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G.R. No. 171212, August 20, 2014 - INDOPHIL TEXTILE MILLS, INC., Petitioner, v. ENGR. SALVADOR ADVIENTO, Respondents.

G.R. No. 171212, August 20, 2014 - INDOPHIL TEXTILE MILLS, INC., Petitioner, v. ENGR. SALVADOR ADVIENTO, Respondents.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 171212, August 20, 2014

INDOPHIL TEXTILE MILLS, INC., Petitioner, v. ENGR. SALVADOR ADVIENTO, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, J.:

Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court which seeks to review, reverse and set-aside the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA), dated May 30, 2005, and its Resolution2 dated January 10, 2006 in the case entitled Indophil Textile Mills, Inc. v. Hon. Rolando R. Velasco and Engr. Salvador Adviento, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 83099.

The facts are not disputed.

Petitioner Indophil Textile Mills, Inc. is a domestic corporation engaged in the business of manufacturing thread for weaving.3 On August 21, 1990, petitioner hired respondent Engr. Salvador Adviento as Civil Engineer to maintain its facilities in Lambakin, Marilao, Bulacan.4cralawred

On August 7, 2002, respondent consulted a physician due to recurring weakness and dizziness.5  Few days later, he was diagnosed with Chronic Poly Sinusitis, and thereafter, with moderate, severe and persistent Allergic Rhinitis.6 Accordingly, respondent was advised by his doctor to totally avoid house dust mite and textile dust as it will transmute into health problems.7cralawred

Distressed, respondent filed a complaint against petitioner with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), San Fernando, Pampanga, for alleged illegal dismissal and for the payment of backwages, separation pay, actual damages and attorney’s fees. The said case, docketed as NLRC Case No. RAB-III-05-5834-03, is still pending resolution with the NLRC at the time the instant petition was filed.8cralawred

Subsequently, respondent filed another Complaint9 with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Aparri, Cagayan, alleging that he contracted such occupational disease by reason of the gross negligence of petitioner to provide him with a safe, healthy and workable environment.

In his Complaint, respondent alleged that as part of his job description, he conducts regular maintenance check on petitioner’s facilities including its dye house area, which is very hot and emits foul chemical odor with no adequate safety measures introduced by petitioner.10  According to respondent, the air washer dampers and all roof exhaust vests are blown into open air, carrying dust thereto.11 Concerned, respondent recommended to management to place roof insulation to minimize, if not, eradicate the health hazards attendant in the work place.12  However, said recommendation was turned down by management due to high cost.13cralawred

Respondent further suggested to petitioner’s management that the engineering office be relocated because of its dent prone location, such that even if the door of the office is sealed, accumulated dust creeps in outside the office.14 This was further aggravated by the installation of new filters fronting the office.15  However, no action was taken by management.16cralawred

According to respondent, these health hazards have been the persistent complaints of most, if not all, workers of petitioner.17  Nevertheless, said complaints fell on deaf ears as petitioner callously ignored the health problems of its workers and even tended to be apathetic to their plight, including respondent.18cralawred

Respondent averred that, being the only breadwinner in the family, he made several attempts to apply for a new job, but to his dismay and frustration, employers who knew of his present health condition discriminated against him and turned down his application.19  By reason thereof, respondent suffered intense moral suffering, mental anguish, serious anxiety and wounded feelings, praying for the recovery of the following: (1) Five Million Pesos (P5,000,000.00) as moral damages; (2) Two Million Pesos (P2,000,000.00) as exemplary damages; and (3) Seven Million Three Thousand and Eight Pesos (P7,003,008.00) as compensatory damages.20 Claiming to be a pauper litigant, respondent was not required to pay any filing fee.21cralawred

In reply, petitioner filed a Motion to Dismiss22 on the ground that: (1) the RTC has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint because the same falls under the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Labor Arbiter (LA) under Article 217(a)(4) of the Labor Code; and (2) there is another action pending with the Regional Arbitration Branch III of the NLRC in San Fernando City, Pampanga, involving the same parties for the same cause.

On December 29, 2003, the RTC issued a Resolution23 denying the aforesaid Motion and sustaining its jurisdiction over the instant case. It held that petitioner’s alleged failure to provide its employees with a safe, healthy and workable environment is an act of negligence, a case of quasi-delict. As such, it is not within the jurisdiction of the LA under Article 217 of the Labor Code. On the matter of dismissal based on lis pendencia, the RTC ruled that the complaint before the NLRC has a different cause of action which is for illegal dismissal and prayer for backwages, actual damages, attorney’s fees and separation pay due to illegal dismissal while in the present case, the cause of action is for quasi-delict.24  The fallo of the Resolution is quoted below:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

WHEREFORE, finding the motion to dismiss to be without merit, the Court denies the motion to dismiss.

SO ORDERED.25

On February 9, 2004, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration thereto, which was likewise denied in an Order issued on even date.

Expectedly, petitioner then filed a Petition for Certiorari with the CA on the ground that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in upholding that it has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint despite the broad and clear terms of Article 217 of the Labor Code, as amended.26cralawred

After the submission by the parties of their respective Memoranda, the CA rendered a Decision27 dated May 30, 2005 dismissing petitioner’s Petition for lack of merit, the dispositive portion of which states:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

WHEREFORE, premises considered, petition for certiorari is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.28chanrobleslaw

From the aforesaid Decision, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was nevertheless denied for lack of merit in the CA’s Resolution29 dated January 10, 2006.

Hence, petitioner interposed the instant petition upon the solitary ground that “THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS HAS DECIDED A QUESTION OF SUBSTANCE IN A WAY NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW AND WITH APPLICABLE DECISIONS OF THE HONORABLE SUPREME COURT.”30  Simply, the issue presented before us is whether or not the RTC has jurisdiction over the subject matter of respondent’s complaint praying for moral damages, exemplary damages, compensatory damages, anchored on petitioner’s alleged gross negligence in failing to provide a safe and healthy working environment for respondent.

The delineation between the jurisdiction of regular courts and labor courts over cases involving workers and their employers has always been a matter of dispute.31  It is up to the Courts to lay the line after careful scrutiny of the factual milieu of each case. Here, we find that jurisdiction rests on the regular courts.

In its attempt to overturn the assailed Decision and Resolution of the CA, petitioner argues that respondent’s claim for damages is anchored on the alleged gross negligence of petitioner as an employer to provide its employees, including herein respondent, with a safe, healthy and workable environment; hence, it arose from an employer-employee relationship.32 The fact of respondent’s employment with petitioner as a civil engineer is a necessary element of his cause of action because without the same, respondent cannot claim to have a right to a safe, healthy and workable environment.33  Thus, exclusive jurisdiction over the same should be vested in the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC pursuant to Article 217(a)(4) of the Labor Code of the Philippines (Labor Code), as amended.34cralawred

We are not convinced.

The jurisdiction of the LA and the NLRC is outlined in Article 217 of the Labor Code, as amended by Section 9 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6715, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

ART. 217. Jurisdiction of Labor Arbiters and the Commission -- (a) Except as otherwise provided under this Code the Labor Arbiter shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide, within thirty (30) calendar days after the submission of the case by the parties for decision without extension, even in the absence of stenographic notes, the following cases involving all workers, whether agricultural or non-agricultural:
  1. Unfair labor practice cases;
  2. Termination disputes;
  3. If accompanied with a claim for reinstatement, those cases that workers may file involving wages, rates of pay, hours of work and other terms and conditions of employment;
  4. Claims for actual, moral, exemplary and other forms of damages arising from employer-employee relations;
  5. Cases arising from any violation of Article 264 of this Code including questions involving the legality of strikes and lockouts; and
  6. Except claims for Employees Compensation, Social Security, Medicare and maternity benefits, all other claims, arising from employer-employee relations, including those of persons in domestic or household service, involving an amount exceeding five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) regardless of whether accompanied with a claim for reinstatement.
x x x.35chanrobleslaw

While we have upheld the present trend to refer worker-employer controversies to labor courts in light of the aforequoted provision, we have also recognized that not all claims involving employees can be resolved solely by our labor courts, specifically when the law provides otherwise.36 For this reason, we have formulated the “reasonable causal connection rule,” wherein if there is a reasonable causal connection between the claim asserted and the employer-employee relations, then the case is within the jurisdiction of the labor courts; and in the absence thereof, it is the regular courts that have jurisdiction.37  Such distinction is apt since it cannot be presumed that money claims of workers which do not arise out of or in connection with their employer-employee relationship, and which would therefore fall within the general jurisdiction of the regular courts of justice, were intended by the legislative authority to be taken away from the jurisdiction of the courts and lodged with Labor Arbiters on an exclusive basis.38cralawred

In fact, as early as Medina vs. Hon. Castro-Bartolome,39 in negating the jurisdiction of the LA, although the parties involved were an employer and two employees, the Court succinctly held that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The pivotal question to Our mind is whether or not the Labor Code has any relevance to the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs. For if the Labor Code has no relevance, any discussion concerning the statutes amending it and whether or not they have retroactive effect is unnecessary.

It is obvious from the complaint that the plaintiffs have not alleged any unfair labor practice. Theirs is a simple action for damages for tortious acts allegedly committed by the defendants. Such being the case, the governing statute is the Civil Code and not the Labor Code. It results that the orders under review are based on a wrong premise.40

Similarly, we ruled in the recent case of Portillo v. Rudolf Lietz, Inc.41 that not all disputes between an employer and his employees fall within the jurisdiction of the labor tribunals such that when the claim for damages is grounded on the "wanton failure and refusal" without just cause of an employee to report for duty despite repeated notices served upon him of the disapproval of his application for leave of absence, the same falls within the purview of Civil Law, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

As early as Singapore Airlines Limited v. Paño, we established that not all disputes between an employer and his employee(s) fall within the jurisdiction of the labor tribunals.  We differentiated between abandonment per se and the manner and consequent effects of such abandonment and ruled that the first, is a labor case, while the second, is a civil law case.

Upon the facts and issues involved, jurisdiction over the present controversy must be held to belong to the civil Courts. While seemingly petitioner's claim for damages arises from employer-employee relations, and the latest amendment to Article 217 of the Labor Code under PD No. 1691 and BP Blg. 130 provides that all other claims arising from employer-employee relationship are cognizable by Labor Arbiters [citation omitted], in essence, petitioner's claim for damages is grounded on the "wanton failure and refusal" without just cause of private respondent Cruz to report for duty despite repeated notices served upon him of the disapproval of his application for leave of absence without pay. This, coupled with the further averment that Cruz "maliciously and with bad faith" violated the terms and conditions of the conversion training course agreement to the damage of petitioner removes the present controversy from the coverage of the Labor Code and brings it within the purview of Civil Law.

Clearly, the complaint was anchored not on the abandonment per se by private respondent Cruz of his job—as the latter was not required in the Complaint to report back to work—but on the manner and consequent effects of such abandonment of work translated in terms of the damages which petitioner had to suffer. x x x.42

Indeed, jurisprudence has evolved the rule that claims for damages under Article 217(a)(4) of the Labor Code, to be cognizable by the LA, must have a reasonable causal connection with any of the claims provided for in that article.43  Only if there is such a connection with the other claims can a claim for damages be considered as arising from employer-employee relations.44cralawred

In the case at bench, we find that such connection is nil.

True, the maintenance of a safe and healthy workplace is ordinarily a subject of labor cases. More, the acts complained of appear to constitute matters involving employee-employer relations since respondent used to be the Civil Engineer of petitioner. However, it should be stressed that respondent’s claim for damages is specifically grounded on petitioner’s gross negligence to provide a safe, healthy and workable environment for its employees - a case of quasi-delict. This is easily ascertained from a plain and cursory reading of the Complaint,45 which enumerates the acts and/or omissions of petitioner relative to the conditions in the workplace, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

  1. Petitioner’s textile mills have excessive flying textile dust and waste in its operations and no effort was exerted by petitioner to minimize or totally eradicate it;
  2. Petitioner failed to provide adequate and sufficient dust suction facilities;
  3. Textile machines are cleaned with air compressors aggravating the dusty work place;
  4. Petitioner has no physician specializing in respiratory-related illness considering it is a textile company;
  5. Petitioner has no device to detect the presence or density of dust which is airborne;
  6. The chemical and color room are not equipped with proper safety chemical nose mask; and
  7. The power and boiler plant emit too much smoke with solid particles blown to the air from the smoke stack of the power plant emitting a brown rust color which engulfs the entire compound.46

In addition, respondent alleged that despite his earnest efforts to suggest to management to place roof insulation to minimize, if not, eradicate the health hazards attendant in the workplace, the same was not heeded.47cralawred

It is a basic tenet that jurisdiction over the subject matter is determined upon the allegations made in the complaint, irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover upon the claim asserted therein, which is a matter resolved only after and as a result of a trial.48 Neither can jurisdiction of a court be made to depend upon the defenses made by a defendant in his answer or motion to dismiss.49  In this case, a perusal of the complaint would reveal that the subject matter is one of claim for damages arising from quasi-delict, which is within the ambit of the regular court's jurisdiction.

The pertinent provision of Article 2176 of the Civil Code which governs quasi-delict provides that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done.  Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called quasi-delict.50

Thus, to sustain a claim liability under quasi-delict, the following requisites must concur: (a) damages suffered by the plaintiff; (b) fault or negligence of the defendant, or some other person for whose acts he must respond; and (c) the connection of cause and effect between the fault or negligence of the defendant and the damages incurred by the plaintiff.51cralawred

In the case at bar, respondent alleges that due to the continued and prolonged exposure to textile dust seriously inimical to his health, he suffered work-contracted disease which is now irreversible and incurable, and deprived him of job opportunities.52 Clearly, injury and damages were allegedly suffered by respondent, an element of quasi-delict.  Secondly, the previous contract of employment between petitioner and respondent cannot be used to counter the element of “no pre-existing contractual relation” since petitioner’s alleged gross negligence in maintaining a hazardous work environment cannot be considered a mere breach of such contract of employment, but falls squarely within the elements of quasi-delict under Article 2176 of the Civil Code since the negligence is direct, substantive and independent.53  Hence, we ruled in Yusen Air and Sea Services Phils., Inc. v. Villamor54 that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

When, as here, the cause of action is based on a quasi-delict or tort, which has no reasonable causal connection with any of the claims provided for in Article 217, jurisdiction over the action is with the regular courts.55

It also bears stressing that respondent is not praying for any relief under the Labor Code of the Philippines. He neither claims for reinstatement nor backwages or separation pay resulting from an illegal termination. The cause of action herein pertains to the consequence of petitioner’s omission which led to a work-related disease suffered by respondent, causing harm or damage to his person. Such cause of action is within the realm of Civil Law, and jurisdiction over the controversy belongs to the regular courts.56cralawred

Our ruling in Portillo, is instructive, thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

There is no causal connection between private respondent’s claim for damages and the respondent employers’ claim for damages for the alleged “Goodwill Clause” violation. Portillo’s claim for unpaid salaries did not have anything to do with her alleged violation of the employment contract as, in fact, her separation from employment is not “rooted” in the alleged contractual violation.  She resigned from her employment.  She was not dismissed.  Portillo’s entitlement to the unpaid salaries is not even contested.  Indeed, Lietz Inc.’s argument about legal compensation necessarily admits that it owes the money claimed by Portillo.57

Further, it cannot be gainsaid that the claim for damages occurred after the employer-employee relationship of petitioner and respondent has ceased. Given that respondent no longer demands for any relief under the Labor Code as well as the rules and regulations pertinent thereto, Article 217(a)(4) of the Labor Code is inapplicable to the instant case, as emphatically held in Portillo, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

It is clear, therefore, that while Portillo’s claim for unpaid salaries is a money claim that arises out of or in connection with an employer-employee relationship, Lietz Inc.’s claim against Portillo for violation of the goodwill clause is a money claim based on an act done after the cessation of the employment relationship. And, while the jurisdiction over Portillo’s claim is vested in the labor arbiter, the jurisdiction over Lietz Inc.’s claim rests on the regular courts. Thus:
As it is, petitioner does not ask for any relief under the Labor Code. It merely seeks to recover damages based on the parties' contract of employment as redress for respondent's breach thereof. Such cause of action is within the realm of Civil Law, and jurisdiction over the controversy belongs to the regular courts. More so must this be in the present case, what with the reality that the stipulation refers to the post-employment relations of the parties.58

Where the resolution of the dispute requires expertise, not in labor management relations nor in wage structures and other terms and conditions of employment, but rather in the application of the general civil law, such claim falls outside the area of competence of expertise ordinarily ascribed to the LA and the NLRC.59cralawred

Guided by the aforequoted doctrines, we find no reason to reverse the findings of the CA. The RTC has jurisdiction over the subject matter of respondent’s complaint praying for moral damages, exemplary damages, compensatory damages, anchored on petitioner’s alleged gross negligence in failing to provide a safe and healthy working environment for respondent.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated May 30, 2005, and its Resolution dated January 10, 2006 in CA-G.R. SP No. 83099 are hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson) Villarama, Jr.,* Mendoza, and Leonen, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


* Designated Acting Member, per Special Order No. 1691 dated May 22, 2014, in view of the vacancy in the Third Division.

1 Penned by Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas, with Associate Justices Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. and Regalado E. Maambong, concurring; Annex "H" to Petition, rollo, pp. 103-112.

2 Penned by Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas, with Associate Justices Portia Alino-Hormachuelos and Juan Q. Enriquez, concurring; Annex "K" to Petition, id. at 123-124.

3 Supra note 1, at 104.

4 Id.

5 Annex “E” to Petition, rollo, p. 51.

6 Id. at 51-52.

7 Id. at 52

8Rollo, p. 10.

9 Supra note 5, at 51-55.

10 Id. at 52

11 Id. at 53.

12 Id.

13 Id.

14 Id.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17  Id.

18 Id.

19 Id.

20Rollo, pp. 10-11.

21 Id. at 11.

22 Annex “H” to Petition, id. at 61-69.

23 Annex “L”  to Petition, id. at 78-81.

24 Id. at 81.

25 Id. (Emphasis in the original)

26 Supra note 5, at 38.

27 Supra note 1.

28 Id. at 112. (Emphasis in the original)

29 Supra note 2.

30Rollo, p. 18.

31San Miguel Corporation v. Etcuban, 377 Phil. 733, 745 (1999).

32Rollo, p. 20.

33 Id.

34 Id.

35Emphasis ours.

36San Miguel Corporation v. Etcuban, supra note 31.

37 Id.

38San Miguel Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission,  244 Phil. 741, 748 (1988).

39  202 Phil. 163 (1982).

40Medina v. Hon. Castro-Bartolome, supra, at 170.  (Emphasis ours)

41 G.R. No. 196539, 683 SCRA 568 (2012).

42Portillo v. Rudolf Lietz, Inc., supra, at 577. (Emphasis ours; italics in the original).

43 Id.

44 Id.

45 Supra note 5, at 51-55.

46 Id. at 52-53.

47 Id. at 53.

48 Supra note 37, at 447.

49 Id.

50Emphasis ours.

51Huang v. Philippine Hoteliers, Inc., G.R. No. 180440, 687 SCRA 162, 194.

52 Supra note 5, at 53.

53 Supra note 51, at 193.

54 504 Phil. 437 (2005).

55Yusen Air and Sea Services Phils., Inc. v. Villamor, supra, at 446-447.

56San Miguel Corporation v. Etcuban, supra note 31, citing Da-Chi Electronics Manufacturing v. Villarama, G.R. No. 112940, November 21, 1994, 238 SCRA 267, 271.

57Portillo v. Rudolf Lietz, Inc., supra note 41, at 584-585.

58 Id. at 581. (Emphasis ours)

59San Miguel Corporation v. Etcuban, supra note 31, at 743.
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