Sunday, September 23, 2012

Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction: Can it benefit everyone?

There is a common misunderstanding that a temporary restraining order (TRO) or preliminary injunction may benefit even those who are not parties to the suit. On the contrary however, TRO/preliminary injunction, as a general rule, is in personam only and can bind only those who are parties to the litigation. In that regard, only the applicant/s for TRO/injunction can seek the court’s protection.

In the case of Pineda v. Santiago, “the INK sought from the RTC a second alias writ of execution to implement the judgment in Calalang against Conrado Pineda (Pineda), et. al.  In opposing the issuance of such writ, Pineda, et al., asserted that they held titles to Lot 671 adverse to those of Lucia and INK and that they were not parties in De la Cruz or in Calalang.  In its assailed order, the RTC granted the second alias writ of execution on the basis that the issue of ownership of Lot 671 was already determined with finality in favor of Lucia and INK.  The writ ordered the deputy sheriff to eject Pineda, et al., from Lot 671.  When the matter was brought before us (the Supreme Court), we annulled the assailed order as the writ of execution issued was against Pineda, et al., who were not parties to Civil Case No. Q-45767, the ejectment suit instituted by De Leon, et al.  We elaborated in Pineda that:

Being a suit for injunction, Civil Case No. Q-45767 partakes of an action in personam.  In Domagas v. Jensen, we have explained the nature of an action in personam and enumerated some actions and proceedings which are in personam, viz:

“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 propriety 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.”

The respondent judge's jurisdiction is, therefore, limited to the parties in the injunction suit. To stress, the petition for injunction, docketed as Civil Case No. Q-45767, was filed only by therein petitioners Augusto M. de Leon, Jose de Castro, Jose A. Panlilio, Felicidad Vergara Vda. De Pineda, Fernando L. Vitug I, Fernando M. Vitug II, Fernando M. Vitug III, and Faustino Tobia, and later amended to include Elena Ostrea and Feliza C. Cristobal-Generoso as additional petitioners therein, against Bishop Eraño Manalo, in his capacity as titular and spiritual head of I.N.K. Herein petitioners Conrado Pineda, et al. never became parties thereto. Any and all orders and writs of execution, which the respondent judge may issue in that case can, therefore, be enforced only against those parties and not against the herein petitioners Conrado Pineda, et al. In issuing the assailed Order dated 22 April 1998, which directed the issuance of the 2nd Alias Writ of Execution to eject non-parties (herein petitioners), the respondent judge clearly went out of bounds and committed grave abuse of discretion.

The nature of the injunction suit — Civil Case No. Q-45767 — as an action in personam in the RTC remains to be the same whether it is elevated to the CA or to this Court for review.  An action in personam does not become an action in rem just because a pronouncement confirming I.N.K.'s title to Lot 671 was made by this Court in the Calalang decision.  Final rulings may be made by this Court, as the Highest Court of the Land, in actions in personam but such rulings are binding only as against the parties therein and not against the whole world.  Here lies another grave abuse of discretion on the part of the respondent judge when he relied on the Calalang decision in his assailed Order dated 07 May 1998 as if it were binding against the whole world, saying:

“After evaluating the arguments of both parties, decisive on the incident is the decision of the Supreme Court in favor of the respondent I.N.K., represented by its titular and spiritual head Bishop Eraño G. Manalo, sustaining its ownership over the subject Lot 671. This Court could do no less but to follow and give substantial meaning to its ownership which shall include all dominical rights by way of a Writ of Execution. To delay the issuance of such writ is a denial of justice due the I.N.K.” 

As a final word, this decision shall not be misinterpreted as disturbing or modifying our ruling in Calalang.  The final ruling on I.N.K.'s ownership and title is not at all affected. Private respondent I.N.K., as the true and lawful owner of Lot 671 as ruled by the Court in Calalang, simply has to file the proper action against the herein petitioners to enforce its property rights within the bounds of the law and our rules.  I.N.K.'s recourse of asking for the issuance of an alias writ of execution against the petitioners in Civil Case No. Q-45767 and the respondent judge's orders in said case, granting I.N.K.'s prayer and enforcing the alias writ of execution against the present petitioners, constitutes blatant disregard of very fundamental rules and must therefore be stricken down.” (Emphases by the Supreme Court.)

To summarize and as a general rule then, a restraining order, like injunction, operates upon a person as it is granted in exercise of equity jurisdiction; it has no in rem effect.

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