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Pinga v. Heirs of Santiago, et.

al
Tinga, J.
June 30, 2006
GR no. 170354
The present rule embodied in Sections 2 and 3 of Rule 17 ordains a more equitable disposition of the counterclaims by
Doctrine
ensuring that any judgment thereon is based on the merit of the counterclaim itself and not on the survival of the main
complaint. Certainly, if the counterclaim is palpably without merit or suffers jurisdictional flaws which stand independent
of the complaint, the trial court is not precluded from dismissing it under the amended rules, provided that the judgment or
order dismissing the counterclaim is premised on those defects. At the same time, if the counterclaim is justified, the
amended rules now unequivocally protect such counterclaim from peremptory dismissal by reason of the dismissal of the
complaint.

Summary

Facts

Petitioner, the defendant in an injunction case filed by respondent, filed a counterclaim against the latter.
However, respondents complaint was dismissed for failure to prosecute and subsequently, upon his
(respondents) MR, petitioners counterclaim was dismissed by the court on the ground that he (petitioner)
didnt oppose the MR filed by respondent. The Court ruled that the RTC erred in dismissing the counterclaim
without passing upon the merits. It held that the dismissal of a complaint does not automatically carry with it the
dismissal of the counterclaim, regardless of its nature.
- Complaint for injunction Respondent sued petitioner (and co-defendant Vicente Saavedra) and in their
complaint, the former sought that the latter be enjoined from unlawfully entering their coco lands and harvesting
its fruits. They also sought damages.
-Amended Answer with Counterclaim Petitioner disputed respondents ownership over the parcel of land,
alleging that his (petitioners) had been in possession of the same since the 1930s; that respondent had already
been ordered to be ejected from the property pursuant to a forcible entry case; that respondents application for
free patent was rejected, among others.
- Defendants in turn prayed that, owing to respondents forcible re-entry in the properties and the irresponsible
and reckless filing of the case, for various types of damages totalingP2,100,000 plus costs of suit.
-Respondents complaint was dismissed Respondents counsel failed to appear, sending in his stead a
representative, who sought the hearings reinstatement, but the petitioners counsel opposed this and prayed for
the dismissal of the case. RTC granted it and allowed the petitioners to present their evidence ex parte.

Ratio/
Issues

The RTC took note of the fact that respondents failed to prosecute the case for an unreasonable length of time and
that they havent presented their evidence yet. Previously, the RTC had already dismissed their complaint after
they tried to ask for the hearings postponement, but this decision was reconsidered by the court upon their
counsels promise that he would prioritize the case.

-Respondents MR (asked for counterclaim to be dismissed) They didnt want the case to be reinstated, but
prayed for the entire action to be dismissed and for the petitioner to be disallowed from presenting evidence ex
parte (in relation to the claim for damages); cited cases wherein it was held that a counterclaim could not remain
pending for adjudication independently of plaintiffs cause of action.
-RTC granted MR (counterclaim dismissed) Ground: petitioner didnt file an opposition to respondents
MR.
-Thus, the instant Rule 45 petition before the SC, raising pure questions of law.
1. Whether the dismissal of the complaint necessarily carries the dismissal of the compulsory
counterclaim (NO)
COURT: a) Under Section 3, Rule 17 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, the dismissal of the complaint due
to the fault of plaintiff does not necessarily carry with it the dismissal of the counterclaim, compulsory or
otherwise. In fact, the dismissal of the complaint is without prejudice to the right of defendants to prosecute the
counterclaim.
b) Why was the RTC wrong? Its explanation is hollow, considering that there is no mandatory rule requiring that
an opposition be filed to a motion for reconsideration without need for a court order to that effect. Also, the
failure to file an opposition to the Plaintiffs Motion for Reconsideration is not one among the established
grounds for dismissal of the counterclaim.
c) Still, it is a debatable question on whether the dismissal of the complaint, upon motion of the defendant, on
the ground of the failure to prosecute on plaintiffs (respondents) part precipitates or carries with it the

dismissal of the pending counterclaims. It arose as a result of the old rule which was silent on the effect of such
dismissal due to failure to prosecute on the pending counterclaims. 1
d) Is it a permissive or compulsory counterclaim? On the general effect of the dismissal of a complaint,
regardless of cause, on the pending counterclaims, previous jurisprudence laid emphasis on whether the
counterclaim was compulsory or permissive in character under the 1964 Rules of Civil Procedure.
Sec.2, Rule 17 it states that in instances wherein the plaintiff seeks the dismissal of the complaint, if a
counterclaim has been pleaded by a defendant prior to the service upon him of the plaintiffs motion to
dismiss, the action shall not be dismissed against the defendants objection unless the
counterclaim can remain pending for independent adjudication by the court.
Commenting on the provision, Chief Justice Moran said that there are instances in which a
counterclaim cannot remain pending for independent adjudication, as, where it arises out of, or is
necessarily connected with, the transaction or occurrence which is the subject matter of the opposing
partys claim
It is only in Sec. 2 that the qualification concerning compulsory counterclaims was provided.
Sec. 3, Rule 17 it covers dismissals for failure to prosecute upon motion of the defendant or upon
motu proprio action of the trial court. Said provision was silent on the effect on the counterclaim of
dismissals of such nature.
This gap was filled in by jurisprudence. Citing the case, Sps. Sta. Maria v. CA, the Court stated that the
doctrine that the complaint may not be dismissed if the counterclaim cannot be independently
adjudicated is not available to, and was not intended for the benefit of, a plaintiff who prevents or
delays the prosecution of his own complaint.
e) During the 90s, jurisprudence has begun to lay down the doctrine that compulsory counterclaims are
terminated upon the dismissal of the complaint not only if such dismissal was upon motion of the plaintiff, but
at the instance of the defendant.
Of significance were the three cases, one of which was BA Finance, wherein it reiterated the rule that a
compulsory counterclaim cannot remain pending for independent adjudication by the court as it is
auxiliary to the proceeding in the original suit and merely derives its jurisdictional support therefrom.
In effect, the compulsory counterclaim was necessarily dismissed along with the main complaint.
Justice JBL Reyes and CJ Narvasa dissented, however, and said that dismissal of the complaint
occasioned by plaintiffs failure to appear during pre-trial was governed under Section 3, Rule 17, and
not Section 2.
The distinction is important. The dismissal of the complaint under Section 2 is at the instance of
plaintiff, for whatever reason he is minded to move for such dismissal, and, as a matter of procedure, is
without prejudice unless otherwise stated in the order of the court.
Whereas, under Section 3, the dismissal is not procured by plaintiff, albeit justified by causes imputable
to him and which was petitioner's failure to appear at the pre-trial. This situation is also covered by
Section 3, as extended by judicial interpretation, and is ordered upon motion of defendant or motu
proprio by the court. Here, the issue of whether defendant has a pending counterclaim, permissive or
compulsory, is not of determinative significance.
f) Thus, it was Justice JBL who proposed the amendment in Sec. 3, Rule 17, providing that the dismissal of the
complaint due to the fault of the plaintiff shall be without prejudice to the right of the defendant to prosecute his
counterclaim in the same or in a separate action. Also, the doctrine held in the previously cited cases has now
been abandoned.
g) At present, even Section 2, concerning dismissals on motion of the plaintiff, now recognizes the right of the
defendant to prosecute the counterclaim either in the same or separate action notwithstanding the dismissal of
the complaint, and without regard as to the permissive or compulsory nature of the counterclaim.
h) As applied in the present case, the RTC clearly erred when it ordered the dismissal of the counterclaim in the
1

Held

light of Section 3, Rule 17. If the RTC were to dismiss the counterclaim, it should be on the merits of such
counterclaim. Reversal of the RTC is in order, and a remand is necessary for trial on the merits of the
counterclaim.
i) However, the distinction between a compulsory and permissive counterclaim is still relevant, notwithstanding
that whatever its nature, it bears the same integral characteristics of a complaint.
J) It would follow that if the dismissal of the complaint somehow eliminates the cause(s) of the counterclaim,
then the counterclaim cannot survive, but it cannot be held as a general rule. More often than not, the allegations
that form the counterclaim are rooted in an act or omission of the plaintiff other than the plaintiffs very act of
filing the complaint. The only apparent exception to this circumstance is if it is alleged in the counterclaim that
the very act of the plaintiff in filing the complaint precisely causes the violation of the defendants rights. Yet
even in such an instance, it remains debatable whether the dismissal or withdrawal of the complaint is sufficient
to obviate the defendants counterclaim. (See doctrine)
Petition granted

Prepared by: Eunice V Guadalope [CivPro|Prof. Cruz]