Monday, March 12, 2012

Rivera vs. CA [G.R. No. 157040 February 12, 2008]

Facts: Spouses Pineda and Rivera entered into a "Deed of Mortgage with Irrevocable Option to Buy". Upon execution of the contract, Rivera took possession of the subject property and the owner's duplicate copy of the title over the lot. He was able to pay the first three installments but was unable to settle the fifth and sixth installments. Pursuant to a provision in the Deed, Spouses Pineda, through counsel, gave notice to Rivera rescinding the contract and tendering the amount of P400,000 which represents the mortgage indebtedness. As the demand was unheeded, they litigated. 

The Court of Appeals held that the Deed of Mortgage with the Option to Buy was deemed rescinded, ordered Rivera to restore possession of the property to the spouses Pineda and to pay damages, attorney’s fees and the cost of the suit. The Decision of the CA became final and executory as no appeal or motion for reconsideration was filed by either party. Hence, an Entry of Judgment was issued by the CA. 

Almost a year after, Rivera, through a new counsel, Melecio Virgilio Emata Law Offices, filed an Omnibus Motion to Set Aside Entry of Judgment and to Admit Motion for Reconsideration. 

Rivera alleged that he was belatedly notified that his counsel of record, Atty. Bernardo T. Dominguez of Madrid Cacho Dominguez and Associates Law Offices, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 13, 1994; hence, he had no choice but to personally prepare and file his Appellee's Brief, which was ordered expunged from the records. Moreover, he claimed that it was only on July 23, 2002 that he obtained a copy of the Entry of Judgment, without first receiving the Notice of Judgment prior thereto. Rivera averred that there is nothing in the said Notice that would indicate that he actually received a copy of the CA Decision since the envelope addressed to him containing the judgment was returned unserved by the postmaster. In view of these factors, he asserted that the CA Decision has not yet become final and executory. 

Issue: Whether or not the service of Notice of Judgment to the counsel of record who is the deceased partner of an ostensible law partnership is considered a valid service to his client. 

Held: YES. The rules provide that if a party is appearing by counsel, service upon him shall be made upon his counsel or any one of them, unless service upon the party himself is ordered by the court. In this case, the law office of Madrid Cacho Dominguez and Associates had been appearing in behalf of Rivera until the judgment was rendered by the CA. As no formal withdrawal of appearance was timely filed during the pendency of the case, said law firm remains to be the counsel of record entitled to receive court notices and orders. The fact that the counsel of record was given a copy, which in this case was not returned unserved for any reason, is the controlling matter. Notice sent to counsel of record is binding upon the client, and the neglect or failure of counsel to inform his client of an adverse judgment resulting in the loss of right to appeal will not justify the setting aside of a judgment that is valid and regular on its face. 

Granting that the law office of Madrid Cacho Dominguez and Associates indeed exists in paper rather than in reality, this does not alter the fact that it still received the notice of judgment and a copy of the CA Decision in behalf of Rivera. To stress, all that the rules of procedure require in regard to service by registered mail is to have the postmaster deliver the same to the addressee himself or to a person of sufficient discretion to receive the same. The paramount consideration is that the registered mail is delivered to the recipient's address and received by a person who would be able to appreciate the importance of the papers delivered to him, even if that person is not a subordinate or employee of the recipient or authorized by a special power of attorney. Whether Rivera is a client of the law office or only that of Atty. Dominguez, it is undoubted that the ostensible partners of the law firm, which is still existing and not yet dissolved, know by heart the significance of reporting the content of the mail matter to Rivera or, at the very least, notifying him of the receipt thereof.

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