Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jurisdiction over actions involving title to, possession of, real property, or any interest therein.


Prior to enactment of R.A. 7691 expanding the jurisdiction of MTCs, there were no issues on jurisdiction over cases involving title to, possession of, real property, or any interest therein.
The original text of Section 19(2) of B.P. 129 as well as its forerunner, Section 44(b) of R.A. 296,47 as amended, gave the RTCs (formerly courts of first instance) exclusive original jurisdiction "[i]n all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein, except actions for forcible entry into and unlawful detainer of lands or buildings, original jurisdiction over which is conferred upon Metropolitan Trial Courts, [MTCs], and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (conferred upon the city and municipal courts under R.A. 296, as amended).
"Thus, under the old law, there was no substantial effect on jurisdiction whether a case is one, the subject matter of which was incapable of pecuniary estimation, under Section 19(1) of B.P. 129 or one involving title to property under Section 19(2). The distinction between the two classes became crucial with the amendment introduced by R.A. No. 769148 in 1994 which expanded the exclusive original jurisdiction of the first level courts to include "all civil actions which involve title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest therein does not exceed Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorney's fees, litigation expenses and costs."
Thus, under the present law, original jurisdiction over cases the subject matter of which involves "title to, possession of, real property or any interest therein" under Section 19(2) of B.P. 129 is divided between the first and second level courts, with the assessed value of the real property involved as the benchmark. This amendment was introduced to "unclog the overloaded dockets of the RTCs which would result in the speedier administration of justice."49
In the case below, the Court is called upon via Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court to pass upon the issue of jurisdiction over an action for reconveyance. Petitioner believes that a cause of action for reconveyance is embraced in the classification of cases considered “involving title to, possession of, real property, or any interest therein xxx.
Respondents, on the other hand, contend that the action is more akin to cases the subject matter of which is incapable of pecuniary estimation, hence, RTC has exclusive original jurisdiction. Further, Respondents aver that because Petitioners pray for recovery of the value of the felled trees, the value should likewise, therefore, be included and the totality of the amount should thus be made the basis in determining jurisdiction, and because the value of the lot in question plus the value of the felled trees combined exceeds twenty thousand pesos, jurisdictions vests in the RTC.
The Court’s ruling.
            Jurisdiction over the subject matter is the power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong.28 It is conferred by law and an objection based on this ground cannot be waived by the parties.29 To determine whether a court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case, it is important to determine the nature of the cause of action and of the relief sought.30
The trial court correctly held that the instant cases involve actions for reconveyance.31 An action for reconveyance respects the decree of registration as incontrovertible but seeks the transfer of property, which has been wrongfully or erroneously registered in other persons' names, to its rightful and legal owners, or to those who claim to have a better right.32 There is no special ground for an action for reconveyance. It is enough that the aggrieved party has a legal claim on the property superior to that of the registered owner33 and that the property has not yet passed to the hands of an innocent purchaser for value.34 (italics added)
The reliefs sought by the petitioners in the instant cases typify an action for reconveyance. The following are also the common allegations in the three complaints that are sufficient to constitute causes of action for reconveyance, viz:
(a) That plaintiff Valeriano S. Concha, Sr. together with his spouse Dorotea Concha have painstakingly preserve[d] the forest standing in the area [of their 24-hectare homestead] including the four hectares untitled forest land located at the eastern portion of the forest from 1931 when they were newly married, the date they acquired this property by occupation or possession;35
(b) That spouses Valeriano S. Concha Sr. and Dorotea P. Concha have preserved the forest trees standing in [these parcels] of land to the exclusion of the defendants Lomocsos or other persons from 1931 up to November 12, 1996 [for Civil Case No. 5188] and January 1997 [for Civil Case Nos. 5433 and 5434] when defendants[,] by force, intimidation, [and] stealth[,] forcibly entered the premises, illegal[ly] cut, collected, disposed a total of [twenty-one (21) trees for Civil Case No. 5188, twenty-two (22) trees for Civil Case No. 5433 and six (6) trees for Civil Case No. 5434] of various sizes;36
(c) That this claim is an assertion that the land is private land or that even assuming it was part of the public domain, plaintiff had already acquired imperfect title thereto under Sec. 48(b) of [C.A.] No. 141[,] otherwise known as the Public Land Act[,] as amended by [R.A.] No. [7691];37
(d) That [respondents and their predecessors-in-interest knew when they] surreptitiously filed38 [their respective patent applications and were issued their respective] free patents and original certificates of title [that the subject lots belonged to the petitioners];39
(e) [That respondents' free patents and the corresponding original certificates of titles were issued] on account of fraud, deceit, bad faith and misrepresentation;40 and
(f) The land in question has not been transferred to an innocent purchaser.41
These cases may also be considered as actions to remove cloud on one's title as they are intended to procure the cancellation of an instrument constituting a claim on petitioners' alleged title which was used to injure or vex them in the enjoyment of their alleged title.42
Being in the nature of actions for reconveyance or actions to remove cloud on one's title, the applicable law to determine which court has jurisdiction is Section 19(2) of B.P. 129, as amended by R.A. No. 7691, viz:
Section 19. Jurisdiction in Civil Cases.-- Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction: x x x
(2) In all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein, where the assessed value of the property involved exceeds Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or for civil actions in Metro Manila, where such value exceeds Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) except actions for forcible entry into and unlawful detainer of lands or buildings, original jurisdiction over which is conferred upon the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts;
x x x.
In the cases at bar, it is undisputed that the subject lots are situated in Cogon, Dipolog City and their assessed values are less than P20,000.00, to wit:
Civil Case
No. Lot No.
Assessed Value
5188
6195
P1,030.00
5433
6196-A
4,500.00
5434
6196-B
4,340.00
7529-A
1,880.00.43
Hence, the MTC clearly has jurisdiction over the instant cases.
 
On Respondent’s contention that the issue in this case is one which is incapable of pecuniary estimation, the Court explains:
Petitioners' contention that this case is one that is incapable of pecuniary estimation under the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC pursuant to Section 19(1) of B.P. 129 is erroneous.
In a number of cases, we have held that actions for reconveyance44 of or for cancellation of title45 to or to quiet title46 over real property are actions that fall under the classification of cases that involve "title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein."
The original text of Section 19(2) of B.P. 129 as well as its forerunner, Section 44(b) of R.A. 296,47 as amended, gave the RTCs (formerly courts of first instance) exclusive original jurisdiction "[i]n all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein, except actions for forcible entry into and unlawful detainer of lands or buildings, original jurisdiction over which is conferred upon Metropolitan Trial Courts, [MTCs], and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (conferred upon the city and municipal courts under R.A. 296, as amended)." Thus, under the old law, there was no substantial effect on jurisdiction whether a case is one, the subject matter of which was incapable of pecuniary estimation, under Section 19(1) of B.P. 129 or one involving title to property under Section 19(2). The distinction between the two classes became crucial with the amendment introduced by R.A. No. 769148 in 1994 which expanded the exclusive original jurisdiction of the first level courts to include "all civil actions which involve title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest therein does not exceed Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorney's fees, litigation expenses and costs." Thus, under the present law, original jurisdiction over cases the subject matter of which involves "title to, possession of, real property or any interest therein" under Section 19(2) of B.P. 129 is divided between the first and second level courts, with the assessed value of the real property involved as the benchmark. This amendment was introduced to "unclog the overloaded dockets of the RTCs which would result in the speedier administration of justice."49
The cases of Raymundo v. CA50 and Commodities Storage and ICE Plant Corporation v. CA,51 relied upon by the petitioners, are inapplicable to the cases at bar. Raymundo involved a complaint for mandatory injunction, not one for reconveyance or annulment of title. The bone of contention was whether the case was incapable of pecuniary estimation considering petitioner's contention that the pecuniary claim of the complaint was only attorney's fees of P10,000, hence, the MTC had jurisdiction. The Court defined the criterion for determining whether an action is one that is incapable of pecuniary estimation and held that the issue of whether petitioner violated the provisions of the Master Deed and Declaration of Restriction of the Corporation is one that is incapable of pecuniary estimation. The claim for attorney's fees was merely incidental to the principal action, hence, said amount was not determinative of the court's jurisdiction. Nor can Commodities Storage and ICE Plant Corporation provide any comfort to petitioners for the issue resolved by the Court in said case was venue and not jurisdiction. The action therein was for damages, accounting and fixing of redemption period which was filed on October 28, 1994, before the passage of R.A. No. 7691. In resolving the issue of venue, the Court held that "[w]here the action affects title to property, it should be instituted in the [RTC] where the property is situated. The Sta. Maria Ice Plant & Cold Storage is located in Sta. Maria, Bulacan. The venue in Civil Case No. 94-727076 was therefore improperly laid."
Worse, the cases of Swan v. CA52 and Santos v. CA53 cited by the petitioners, contradict their own position that the nature of the instant cases falls under Section 19(1) of B.P. 129. The complaints in Swan and Santos were filed prior to the enactment of R.A. No. 7691. In Swan, the Court held that the action being one for annulment of title, the RTC had original jurisdiction under Section 19(2) of B.P. 129. In Santos, the Court similarly held that the complaint for cancellation of title, reversion and damages is also one that involves title to and possession of real property under Section 19(2) of B.P. 129. Thus, while the Court held that the RTC had jurisdiction, the Court classified actions for "annulment of title" and "cancellation of title, reversion and damages" as civil actions that involve "title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein" under Section 19(2) of B.P. 129.
Petitioners' contention that the value of the trees cut in the subject properties constitutes "any interest therein (in the subject properties)" that should be computed in addition to the respective assessed values of the subject properties is unavailing. Section 19(2) of B.P. 129, as amended by R.A. No. 7691, is clear that the RTC shall exercise jurisdiction "in all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein, where the assessed value of the property involved exceeds Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or for civil actions in Metro Manila, where such value exceeds Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00)." It is true that the recovery of the value of the trees cut from the subject properties may be included in the term "any interest therein." However, the law is emphatic that in determining which court has jurisdiction, it is only the assessed value of the realty involved that should be computed.54 In this case, there is no dispute that the assessed values of the subject properties as shown by their tax declarations are less than P20,000.00. Clearly, jurisdiction over the instant cases belongs not to the RTC but to the MTC.
Heirs of Valeriano S. Concha, Sr. Namely: Teresita Concha-Paran, Valeriano P. Concha, Jr., et al. vs. Spouses Gregorio J. Lumocso1, et al., G.R. No. 158121 December 12, 2007
Read the full text of the case here.
 

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