Felix Cruz, Jr. v. CA (G.R. No. 148544)

Facts:

Petitioner Felix Cruz, Jr., an employee of private respondent Citytrust Banking Corporation, held the confidential position of Micro Technical Support Officer responsible for evaluating requests for Micro Computers and accepting bids submitted thereof. Following feedbacks that certain irregularities were being committed in the bidding process, a special investigation was conducted and found petitioner was receiving unauthorized and unreported commissions and rebates from suppliers. An administrative hearing ensued and petitioner being found guilty, Citytrust terminated his employment. Aggrieved, petitioner filed an illegal dismissal complaint before the Labor Arbiter. The LA deciding in petitioner’s favor, Citytrust appealed to NLRC which ruled to set aside the LA decision and dismiss the case. Thus, petitioner filed a petition for certiorari with the SC, which referred the same to CA pursuant to the St. Martin ruling. CA dismissed the petition, sustaining the NLRC ruling. Instead of MR, petitioner filed again the present petition for certiorari.

Respondent mainly contends that the present petition for certiorari is not the proper remedy to assail the subject decision of the CA. Respondent argues that petitioner’s failure to file a petition for review cannot be remedied by the filing of a special civil action for certiorari.

Issue:

Whether petitioner availed the proper remedy to assail the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Ruling: NO.

First, it is well settled that the remedy to obtain reversal or modification of judgment on the merits is appeal. This is true even if the error, or one of the errors, ascribed to the court rendering the judgment is its lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, or the exercise of power in excess thereof, or grave abuse of discretion in the findings of facts or of law set out in the decision.

Petitioner claims that he received the CA Decision on May 17, 2001. Consequently, he had 15 days from said date of receipt of assailed judgment, or until June 1, 2001, within which to file a petition for review on certiorari, the reglementary period prescribed by Rule 45 to avail of said action. On July 9, 2001 close to two months after said receipt, petitioner filed the present petition. Evidently, petitioner has lost his remedy of appeal. The filing of the instant petition for certiorari cannot be used as a means of recovering his appeal as it is settled that certiorari is not a substitute for lost appeal. The remedies of appeal and certiorari are mutually exclusive and not alternative or successive.

Second, assuming for the sake of argument that the present petition for certiorari is the appropriate remedy, the records of the instant case show that petitioner failed to file a motion for reconsideration of the decision of the appellate court, thus, depriving the CA of the opportunity to correct on reconsideration such errors as it may have committed. The general rule is that a motion for reconsideration is indispensable before resort to the special civil action for certiorari to afford the court or tribunal the opportunity to correct its error, if any. This rule is subject to certain recognized exceptions. None of these exceptions are present in the instant case. Hence, petitioner’s unjustified failure to file a motion for reconsideration of the decision of the CA before recourse to this special civil action was made calls for the outright dismissal of this case.

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United Field Sea Watchman and Checkers Agency v. Requillo, et al. (G.R. No. 143527)

Facts:

Willie Requillo and other respondents herein, were employees of petitioner-company working as security guards assigned at the Port of Surigao City operated by the PPA. In the course of their employment, respondents applied for loans with SSS but found out that petitioner had not been remitting the contributions being deducted regularly from their salaries. Hence, respondents filed with DOLE complaints against petitioner. Sometime after, petitioner reassigned respondents to various PPA offices. Considering it as a form of retaliation, respondents refused to heed the order and continued to report for work at the PPA Office in Surigao City. Hence, petitioner refused to pay their salaries and considered them AWOL. Consequently, respondents filed a complaint for illegal dismissal which the Labor Arbiter decided in their favor on April 13, 1998. On appeal by petitioner, NLRC deleted the award for backwages, damages and attorney’s fees.  Dissatisfied, respondents filed with CA a petition for certiorari alleging NLRC erred in giving due course to petitioner’s appeal despite being filed beyond the reglementary period. CA set aside the NLRC decision, MR was denied.

Issue:

Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that petitioners’ appeal to the NLRC was filed beyond the reglementary period.

Ruling: NO.

We find no cogent reason to deviate from the findings of the Court of Appeals:

Although there was an allegation in the appeal that the Labor Arbiter’s Decision was received on April 27, 1998, there is substantial evidence to show that it could not have been so as asseverated by petitioners. The registry return slips addressed to petitioner do not bear the rubber stamped print that the mailed decision was registered and that it was posted on April 22, 1998 at Butuan City. Likewise, they do not have the required stamp affixed to a return slip.  Considering such patent irregularity, we find that the registry return slips addressed to petitioner are not the original return slips of the Decision of the Labor Arbiter. The non-submission of the original return slips is an indication that if the originals were submitted they would reveal that petitioner received the Decision of the Labor Arbiter not on April 27, 1998 but on a much earlier date.

Article 223 of the Labor Code provides in part:

ART. 223. Appeals. – Decisions, awards, or orders of the Labor Arbiter are final and executory unless appealed to the Commission by any or both parties within ten (10) calendar days from receipt of such decisions, awards, or orders, x x x.

In Tomas Claudio Memorial College, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, we held that the right to appeal is not part of due process but a mere statutory privilege that has to be exercised only in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of law. Since the perfection of an appeal within the statutory reglementary period is not only mandatory but also jurisdictional, petitioners’ failure to perfect their appeal to the NLRC seasonably rendered the Labor Arbiter’s Decision final and executory. Accordingly, the NLRC has no jurisdiction to give due course to petitioners’ appeal, much less render a Resolution modifying the Labor Arbiter’s Decision. Indeed, such Resolution is a patent nullity for want of jurisdiction.

VMC Rural Electric Cooperative v. CA (G.R. No. 153144)

Facts:

Herein private respondent Joel Gustilo was a driver-lineman for petitioner-electric company and was himself an electric consumer serviced by petitioner. Due to non-payment of electric bills, respondent’s electric line in their house was disconnected. Sometime after, an inspection team from petitioner found that there was electricity in the house of respondent despite the supposed disconnection. An investigation ensued and respondent was terminated in connection with the discovery of the alleged illegal connection. Aggrieved, respondent filed a complaint for illegal dismissal. Both the Labor Arbiter and NLRC decided in favor of petitioner. Respondent by way of Rule 65 elevated the case to CA, which set aside the LA’s decision and ordered petitioner’s reinstatement. MR being denied, petitioner filed a petition for certiorari before this Court. Respondent argues that whether petitioner is raising a question of fact or law, or mixed questions of fact and law, the mode of appeal from the CA decision would still be Rule 45, and not Rule 65. Also that the present petition is dismissible outright for being filed beyond the 15-day period to file an appeal.

Issue:

Whether petitioner availed of the proper remedy to assail the findings of the Court of Appeals.

Ruling: NO.

We perceive a patent error in the mode of appeal elected by petitioner for the purpose of assailing the Decision of the Court of Appeals. One of the requisites of certiorari is that there be no available appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy. Where an appeal is available, certiorari will not prosper, even if the ground therefore is grave abuse of discretion. In the case at bar, the proper remedy of petitioner VRESCO to dispute the Decision of the appellate court is to file a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, which should be instituted within 15 days from receipt of the assailed decision or resolution. In a long line of cases, the Court has consistently emphasized that after the lapse of the 15-day period to file a petition for Review on Certiorari, the special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65 is not, and cannot be, a substitute for a lost remedy of appeal. In the case at bar, the petition was filed 45 days after receipt of the Resolution of the Court of Appeals denying its Motion for Reconsideration, evidently beyond the 15-day period for filing a petition for review on certiorari, hence the period to appeal was lost. Therefore, the instant petition cannot prevail since a petition for certiorari cannot substitute for a lost appeal, especially if one’s error in one’s choice of remedy occasioned such loss or lapse.

Bearneza v. NLRC (G.R. No. 146930)

Facts:

Petitioner Rommel Bearneza filed a complaint for permanent total disability benefits against respondent NFD International Manning Agents but was dismissed by the POEA for lack of merit. On appeal, NLRC reversed the POEA decision. Then, NFD filed a petition for certiorari before the SC. A TRO enjoining the execution of the judgment award was issued upon posting by NFD of a P1 million bond. The petition was dismissed and NFD sought reconsideration while petitioner moved for the imposition of a 12% interest per annum on the judgment award until its full satisfaction. The SC denied both motions and remanded the case back to NLRC for execution of judgment. The LA issued an alias writ of execution ordering the satisfaction of petitioner’s claims and the attorney’s fees. The sheriff then submitted a return informing the LA that the alias writ had been satisfied. Petitioner then moved for the issuance of a second alias writ of execution praying that the manning agency be held liable also for 12% p.a. interest on the judgment award. LA denied the motion. NLRC and CA affirmed.

Issue:

Whether there is grave abuse of discretion in disallowing petitioner’s claim for the imposition of interest on the judgment award.

Ruling: NO.

No abuse of discretion may be imputed to the labor arbiter and the NLRC. The NLRC’s decision had already become final and executory. The sheriff’s return showed that the judgment had in fact been executed. Moreover, no discretion could have possibly been exercised on petitioner’s claim as the matter had long been resolved and laid to rest by this Court in its resolution in G.R. No. 107131.

The Court further Resolved to:

(1) DENY for lack of merit the motion for damages on the injunction bond filed by [Rommel Bearneza];

Once a judgment attains finality it becomes immutable and unalterable. It may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and regardless of whether the modification is attempted to be made by the court rendering it or by the highest court of the land.

Industrial Timber Corporation v. Ababon (G.R. No. 164518)

Facts:

Petitioner Industrial Timber Corporation (ITC) was leased a plywood plant located at Butuan City for a period of 5 years by Industrial Plywood Group Corporation (IPGC). Thereafter, ITC commenced operation of the plywood plant and hired 387 workers. Sometime after, ITC notified DOLE and its workers of the plant’s shutdown due to the non-renewal of the anti-pollution permit and the alleged lack of logs for milling constrained ITC to lay off all its workers until further notice. A final notice of closure or cessation of business operations followed advising the workers to collect the benefits due them under the law and CBA. Later, IPGC took over the plywood plant and was issued a permit to operate coincidentally the same day the ITC ceased operation of the plant. This prompted respondents to file a complaint for illegal dismissal and unfair labor practice alleging that the cessation of ITC’s operation was intended to bust the union and that both corporations are one and the same entity. LA dismissed the complaint. On appeal, NLRC first ordered the reinstatement of employees but later on, ruled to dismiss herein respondent’s complaints. CA set aside the decision.

Issue:

Whether respondents were illegally dismissed due to the closure of ITC’s business.

Ruling: NO.

The right to close the operation of an establishment or undertaking is one of the authorized causes in terminating employment of workers, the only limitation being that the closure must not be for the purpose of circumventing the provisions on termination of employment embodied in the Labor Code. Under Article 283 of the Labor Code, three requirements are necessary for a valid cessation of business operations: (a) service of a written notice to the employees and to the DOLE at least one month before the intended date thereof; (b) the cessation of business must be bona fide in character; and (c) payment to the employees of termination pay amounting to one month pay or at least one-half month pay for every year of service, whichever is higher.

We find that ITC’s closure or cessation of business was done in good faith and for valid reasons. The records reveal that the decision to permanently close business operations was arrived at after a suspension of operation for several months precipitated by lack of raw materials used for milling operations, the expiration of the anti-pollution permit, and the termination of the lease contract with IPGC over the plywood plant. Having established that ITC’s closure of the plywood plant was done in good faith and that it was due to causes beyond its control, the conclusion is inevitable that said closure is valid.

Although the closure was done in good faith and for valid reasons, we find that ITC did not comply with the notice requirement. While an employer is under no obligation to conduct hearings before effecting termination of employment due to authorized cause, however, the law requires that it must notify the DOLE and its employees at least one month before the intended date of closure.

In the case at bar, ITC notified its employees and the DOLE of the ‘no plant operation’ due to lack of raw materials. This was followed by a ‘shut down’ notice due to the expiration of the anti-pollution permit. However, this shutdown was only temporary as ITC assured its employees that they could return to work once the renewal is acted upon by the DENR. Then, ITC sent its employees a final notice of closure or cessation of business operations to take effect on the same day it was released. We find that this falls short of the notice requirement for termination of employment due to authorized cause considering that the DOLE was not furnished and the notice should have been furnished both the employees and the DOLE at least one month before the intended date of closure.

Where the dismissal is based on an authorized cause under Article 283 of the Labor Code but the employer failed to comply with the notice requirement, the sanction should be stiff as the dismissal process was initiated by the employer’s exercise of his management prerogative, as opposed to a dismissal based on a just cause under Article 282 with the same procedural infirmity where the sanction to be imposed upon the employer should be tempered as the dismissal process was, in effect, initiated by an act imputable to the employee.