Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cerezo vs. Tuazon, GR No. 141538, March 23, 2004

Facts: A passenger bus collided with a tricycle somewhere in Pampanga. The tricycle driver Tuazon filed a complaint for damages against Mrs. Cerezo, as owner of the bus line, and her husband Attorney Juan Cerezo. Tuazon also filed a motion to litigate as a pauper which was granted by the trial court. Subsequently, the trial court issued summons against Atty. Cerezo and Mrs. Cerezo (“the Cerezo spouses”) at the Makati address stated in the complaint. However, the summons was returned unserved as the Cerezo spouses no longer held office nor resided in Makati. The trial court issued alias summons against the Cerezo spouses at their address in Camiling, Tarlac. The alias summons and a copy of the complaint were finally served on 20 April 1994 at the office of Atty. Cerezo, who was then working as Tarlac Provincial Prosecutor. Atty. Cerezo reacted angrily on learning of the service of summons upon his person. Atty. Cerezo allegedly told Sheriff William Canlas: “Punyeta, ano ang gusto mong mangyari? Gusto mong hindi ka makalabas ng buhay dito? Teritoryo ko ito. Wala ka sa teritoryo mo.”

The records show that the Cerezo spouses participated in the proceedings before the trial court. Another lawyer, Atty. Valera, even represented the spouses. The Cerezo spouses did not file an answer and upon motion of Tuazon, they were declared in default. A copy of the decision was received on June 25 and Mrs. Cerezo filed a Petition from Relief of Judgment on July 10. Atty. Valera also denied having received a copy of a decision.

Issue: Whether or not Petition for Relief from Judgment was the proper remedy for a party declared in default.

Held: The Court ruled in the NEGATIVE. The remedies available to a party declared in default:

The defendant in default may, at any time after discovery thereof and before judgment, file a motion under oath to set aside the order of default on the ground that his failure to answer was due to fraud, accident, mistake or excusable negligence, and that he has a meritorious defense (Sec. 3, Rule 18 [now Sec. 3(b), Rule 9]);

If the judgment has already been rendered when the defendant discovered the default, but before the same has become final and executory, he may file a motion for new trial under Section 1 (a) of Rule 37;

If the defendant discovered the default after the judgment has become final and executory, he may file a petition for relief under Section 2 [now Section 1] of Rule 38; and

He may also appeal from the judgment rendered against him as contrary to the evidence or to the law, even if no petition to set aside the order of default has been presented by him (Sec. 2, Rule 41). (Emphasis added)

Moreover, a petition for certiorari to declare the nullity of a judgment by default is also available if the trial court improperly declared a party in default, or even if the trial court properly declared a party in default, if grave abuse of discretion attended such declaration.

Mrs. Cerezo could have taken advantage of the abovementioned remedies. Moreover, she also had the alternative of filing under Rule 65 a petition for certiorari assailing the order of default within 60 days from notice of the judgment. An order of default is interlocutory, and an aggrieved party may file an appropriate special civil action under Rule 65. In a petition for certiorari, the appellate court may declare void both the order of default and the judgment of default. Clearly, Mrs. Cerezo had every opportunity to avail of these remedies within the reglementary periods provided under the Rules of Court. However, Mrs. Cerezo opted to file a petition for relief from judgment, which is available only in exceptional cases. A petition for relief from judgment should be filed within the reglementary period of 60 days from knowledge of judgment and six months from entry of judgment. 

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