Green Star Express, Inc. and Fruto Sayson, Jr., vs. Nissin-Universal Robina Corporation (G.R. No. 181517)

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It is a well-established rule that the rules on service of summons upon a domestic private juridical entity must be strictly complied with. Otherwise, the court cannot be said to have acquired jurisdiction over the person of the defendant.

Notably, under the new Rules, service of summons upon an agent of the corporation is no longer authorized… It has now become restricted, limited, and exclusive only to the persons enumerated in the aforementioned provision, following the rule in statutory construction that the express mention of one person excludes all others, or expression unions est exclusion alterius. Service must, therefore, be made only on the person expressly listed in the rules.

 

FACTS:

Nissin Universal Robina Corporation’s (NURC’s) van figured an accident with Green Star, Inc.’s (Green Star’s) bus, which was at the time driven by Fruto Sayson Jr. The accident resulted to the death of NURC’s driver. Consequently, Sayson was charged with the crime of reckless imprudence resulting to homicide, which was subsequently dismissed without prejudice due to insufficiency of evidence. Thereafter, Sayson and Green Star filed a complaint for damages against NURC before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of San Pedro, Laguna. Francis Tinio, NURC’s cost accountant, was the one who received the summons. Then, NURC filed a Motion to Dismiss claiming lack of jurisdiction due to improper service. Nonetheless, the RTC issued a resolution denying NURC’s Motion to Dismiss. It ruled that there was substantial compliance because there was actual receipt of the summons by NURC. Thereafter, NURC filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which was subsequently denied by the trial court. This prompted NURC to elevate the case to the Court of Appeals (CA).

At the CA level, NURC maintains that the RTC did not acquire jurisdiction over it as the summons was received by its cost accountant, Francis Tinio. It argues that under Section 11, Rule 14 of the 1997 Rules of Court, which provides the rule on service of summons upon a juridical entity, in cases where the defendant is a domestic corporation like NURC, summons may be served only through its officers. For their part, Green Star and Sayson argues that Tinio received the summons upon the instruction of NURC’s general manager, Junadette Avedillo. Green Star then presented an affidavit allegedly executed by the sheriff who served the summons upon NURC. In said affidavit, it was alleged that NURC’s general manager, Avedillo, instructed Francis Tinio to receive the summons in her behalf. However, such affidavit was never presented as evidence during the hearing of NURC’s Motion to Dismiss. Neither was the sheriff who executed the same presented as witness therein. In turn, the appellate court reversed the RTC’s resolution. Undaunted, Green Star and Sayson filed their Motion for Reconsideration, but the same was denied by the appellate court.

Aggrieved, they filed a Petition for Review (under Rule 45) before the Supreme Court.

ISSUE:

Was the summons properly served upon NURC sufficient for the trial court to acquire jurisdiction over it?

RULING:

No. The trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over NURC because the summons that was served upon it was received by a cost accountant, an ordinary employee of the NURC, which is not among those specifically mentioned by Section 11, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court.

Section 11, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court provides, thus:

“Section 11. Service upon domestic private juridical entity. – When the defendant is a corporation, partnership or association organized under the laws of the Philippines with a juridical personality, service may be made on the president, managing partner, general manager, corporate secretary, treasurer, or in-house counsel.(Emphasis supplied by herein writer.)

The Supreme Court ruled, to wit:

In the past, the Court upheld service of summons upon a construction project manager, a corporation’s assistant manager, and ordinary clerk of a corporation, private secretary of corporate executives, retained counsel, and officials who had control over the operations of the corporation like the assistant general manager or the corporation’s Chief Finance and Administrative Officer. The Court then considered said persons as “agent” within the contemplation of the old rule. Notably, under the new Rules, service of summons upon an agent of the corporation is no longer authorized. The rule now likewise states “general manager” instead of “manager”; “corporate secretary” instead of merely “secretary”; and “treasure” instead of “cashier.” It has now become restricted, limited, and exclusive only to the persons enumerated in the aforementioned provision, following the rule in statutory construction that the express mention of one person excludes all others, or expression unions est exclusion alterius. Service must, therefore, be made only on the person expressly listed in the rules. If the revision committee intended to liberalize the rule on service of summons, it could have easily done so by clear and concise language.12

Here, Tinio, a, member of NURC’s accounting staff, received the summons on January 22, 2004. Green star claims that it was received upon instruction of Junadette Avedillo. The general manager of the corporation. Such fact, however, does not appear in the Sheriff’s Return. The Return did not even state whether Avedillo was present at the time the summons was received by Tinio, the supposed assistant manager. Green Star further avers that the sheriff tendered the summons, but Avedillo simply refused to sign and receive the same. She then allegedly instructed Tinio to just receive it in her behalf. However, Green Star never presented said sheriff as witness during the hearing of NURC’s motion to dismiss to attest to said claim. And while the sheriff executed an affidavit which appears to support such allegation, the same was likewise not presented as evidence. It was only when the case was already before the CA that said affidavit first surfaced. Since the service of summons was made on a cost accountant, which is not one of the designated persons under Section 11 of Rule 14, the trial court did not validly acquire jurisdiction over NURC although the corporation may have actually received the summons. To rule otherwise will be an outright circumvention of the rules, aggravating further the delay in the administration of justice.

At this juncture, it is worth emphasizing that notice to enable the other party to be heard and to present evidence is not a mere technicality or a trivial matter in any administrative or judicial proceedings. The service of summons is a vital and indispensable ingredient of due process. Corporations would be easily deprived of their right to present their defense in a multi-million peso suit, if the Court would disregard the mandate of the Rules on the service of summons.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Court of Appeals Decision dated September 17, 2007 and Resolution dated January 22, 2008 in CA-G.R. SP No. 86824 are hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

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