in personam

Macasaet vs Co (G.R. No. 156759 June 5, 2013)

Macasaet etal vs Co
G.R. No. 156759 June 5, 2013

Facts: On July 3, 2000, respondent, a retired police officer assigned at the Western Police District in Manila, sued Abante Tonite, a daily tabloid of general circulation; its Publisher Allen A. Macasaet; its Managing Director Nicolas V. Quijano; its Circulation Manager Isaias Albano; its Editors Janet Bay, Jesus R. Galang and Randy Hagos; and its Columnist/Reporter Lily Reyes (petitioners), claiming damages because of an allegedly libelous article petitioners published in the June 6, 2000 issue of Abante Tonite. The suit, docketed as Civil Case No. 0097907, was raffled to Branch 51 of the RTC, which in due course issued summons to be served on each defendant, including Abante Tonite, at their business address at Monica Publishing Corporation, 301-305 3rd Floor, BF Condominium Building, Solana Street corner A. Soriano Street, Intramuros, Manila. In the morning of September 18, 2000, RTC Sheriff Raul Medina proceeded to the stated address to effect the personal service of the summons on the defendants. But his efforts to personally serve each defendant in the address were futile because the defendants were then out of the office and unavailable. He returned in the afternoon of that day to make a second attempt at serving the summons, but he was informed that petitioners were still out of the office. He decided to resort to substituted service of the summons, and explained why in his sheriff’s return dated September 22, 2005.

Issue: Whether or not jurisdiction over the petitioners have been acquired.

Held: Yes. Jurisdiction over the person, or jurisdiction in personam –the power of the court to render a personal judgment or to subject the parties in a particular action to the judgment and other rulings rendered in the action – is an element of due process that is essential in all actions, civil as well as criminal, except in actions in rem or quasi in rem. Jurisdiction over the defendant in an action in rem or quasi in rem is not required, and the court acquires jurisdiction over an action as long as it acquires jurisdiction over the res that is the subject matter of the action. The purpose of summons in such action is not the acquisition of jurisdiction over the defendant but mainly to satisfy the constitutional requirement of due process.

The distinctions that need to be perceived between an action in personam, on the one hand, and an action in rem or quasi in rem, on the other hand, are aptly delineated in Domagas v. Jensen, thusly:

The settled rule is that the aim and object of an action determine its character. Whether a proceeding is in rem, or in personam, or quasi in rem for that matter, is determined by its nature and purpose, and by these only. A proceeding in personam is a proceeding to enforce personal rights and obligations brought against the person and is based on the jurisdiction of the person, although it may involve his right to, or the exercise of ownership of, specific property, or seek to compel him to control or dispose of it in accordance with the mandate of the court. The purpose of a proceeding in personam is to impose, through the judgment of a court, some responsibility or liability directly upon the person of the defendant. Of this character are suits to compel a defendant to specifically perform some act or actions to fasten a pecuniary liability on him. An action in personam is said to be one which has for its object a judgment against the person, as distinguished from a judgment against the property to determine its state. It has been held that an action in personam is a proceeding to enforce personal rights or obligations; such action is brought against the person. As far as suits for injunctive relief are concerned, it is well-settled that it is an injunctive act in personam. In Combs v. Combs, the appellate court held that proceedings to enforce personal rights and obligations and in which personal judgments are rendered adjusting the rights and obligations between the affected parties is in personam. Actions for recovery of real property are in personam.

On the other hand, a proceeding quasi in rem is one brought against persons seeking to subject the property of such persons to the discharge of the claims assailed. In an action quasi in rem, an individual is named as defendant and the purpose of the proceeding is to subject his interests therein to the obligation or loan burdening the property. Actions quasi in rem deal with the status, ownership or liability of a particular property but which are intended to operate on these questions only as between the particular parties to the proceedings and not to ascertain or cut off the rights or interests of all possible claimants. The judgments therein are binding only upon the parties who joined in the action.

As a rule, Philippine courts cannot try any case against a defendant who does not reside and is not found in the Philippines because of the impossibility of acquiring jurisdiction over his person unless he voluntarily appears in court; but when the case is an action in rem or quasi in rem enumerated in Section 15, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court, Philippine courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide the case because they have jurisdiction over the res, and jurisdiction over the person of the non-resident defendant is not essential. In the latter instance, extraterritorial service of summons can be made upon the defendant, and such extraterritorial service of summons is not for the purpose of vesting the court with jurisdiction, but for the purpose of complying with the requirements of fair play or due process, so that the defendant 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. On the other hand, when the defendant in an action in personam does not reside and is not found in the Philippines, our courts cannot try the case against him because of the impossibility of acquiring jurisdiction over his person unless he voluntarily appears in court.

As the initiating party, the plaintiff in a civil action voluntarily submits himself to the jurisdiction of the court by the act of filing the initiatory pleading. As to the defendant, the court acquires jurisdiction over his person either by the proper service of the summons, or by a voluntary appearance in the action.

The significance of the proper service of the summons on the defendant in an action in personam cannot be overemphasized. The service of the summons fulfills two fundamental objectives, namely: (a) to vest in the court jurisdiction over the person of the defendant; and (b) to afford to the defendant the opportunity to be heard on the claim brought against him. As to the former, when jurisdiction in personam is not acquired in a civil action through the proper service of the summons or upon a valid waiver of such proper service, the ensuing trial and judgment are void. If the defendant knowingly does an act inconsistent with the right to object to the lack of personal jurisdiction as to him, like voluntarily appearing in the action, he is deemed to have submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court. As to the latter, the essence of due process lies in the reasonable opportunity to be heard and to submit any evidence the defendant may have in support of his defense. With the proper service of the summons being intended to afford to him the opportunity to be heard on the claim against him, he may also waive the process. In other words, compliance with the rules regarding the service of the summons is as much an issue of due process as it is of jurisdiction.

Under the Rules of Court, the service of the summons should firstly be effected on the defendant himself whenever practicable. Such personal service consists either in handing a copy of the summons to the defendant in person, or, if the defendant refuses to receive and sign for it, in tendering it to him. The rule on personal service is to be rigidly enforced in order to ensure the realization of the two fundamental objectives earlier mentioned. If, for justifiable reasons, the defendant cannot be served in person within a reasonable time, the service of the summons may then be effected either (a) by leaving a copy of the summons at his residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or (b) by leaving the copy at his office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof. The latter mode of service is known as substituted service because the service of the summons on the defendant is made through his substitute.

There is no question that Sheriff Medina twice attempted to serve the summons upon each of petitioners in person at their office address, the first in the morning of September 18, 2000 and the second in the afternoon of the same date. Each attempt failed because Macasaet and Quijano were “always out and not available” and the other petitioners were “always roving outside and gathering news.” After Medina learned from those present in the office address on his second attempt that there was no likelihood of any of petitioners going to the office during the business hours of that or any other day, he concluded that further attempts to serve them in person within a reasonable time would be futile. The circumstances fully warranted his conclusion. He was not expected or required as the serving officer to effect personal service by all means and at all times, considering that he was expressly authorized to resort to substituted service should he be unable to effect the personal service within a reasonable time. In that regard, what was a reasonable time was dependent on the circumstances obtaining. While we are strict in insisting on personal service on the defendant, we do not cling to such strictness should the circumstances already justify substituted service instead. It is the spirit of the procedural rules, not their letter, that governs.