SPS. GONZAGA vs. COURT OF APPEALS, G.R. No. 144025, December 27, 2002

Facts:
Sometime in 1970, petitioner-spouses purchased a parcel of land from private respondent Lucky Homes, Inc., Said lot was specifically denominated as Lot No. 19 and was mortgaged to the Social Security System (SSS) as security for their housing loan. Petitioners then started the construction of their house, not on Lot No. 19 but on Lot No. 18, as private respondent mistakenly identified Lot No. 18 as Lot No. 19. Upon realizing its error, private respondent, through its general manager, informed petitioners of such mistake but the latter offered to buy Lot No. 18 in order to widen their premises. Thus, petitioners continued with the construction of their house. However, petitioners defaulted in the payment of their housing loan from SSS. Consequently, Lot No. 19 was foreclosed by SSS and petitioners’ certificate of title was cancelled and a new one was issued in the name of SSS. After Lot No. 19 was foreclosed, petitioners offered to swap Lot Nos. 18 and 19 and demanded from private respondent that their contract of sale be reformed and another deed of sale be executed with respect to Lot No. 18, considering that their house was built therein. However, private respondent refused. This prompted petitioners to file, on June 13, 1996, an action for reformation of contract and damages with the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo City.

The trial court rendered its decision dismissing the complaint for lack of merit and ordering herein petitioners to pay private respondent the amount of P10,000 as moral damages and another P10,000 as attorney’s fees.

On June 22, 1998, a writ of execution was issued by the trial court. Thus, on September 17, 1998, petitioners filed an urgent motion to recall writ of execution, alleging that the court a quo had no jurisdiction to try the case as it was vested in the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) pursuant to PD 957 (The Subdivision and Condominium Buyers Protective Decree). Conformably, petitioners filed a new complaint against private respondent with the HLURB. Likewise, on June 30, 1999, petitioner-spouses filed before the Court of Appeals a petition for annulment of judgment, premised on the ground that the trial court had no jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeals denied the petition for annulment of judgment, relying mainly on the jurisprudential doctrine of estoppel. Their subsequent motion for reconsideration having been denied, petitioners filed this instant petition, contending that the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing the petition by applying the principle of estoppel, even if the Regional Trial Court had no jurisdiction.

Issue:
Whether the Petitioner is estopped in questioning the jurisdiction of the Trial Court after invoking its jurisdiction in the complaint?

Held:
Yes, A party may be estopped or barred from raising a question in different ways and for different reasons. Thus we speak of estoppel in pais, or estoppel by deed or by record, and of estoppel by laches. It has been held that a party cannot invoke the jurisdiction of a court to secure affirmative relief against his opponent and, after obtaining or failing to obtain such relief, repudiate, or question that same jurisdiction. The question whether the court had jurisdiction either of the subject matter of the action or of the parties was not important in such cases because the party is barred from such conduct not because the judgment or order of the court is valid and conclusive as an adjudication, but for the reason that such a practice cannot be tolerated –– obviously for reasons of public policy.

In the case at bar, it was petitioners themselves who invoked the jurisdiction of the court a quo by instituting an action for reformation of contract against private respondents. It appears that, in the proceedings before the trial court, petitioners vigorously asserted their cause from start to finish. Not even once did petitioners ever raise the issue of the court’s jurisdiction during the entire proceedings which lasted for two years. It was only after the trial court rendered its decision and issued a writ of execution against them in 1998 did petitioners first raise the issue of jurisdiction ─ and it was only because said decision was unfavorable to them. Petitioners thus effectively waived their right to question the court’s jurisdiction over the case they themselves filed.

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