[Synopsis/Syllabi]

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 108538. January 22, 1996]

LOURDES A. VALMONTE and ALFREDO D. VALMONTE, petitioners, vs. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, THIRD DIVISION and ROSITA DIMALANTA, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

MENDOZA, J.:

Petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte is a foreign resident. The question is whether in an action for partition filed against her and her husband, who is also her attorney, summons intended for her may be served on her husband, who has a law office in the Philippines. The Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 48, said no and refused to declare Lourdes A. Valmonte in default, but the Court of Appeals said yes. Hence this petition for review on certiorari.

The facts of the case are as follows:

Petitioners Lourdes A. Valmonte and Alfredo D. Valmonte are husband and wife. They are both residents of 90222 Carkeek Drive South Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. Petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte, who is a member of the Philippine bar, however, practices his profession in the Philippines, commuting for this purpose between his residence in the state of Washington and Manila, where he holds office at S-304 Gedisco Centre, 1564 A. Mabini, Ermita, Manila.

On March 9, 1992, private respondent Rosita Dimalanta, who is the sister of petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte, filed a complaint for partition of real property and accounting of rentals against petitioners Lourdes A. Valmonte and Alfredo D. Valmonte before the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 48. The subject of the action is a three-door apartment located in Paco, Manila.

In her Complaint, private respondent alleged:

The plaintiff is of legal age, a widow and is at present a resident of 14823 Conway Road, Chesterfield, Missouri, U.S.A., while the defendants are spouses, of legal age and at present residents of 90222 Carkeek Drive, South Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., but, for purposes of this complaint may be served with summons at Gedisco Center, Unit 304, 1564 A. Mabini St., Ermita, Manila where defendant Alfredo D. Valmonte as defendant Lourdes Arreola Valmonte’s spouse holds office and where he can be found.

Apparently, the foregoing averments were made on the basis of a letter previously sent by petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte to private respondent’s counsel

in which, in regard to the partition of the property in question, she referred private respondent’s counsel to her husband as the party to whom all communications intended for her should be sent. The letter reads:

July 4, 1991

Dear Atty. Balgos:

This is in response to your letter, dated 20 June 1991, which I received on 3 July 1991. Please address all communications to my lawyer, Atty. Alfredo D. Valmonte, whose address, telephone and fax numbers appear below.

c/o Prime Marine

Gedisco Center, Unit 304

1564 A. Mabini, Ermita

Metro Manila

Telephone:      521-1736

Fax:       21-2095

Service of summons was then made upon petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte, who at the time, was at his office in Manila. Petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte accepted the summons, insofar as he was concerned, but refused to accept the summons for his wife, Lourdes A. Valmonte, on the ground that he was not authorized to accept the process on her behalf. Accordingly the process server left without leaving a copy of the summons and complaint for petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte.

Petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte thereafter filed his Answer with Counterclaim. Petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte, however, did not file her Answer. For this reason private respondent moved to declare her in default. Petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte entered a special appearance in behalf of his wife and opposed the private respondent’s motion.

In its Order dated July 3, 1992, the trial court, denied private respondent’s motion to declare petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte in default. A motion for reconsideration was similarly denied on September 23, 1992. Whereupon, private respondent filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus with the Court of Appeals.

On December 29, 1992, the Court of Appeals rendered a decision granting the petition and declaring Lourdes A. Valmonte in default. A copy of the appellate court’s decision was received by petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte on January 15, 1993 at his Manila office and on January 21, 1993 in Seattle, Washington. Hence, this petition.

The issue at bar is whether in light of the facts set forth above, petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte was validly served with summons. In holding that she had been, the Court of Appeals stated:[1]

[I]n her above-quoted reply, Mrs. Valmonte clearly and unequivocally directed the aforementioned counsel of Dimalanta to address all communications (evidently referring to her controversy with her sister Mrs. Dimalanta over the Paco property, now the subject of the instant case) to her lawyer who happens also to be her husband. Such directive was made without any qualification just as was her choice/designation of her husband Atty. Valmonte as her lawyer likewise made without any qualification or reservation. Any disclaimer therefore on the part of Atty. Valmonte as to his being his wife’s attorney (at least with regard to the dispute vis-a-vis [sic] the Paco property) would appear to be feeble or trifling, if not incredible.

This view is bolstered by Atty. Valmonte’s subsequent alleged special appearance made on behalf of his wife. Whereas Mrs. Valmonte had manifestly authorized her husband to serve as her lawyer relative to her dispute with her sister over the Paco property and to receive all communications regarding the same and subsequently to appear on her behalf by way of a so-called special appearance, she would nonetheless now insist that the same husband would nonetheless had absolutely no authority to receive summons on her behalf. In effect, she is asserting that representation by her lawyer (who is also her husband) as far as the Paco property controversy is concerned, should only be made by him when such representation would be favorable to her but not otherwise. It would obviously be inequitable for this Court to allow private respondent Lourdes A. Valmonte to hold that her husband has the authority to represent her when an advantage is to be obtained by her and to deny such authority when it would turn out to be her disadvantage. If this be allowed, Our Rules of Court, instead of being an instrument to promote justice would be made use of to thwart or frustrate the same.

       xxx                                  xxx                                  xxx

Turning to another point, it would not do for Us to overlook the fact that the disputed summons was served not upon just an ordinary lawyer of private respondent Lourdes A. Valmonte, but upon her lawyer husband. But that is not all, the same lawyer/husband happens to be also her co-defendant in the instant case which involves real property which, according to her lawyer/husband/ co-defendant, belongs to the conjugal partnership of the defendants (the spouses Valmonte). It is highly inconceivable and certainly it would be contrary to human nature for the lawyer/husband/co-defendant to keep to himself the fact that they (the spouses Valmonte) had been sued with regard to a property which he claims to be conjugal. Parenthetically, there is nothing in the records of the case before Us regarding any manifestation by private respondent Lourdes A. Valmonte about her lack of knowledge about the case instituted against her and her lawyer/husband/co-defendant by her sister Rosita.

PREMISES CONSIDERED, the instant petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus is given due course. This Court hereby Resolves to nullify the orders of the court a quo dated July 3, 1992 and September 23, 1992 and further declares private respondent Lourdes Arreola Valmonte as having been properly served with summons.

Petitioners assail the aforequoted decision, alleging that the Court of Appeals erred (1) in refusing to apply the provisions of Rule 14, § 17 of the Revised Rules of Court and applying instead Rule 14, § 8 when the fact is that petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte is a nonresident defendant; and (2) because even if Rule 14, § 8 is the applicable provision, there was no valid substituted service as there was no strict compliance with the requirement by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint with petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte. Private respondent, upon the other hand, asserts that petitioners are invoking a technicality and that strict adherence to the rules would only result in a useless ceremony.

We hold that there was no valid service of process on Lourdes A. Valmonte.

To provide perspective, it will be helpful to determine first the nature of the action filed against petitioners Lourdes A. Valmonte and Alfredo D. Valmonte by private respondent, whether it is an action in personam, in rem or quasi in rem. This is because the rules on service of summons embodied in Rule 14 apply according to whether an action is one or the other of these actions.

In an action in personam, personal service of summons or, if this is not possible and he cannot be personally served, substituted service, as provided in Rule 14, § 7-8[2] is essential for the acquisition by the court of jurisdiction over the person of a defendant who does not voluntarily submit himself to the authority of the court.[3] If defendant cannot be served with summons because he is temporarily abroad, but otherwise he is a Philippine resident, service of summons may, by leave of court, be made by publication.[4] Otherwise stated, a resident defendant in an action in personam, who cannot be personally served with summons, may be summoned either by means of substituted service in accordance with Rule 14, § 8 or by publication as provided in § 17 and 18 of the same Rule.[5]

In all of these cases, it should be noted, defendant must be a resident of the Philippines, otherwise an action in personam cannot be brought because jurisdiction over his person is essential to make a binding decision.

On the other hand, if the action is in rem or quasi in rem, jurisdiction over the person of the defendant is not essential for giving the court jurisdiction so long as the court acquires jurisdiction over the res. If the defendant is a nonresident and he is not found in the country, summons may be served extraterritorially in accordance with Rule 14, § 17, which provides:

§ 17. Extraterritorial service. - When the defendant does not reside and is not found in the Philippines and the action affects the personal status of the plaintiff or relates to, or the subject of which is, property within the Philippines, in which the defendant has or claims a lien or interest, actual or contingent, or in which the relief demanded consists, wholly or in part, in excluding the defendant from any interest therein, or the property of the defendant has been attached within the Philippines, service may, by leave of court, be effected out of the Philippines by personal service as under Section 7; or by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in such places and for such time as the court may order, in which case a copy of the summons and order of the court shall be sent by registered mail to the last known address of the defendant, or in any other manner the court may deem sufficient. Any order granting such leave shall specify a reasonable time, which shall not be less than sixty (60) days after notice, within which the defendant must answer.

In such cases, what gives the court jurisdiction in an action in rem or quasi in rem is that it has jurisdiction over the res, i.e. the personal status of the plaintiff who is domiciled in the Philippines or the property litigated or attached. Service of summons in the manner provided in § 17 is not for the purpose of vesting it with jurisdiction but for complying with the requirements of fair play or due process, so that he will be informed of the pendency of the action against him and the possibility that property in the Philippines belonging to him or in which he has an interest may be subjected to a judgment in favor of the plaintiff and he can thereby take steps to protect his interest if he is so minded.[6]

Applying the foregoing rules to the case at bar, private respondent’s action, which is for partition and accounting under Rule 69, is in the nature of an action quasi in rem. Such an action is essentially for the purpose of affecting the defendant’s interest in a specific property and not to render a judgment against him. As explained in the leading case of Banco Español Filipino v. Palanca :[7]

[An action quasi in rem is] an action which while not strictly speaking an action in rem partakes of that nature and is substantially such. . . . The action quasi in rem differs from the true action in rem in the circumstance that in the former an individual is named as defendant and the purpose of the proceeding is to subject his interest therein to the obligation or lien burdening the property. All proceedings having for their sole object the sale or other disposition of the property of the defendant, whether by attachment, foreclosure, or other form of remedy, are in a general way thus designated. The judgment entered in these proceedings is conclusive only between the parties.

As petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte is a nonresident who is not found in the Philippines, service of summons on her must be in accordance with Rule 14, § 17. Such service, to be effective outside the Philippines, must be made either (1) by personal service; (2) by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in such places and for such time as the court may order, in which case a copy of the summons and order of the court should be sent by registered mail to the last known address of the defendant; or (3) in any other manner which the court may deem sufficient.

Since in the case at bar, the service of summons upon petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte was not done by means of any of the first two modes, the question is whether the service on her attorney, petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte, can be justified under the third mode, namely, “in any . . . manner the court may deem sufficient.”

We hold it cannot. This mode of service, like the first two, must be made outside the Philippines, such as through the Philippine Embassy in the foreign country where the defendant resides.[8] Moreover, there are several reasons why the service of summons on Atty. Alfredo D. Valmonte cannot be considered a valid service of summons on petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte. In the first place, service of summons on petitioner Alfredo D. Valmonte was not made upon the order of the court as required by Rule 14, § 17 and certainly was not a mode deemed sufficient by the court which in fact refused to consider the service to be valid and on that basis declare petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte in default for her failure to file an answer.

In the second place, service in the attempted manner on petitioner was not made upon prior leave of the trial court as required also in Rule 14, § 17. As provided in § 19, such leave must be applied for by motion in writing, supported by affidavit of the plaintiff or some person on his behalf and setting forth the grounds for the application.

Finally, and most importantly, because there was no order granting such leave, petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte was not given ample time to file her Answer which, according to the rules, shall be not less than sixty (60) days after notice. It must be noted that the period to file an Answer in an action against a resident defendant differs from the period given in an action filed against a nonresident defendant who is not found in the Philippines. In the former, the period is fifteen (15) days from service of summons, while in the latter, it is at least sixty (60) days from notice.

Strict compliance with these requirements alone can assure observance of due process. That is why in one case,[9] although the Court considered publication in the Philippines of the summons (against the contention that it should be made in the foreign state where defendant was residing) sufficient, nonetheless the service was considered insufficient because no copy of the summons was sent to the last known correct address in the Philippines.

Private respondent cites the ruling in De Leon v. Hontanosas, 67 SCRA 458,462-463 (1975), in which it was held that service of summons upon the defendant’s husband was binding on her. But  the ruling in that case is justified because summons were served upon defendant’s husband in their conjugal home in Cebu City and the wife was only temporarily absent, having gone to Dumaguete City for a vacation. The action was for collection of a sum of money. In accordance with Rule 14, § 8, substituted service could be made on any person of sufficient discretion in the dwelling place of the defendant, and certainly defendant’s husband, who was there, was competent to receive the summons on her behalf. In any event, it appears that defendant in that case submitted to the jurisdiction of the court by instructing her husband to move for the dissolution of the writ of attachment issued in that case.

On the other hand, in the case of Gemperle v. Schenker,[10] it was held that service on the wife of a nonresident defendant was found sufficient because the defendant had appointed his wife as his attorney-in-fact. It was held that although defendant Paul Schenker was a Swiss citizen and resident of Switzerland, service of summons upon his wife Helen Schenker who was in the Philippines was sufficient because she was her husband’s representative and attorney-in-fact in a civil case, which he had earlier filed against William Gemperle. In fact Gemperle’s action was for damages arising from allegedly derogatory statements contained in the complaint filed in the first case. As this Court said, “i]n other words, Mrs. Schenker had authority to sue, and had actually sued, on behalf of her husband, so that she was, also, empowered to represent him in suits filed against him, particularly in a case, like the one at bar, which is a consequence of the action brought by her on his behalf.”[11] Indeed, if instead of filing an independent action Gemperle filed a counterclaim in the action brought by Mr. Schenker against him, there would have been no doubt that the trial court could have acquired jurisdiction over Mr. Schenker through his agent and attorney-in-fact, Mrs. Schenker.

In contrast, in the case at bar, petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte did not appoint her husband as her attorney-in-fact. Although she wrote private respondent’ s attorney that “all communications” intended for her should be addressed to her husband who is also her lawyer at the latter’s address in Manila, no power of attorney to receive summons for her can be inferred therefrom. In fact the letter was written seven months before the filing of this case below, and it appears that it was written in connection with the negotiations between her and her sister, respondent Rosita Dimalanta, concerning the partition of the property in question. As is usual in negotiations of this kind, the exchange of correspondence was carried on by counsel for the parties. But the authority given to petitioner’s husband in these negotiations certainly cannot be construed as also including an authority to represent her in any litigation.

For the foregoing reasons, we hold that there was no valid service on petitioner Lourdes A. Valmonte in this case.

WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from is REVERSED and the orders dated July 3, 1992 and September 23, 1992 of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 48 are REINSTATED.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado (Chairman), Romero, and Puno, JJ., concur.



[1] Per Serafin Guingona, J., with whom Santiago Kapunan (now member of the Supreme Court) and Oscar Herrera, JJ., concurred.

[2]  Rule 14, § 7 provides: “Personal service of summons. - The summons shall be served by handing a copy thereof to the defendant in person, or if, he refuses to receive it, by tendering it to him.”

Rule 14, § 8 provides: “Substituted service. - If the defendant cannot be served within a reasonable time as provided in the preceding section, service may be effected (a) by leaving copies of the summons at the defendant’s dwelling house or residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or (b) by leaving the copies at defendant’s office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.”

[3] Venturanza v. Court of Appeals, 156 SCRA 305, 312 (1987), citing Pantaleon v. Assuncion, 105  Phil. 761; Sequito v. Letrondo, 10 Phil. 1134.

[4] Rule 14, § 18 provides: “Residents temporarily out of the Philippines. - When an action is commenced against a defendant who ordinarily resides within the Philippines, but who is temporarily out of it, service may, by leave of court, be effected out of the Philippines, as under the preceding section.”

[5] See Montalban v. Maximo, 22 SCRA 1070 (1968).

[6]  Banco Espafiol-Filipino Palanca, 37 Phil. 921 (1918); Perkins v. Dizon, 69 Phil. 186 (1939); Sahagun v. Court of Appeals 193 SCRA 44 (1991).

[7]  37 Phil. 921, 928 (1918). See also Perkins v. Dizon, 69 Phil. 186, 192 (1939).

[8] E.g., De Midgely v. Ferrandos, 64 SCRA 23 (1975).

[9] Sahagun v. Court of Appeals, 198 SCRA 44 (1991). Compare the strict observance of rule required for substituted service under Rule 14, § 8 in Keister v. Navarro, 77 SCRA 215 (1977).

[10]  125 Phil. 458(1967).

[11] Id., at 47.