal properties in the subject premises. The order also provided that after submission of the inventory, the court would schedule the date and hour for plaintiffs to enter the premises and retrieve their personal properties in the presence of complainant and his counsel. Judge Henri JP B. Inting ("Judge Inting") of the MeTC, Branch 33, Quezon City, who took over the case after Judge Sempio Diy voluntarily inhibited herself from the case,2 ordered the implementation of the order. Complainant filed a motion for reconsideration of Judge Inting's order.3 chanroblesvirtuallawlibary
Before the resolution of the motion for reconsideration and even before the court had set the date and time for the retrieval of the properties, respondent sheriff accompanied plaintiffs and their counsel to the premises to retrieve plaintiffs' properties. Respondent sheriff did not notify complainant and his counsel of the retrieval. Likewise, complainant's counsel was not present when respondent sheriff tried to implement the order.
On 30 April 2002, Judge Inting rendered a decision4 in favor of the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed a motion for execution on 2 May 2002.5 In late afternoon of 3 May 2002, respondent sheriff personally served on complainant and his counsel a copy of the decision and plaintiffs' motion for execution. Complainant alleged that in doing so, respondent sheriff acted as a "messenger" of the plaintiffs.6 chanroblesvirtuallawlibary
In his 2nd Indorsement dated 28 September 2002, respondent sheriff denied complainant's allegations. He stated that he was acting as court sheriff, not as a messenger of the plaintiffs, when he personally served a copy of the motion for execution on complainant and his counsel. He claims that the motion was only "incidentally" served with the decision because plaintiffs' counsel requested him to do so to prevent undue delay in the execution of the decision. He also feared that if he refused, plaintiffs would administratively charge him with dereliction of duty. Respondent sheriff even cited Section D, Chapter VIII of the Manual for Clerks of Court7 to justify his actions.
The Recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator
In its Report dated 4 February 2003 ("Report"), the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) recommended the re-docketing of the case as an administrative case. The OCA also recommended that respondent sheriff be held liable for grave misconduct and fined
P1,000 with a warning that a repetition of a similar offense would be dealt with more severely. The Report reads:cra:nad
Respondent [s]heriff is liable for Grave Misconduct. His first infraction involves the order allowing the plaintiffs to enter the premises to retrieve their belongings which should be done in the presence of both parties and their counsel. What respondent [s]heriff did was to implement the order without the counsel of herein complainant. His Comment is silent on this matter but it has been held that silence is admission if there was [a] chance to deny, especially if it constitutes one of the principal charges against him. (Perez v. Suller, A.M. No. MTJ-94-936, November 6, 1995) The second infraction involves the motion for execution filed by the plaintiffs and served upon the complainant personally by respondent [s]heriff. This he admitted in his Comment saying that he was requested by the plaintiffs so as to avoid delay.
In both instances, respondent [s]heriff displayed an over-zealousness [sic] in favor of the plaintiffs to the point of acting as the latter's messenger. His duty is to serve upon the litigants the writs, processes and other issuances of the court, not the pleadings of the parties. Respondent [s]heriff as a court employee must conduct himself with propriety and decorum and his action must be beyond suspicion. (Flores v. Conuja, 256 SCRA 518) By trying to implement the said order in the absence of the counsel for complainant and serving upon the latter the motion of the plaintiffs he gave the impression that he was acting more in behalf of the plaintiffs than [as] an officer of the court, thus tarnishing the image of the judiciary.8 chanroblesvirtuallawlibary
In a Resolution dated 12 March 2003, the Court ordered the re-docketing of the case as an administrative case. The Court also required the parties to manifest within 10 days from notice if they were willing to submit the case for resolution based on the records on file.
In a letter dated 4 April 2003, respondent sheriff stated that he was willing to submit the case for resolution. Complainant failed to respond.
The Court's Ruling
The Court finds respondent sheriff liable for simple misconduct.
On Respondent Sheriff's Premature Implementation of the Court's Order
In Perez v. Suller,9 the Court ruled that silence is admission if there was a chance to deny, especially if the silence is on one of the principal charges against the respondent.
Respondent sheriff, in his 2nd Indorsement, made an extensive comment on the allegation that he served a copy of plaintiffs' motion to complainant and his counsel. But he said nothing on the allegation that he prematurely implemented the order of the court. Respondent sheriff is deemed to have admitted this allegation.
Respondent sheriff's act of accompanying plaintiffs and their counsel to the premises to retrieve plaintiffs' properties was done in violation of the court's order. Respondent sheriff should have waited for the court's order setting the date and time when plaintiffs and their counsel could enter the premises to retrieve plaintiffs' properties. Furthermore, retrieval of plaintiffs' properties should have been done in the presence of both parties and their counsels. Respondent sheriff proceeded to implement the order without notice to, and in the absence of, complainant and his counsel.
Besides, complainant had a pending motion for reconsideration of the order. Respondent sheriff should have waited for the resolution of the motion before proceeding to implement the order. Clearly, respondent sheriff exceeded the limits of his authority when he prematurely implemented the court's order.
On Respondent Sheriff's Service of Plaintiffs' Motion for Execution on Complainant and his Counsel
Sheriffs are ministerial officers.12 Sheriffs are agents of the law, not agents of the parties,13 and no sheriff shall act as special deputy sheriff of any party litigant.14 The sheriff is primarily responsible for the speedy and efficient service of all court processes and writs originating from his court and its branches, and those that other courts may assign to him.15 chanroblesvirtuallawlibary
The following are the general functions and duties of a Sheriff III:
18.104.22.168. serves and/or executes writs and processes addressed and/or assigned to him by the Court and prepares and submits returns of his proceedings;chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
22.214.171.124. keeps custody of attached properties or goods;chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
126.96.36.199. maintains his own record books on writs of execution, writs of attachment, writs of replevin, writs of injunction, and all other processes executed by him; andcralawlibrary
188.8.131.52. performs such other duties as may be assigned by the Executive Judge, Presiding Judge and/or Branch Clerk of Court.16
Respondent sheriff's act of serving a copy of plaintiffs' motion for execution on complainant and his counsel had no relation, direct or indirect, to his duties as sheriff. A motion is "an application made to a court or judge for the purpose of obtaining a rule or order directing some act to be done in favor of the applicant."17 A motion is a pleading filed by one of the parties in the case and does not originate from the court. Even respondent sheriff admitted that the motion for execution was "a pleading of the plaintiffs."18 Respondent sheriff should have refused the request of plaintiffs' counsel to serve plaintiffs' motion on complainant and his counsel. It does not matter that the service of the motion was only "incidental." It was not part of respondent sheriff's duty to serve plaintiffs' motion. Respondent sheriff's fear of being charged with dereliction of duty is baseless. Respondent sheriff's overzealousness transcended the bounds of propriety.
Employees of the judiciary must be wary and should tread carefully when assisting other persons.19 Court employees should maintain a hands-off attitude where dealings with party-litigants are concerned to maintain the integrity of the courts and to free court employees from suspicion of any misconduct.20 cra
In Macalua v. Tiu, Jr., this Court held:cra:nad
x x x [A court employee] is expected to do no more than what duty demands and no less than what privilege permits. Though he may be of great help to specific individuals, but when that help frustrates and betrays the public's trust in the system it cannot and should not remain unchecked. The interests of the individual must give way to the accommodation of the public - Privatum incommodum publico bono pensatur.21 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
On the Appropriate Penalty on Respondent Sheriff
The OCA recommended that respondent sheriff be held liable for grave misconduct. For grave misconduct to exist, there must be substantial evidence showing that the acts complained of were corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law or were in persistent disregard of well-known legal rules.22 It does not appear to the Court that the actuations of respondent sheriff were motivated by any of these. Therefore, respondent sheriff is liable for simple misconduct only.
Section 52(B)(2) of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service23 classifies simple misconduct as a less grave offense punishable by suspension of one month and one day to six months for the first offense, and dismissal for the second offense.
The Court notes that respondent sheriff was previously held liable for neglect of duty in Arevalo v. Loria24 and fined
P1,000 with a warning that another infraction by him would be dealt with more severely.
In several cases, this Court has mitigated the imposable penalty for humanitarian reasons25 and considered respondent's length of service in the government26 and his good faith.27 While respondent sheriff should be dismissed from the service, as this is his second offense, this Court, for humanitarian reasons, deems that suspension for six months without pay is appropriate. Likewise, respondent sheriff has been in government service since 1980 and with the judiciary since 15 November 1985. It also appears that respondent sheriff was acting in good faith when, upon the timely objection of complainant's counsel, he desisted from further implementing the order.28 Moreover, when respondent sheriff served plaintiffs' motion for execution on complainant and counsel, he did it, not for monetary consideration, but on the belief that it was part of his duty and it would prevent delay in the execution of the decision.29 chanroblesvirtuallawlibary
WHEREFORE, we FIND respondent Edgardo S. Loria, Sheriff III of the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 33, Quezon City, GUILTY of Simple Misconduct for which we SUSPEND him for six months without pay. We WARN himthat if he commits another infraction in the future the penalty is dismissal.
Let a copy of this decision be attached to the personnel records of Edgardo S. Loria.
1 Docketed as Civil Case No. 27161 and entitled "Duane O. Stier and Emelyn Addun Maggay v. Peter T. Donton and All Persons Claiming Rights Under Him." chanroblesvirtualawlibary
2 Rollo, p. 64.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
3 Id. at 26-30.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
4 Id. at 33-36.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
5 Id. at 37-39.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
6 Id. at 6.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
7 Section D, Chapter VIII of the Manual for Clerks of Court reads:
SECTION D. DUTIES AND FUNCTIONS OF THE SHERIFF. - Except as otherwise specially provided, the sheriff shall, in person or by deputy, serve and/or execute all writs, orders and other processes of the Court.
8 Rollo, pp. 72-73.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
9 320 Phil. 1 (1995).chanroblesvirtualawlibary
10 A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC which took effect on 1 June 2004.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
11 Id., Section 6, Canon IV.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
12 I The 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court 438.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
14 Id. at 490.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
15 Id. chanroblesvirtualawlibary
16 Id. at 205.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
17 Black's Law Dictionary 913 (5th ed. 1979).chanroblesvirtualawlibary
18 Rollo, p. 65.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
19 Prak v. Anacan, A.M. No. P-03-1738, 12 July 2004, 434 SCRA 110.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
20 Office of the Court Administrator v. Bucoy, A.M. No. P-93-953, 25 August 1994, 235 SCRA 588. chanroblesvirtualawlibary
21 341 Phil. 317, 323-324 (1997).chanroblesvirtualawlibary
22 Frani v. Pagayatan, 416 Phil. 205 (2001).chanroblesvirtualawlibary
23 Promulgated by the Civil Service Commission through Resolution No. 99-1936 dated 31 August 1999 and implemented by CSC Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1999.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
24 450 Phil. 48 (2003).chanroblesvirtualawlibary
25 Re: Imposition of Corresponding Penalties for Habitual Tardiness Committed During the First and Second Semesters of 2003, A.M. No. 00-06-09-SC, 16 March 2004, 425 SCRA 508.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
26 Re: Imposition of Corresponding Penalties for Habitual Tardiness Committed During the Second Semester of 2004, A.M. No. 00-6-09-SC, 27 July 2005, 464 SCRA 155.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
27 Office of the Court Administrator v. Duque, A.M. P-05-1958, 7 February 2005, 450 SCRA 527. chanroblesvirtualawlibary
28 Rollo, p. 3.chanroblesvirtualawlibary
29 Id. at 65.