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468 Phil. 244

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 147999, February 27, 2004 ]

SUI MAN HUI CHAN AND GONZALO CO, PETITIONERS, VS. HON. COURT OF APPEALS AND OSCAR D. MEDALLA, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

QUISUMBING, J.:

For review on certiorari is the Decision[1] dated May 3, 2001, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 61889, affirming the Order[2] dated January 11, 2000, of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Mandaluyong City, Branch 213, in Civil Case No. MC99-666, which had denied petitioners’ Motion to Dismiss the complaint filed by private respondent.

The facts, as culled from records, are as follows:

On March 30, 1999, private respondent Oscar Medalla filed a complaint before the RTC of Mandaluyong City, docketed as Civil Case No. MC99-666, for collection of a sum of money arising from breach of a contract of lease and damages, against petitioners Sui Man Hui Chan and Gonzalo Co.

The complaint alleged that on November 14, 1988, Napoleon C. Medalla as lessor and Ramon Chan as lessee entered into a Lease Contract[3] over a hotel building located at No. 29 Abanao Street, Baguio City.  Chan would use the leased premises as a restaurant named “Cypress Inn”.  Pertinently, the parties agreed on the following:
    1.  The period of lease shall be for ten (10) years or from 15 July 1988 to 15 July 1998.

    2.  The payment of the realty taxes due to the government on the leased premises shall be for the account of the Lessee.

    3.  The agreement is binding upon the heirs and/or successors-in-interest of the Lessor and the Lessee.
Petitioner Gonzalo Co was employed by Ramon Chan as the general manager of “Cypress Inn” and acted as his agent in all his dealings with Napoleon Medalla.

On August 5, 1989, Ramon Chan died.  He was survived by his wife, petitioner Sui Man Hui Chan, who continued to operate the restaurant.

On July 17, 1996, Napoleon Medalla died. Among his heirs is private respondent Oscar Medalla, who succeeded him as owner and lessor of the leased premises.  The contract was neither amended nor terminated after the death of the original parties but was continued by their respective successors-in-interest pursuant to the terms thereof.  Petitioners Chan and Co, the latter, in his capacity as agent and general manager, continued to deal with private respondent Medalla in all transactions pertaining to the contract.

On various occasions, petitioners failed to pay the monthly rentals due on the leased premises.  Despite several Statements of Accounts sent by Medalla, petitioners failed to pay the rentals due but, nonetheless, continued to use and occupy the leased premises.

On February 26, 1997, Medalla sent a letter addressed to Ramon Chan, indicating that (1) the contract of lease would expire on July 15, 1998, and (2) he was not amenable to a renewal of said contract after its expiration.

Medalla then sent demand letters to petitioners, but the latter still failed to pay the unpaid rentals.  He also found out that petitioners had not paid the realty taxes due on the leased premises since 1991, amounting to P610,019.11.  Medalla then asked petitioners to settle the unpaid rentals, pay the unpaid real estate taxes, and vacate the leased premises.

On January 1999, petitioners vacated the premises but without paying their unpaid rentals and realty taxes.  Aggrieved by petitioners’ refusal to pay the amounts owing, which had reached P4,147,901.80 by March 1999, private respondent Medalla instituted Civil Case No. MC99-666.

In their Answer to the Complaint, petitioners denied owing private respondent the amounts claimed by the latter.  They alleged that the late Ramon Chan had paid all the rentals due up to March 15, 1998.  Moreover, they need not pay any balance owing on the rentals as they were required to pay two (2) months advance rentals upon signing of the contract and make a guarantee deposit amounting to P220,000.  On the matter of unpaid realty taxes, petitioners alleged that private respondent was responsible therefor as the owner of the leased premises, notwithstanding any contrary stipulations in the contract.

On July 19, 1999, petitioners filed a Supplemental Answer with Motion to Dismiss alleging that they were neither parties nor privies to the Contract of Lease, hence they are not the real parties-in-interest.

Private respondent filed a Reply and Opposition to petitioners’ Supplemental Answer with Motion to Dismiss dated August 2, 1999, praying for the denial of the Motion to Dismiss for having been belatedly filed in direct contravention of Section 1, Rule 16, of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.[4] He further alleged that petitioner Chan, as the owner of the business and petitioner Co as the agent of petitioner Chan, are clearly real parties-in-interest in the case.  Private respondent pointed to their continuous dealings with him in all transactions relating to the contract after the death of Ramon Chan and even after the expiration of the Contract of Lease.

On January 11, 2000, the RTC denied petitioners’ Motion to Dismiss, thus:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the motion to dismiss dated July 19, 1999 filed by defendant through counsel against plaintiff is hereby DENIED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.[5]
The trial court pointed out that petitioners continued to transact business with private respondent after the death of Ramon Chan as shown by the communications between the parties.  It also declared that private respondent’s acquiescence to petitioners’ continued occupation and enjoyment of the leased premises and the latter’s recognition of the former’s ownership of said premises reflected an oral agreement between the parties to continue the Lease Contract.

Petitioners moved for reconsideration on the ground that any claim should be filed against the estate of Ramon Chan in an estate proceeding pursuant to Section 5, Rule 86, of the Revised Rules of Court[6] since Ramon Chan’s estate is the real party-in-interest.  The court denied said motion and declared that Section 5, Rule 86 is inapplicable in the case.  It pointed out that the unpaid rentals being claimed were those for the period April 1993 to December 1998.  These were incurred by petitioners and not by the late Ramon Chan, who died on August 5, 1989.

Dissatisfied, petitioners elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals through a special civil action of certiorari, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 61889.  The Court of Appeals, however, affirmed the RTC Orders, as follows:
WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, the petition having no merit in fact and in law is hereby DENIED DUE COURSE and ACCORDINGLY ORDERED DISMISSED.  The assailed Orders are resultantly AFFIRMED WITH COSTS TO PETITIONERS.

SO ORDERED.[7]

Hence, the instant petition submitting as sole issue for our resolution:

whether or not respondent Court of Appeals committed serious error in law in affirming the RTC Orders denying petitioners’ motion to dismiss and the subsequent motion for reconsideration.[8]
Petitioners argue that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the RTC’s Orders because they are not the real parties-in-interest and hence, were improperly impleaded in the complaint as defendants.  Petitioners insist that they were neither parties nor were they privy to the Contract of Lease between the late Ramon Chan and Napoleon Medalla.  They vigorously assert that any claim for unpaid rentals should be made against the estate of Ramon Chan pursuant to Section 5, Rule 86 of the Revised Rules of Court.

We find for private respondent.  Prefatorily, it bears stressing that petitioners’ Motion to Dismiss was filed after an Answer had already been filed.  This alone warranted an outright dismissal of the motion for having been filed in contravention of the clear and explicit mandate of Section 1, Rule 16, of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure.  Under this section, a motion to dismiss shall be filed within the time for but before filing the answer to the complaint or pleading asserting a claim.[9] Here, petitioners filed their Supplemental Answer with Motion to Dismiss almost two months after filing their Answer, in clear contravention of the aforecited rule.

The Court of Appeals stated that the grant or denial of a Motion to Dismiss is an interlocutory order, and it cannot be the proper subject of a special civil action for certiorari.  The proper remedy in such a case is to appeal after a decision has been rendered, the CA said.  A writ of certiorari is not intended to correct every controversial interlocutory ruling; it is resorted to only to correct a grave abuse of discretion or a whimsical exercise of judgment equivalent to lack or excess of jurisdiction.  The function of a petition for certiorari is limited to keeping an inferior court within the bounds of its jurisdiction and to relieve persons from arbitrary acts, acts which courts or judges have no power or authority in law to perform.  Certiorari is not designed to correct erroneous findings and conclusions made by the court.[10] On this score, we are in agreement with the appellate court.

At any rate, we find no merit to petitioners’ contention that they are not real parties-in-interest since they are not parties nor signatories to the contract and hence should not have been impleaded as defendants.  It is undeniable that petitioner Chan is an heir of Ramon Chan and, together with petitioner Co, was a successor-in-interest to the restaurant business of the late Ramon Chan.  Both continued to operate the business after the death of Ramon.  Thus, they are real parties-in-interest in the case filed by private respondent, notwithstanding that they are not signatories to the Contract of Lease.

A lease contract is not essentially personal in character.  Thus, the rights and obligations therein are transmissible to the heirs.[11] The general rule, therefore, is that heirs are bound by contracts entered into by their predecessors-in-interest except when the rights and obligations arising therefrom are not transmissible by (1) their nature, (2) stipulation or (3) provision of law.[12] In the subject Contract of Lease, not only were there no stipulations prohibiting any transmission of rights, but its very terms and conditions explicitly provided for the transmission of the rights of the lessor and of the lessee to their respective heirs and successors.  The contract is the law between the parties.  The death of a party does not excuse nonperformance of a contract, which involves a property right, and the rights and obligations thereunder pass to the successors or representatives of the deceased.  Similarly, nonperformance is not excused by the death of the party when the other party has a property interest in the subject matter of the contract.[13]

Finally, as to petitioners’ contention that any claim should have been filed before the estate proceeding of Ramon Chan pursuant to Section 5 of Rule 86, the trial court found that the unpaid rentals sought to be claimed were for the period April 1993 to December 1998.  Note that Ramon Chan, the original lessee, died on August 5, 1989.  In other words, as the unpaid rentals did not accrue during the lifetime of Ramon Chan, but well after his death, his estate might not be held liable for them.  Hence, there is no indubitable basis to apply Section 5, Rule 86, of the Revised Rules of Court as petitioners urge respondents to do.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED and the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP. No. 61889 is AFFIRMED.  Costs against petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.

Puno, J., (Chairman), on leave.

Austria-Martinez, J., no part.



[1] Rollo, pp. 14-17. Penned by Associate Justice Jose L. Sabio, Jr., with Associate Justices Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez (now a member of this Court) and Hilarion L. Aquino, concurring.

[2] CA Rollo, pp. 13-14.

[3] Rollo, pp. 57-59.

[4] SEC. 1. Grounds. — Within the time for but before filing the answer to the complaint or pleading asserting a claim, a motion to dismiss may be made…

[5] CA Rollo, p. 14.

[6] SEC. 5. Claims which must be filed under the notice.  If not filed, barred; exceptions. — All claims for money against the decedent, arising from contract, express or implied, whether the same be due, not due, or contingent, all claims for funeral expenses and expenses for the last sickness of the decedent, and judgment for money against the decedent, must be filed within the time limited in the notice; otherwise they are barred forever, except that they may be set forth as counterclaims in any action that the executor or administrator may bring against the claimants.  Where an executor or administrator commences an action, or prosecutes an action already commenced by the deceased in his lifetime, the debtor may set forth by answer the claims he has against the decedent, instead of presenting them independently to the court as herein provided, and mutual claims may be set off against each other in such action; and if final judgment is rendered in favor of the defendant, the amount so determined shall be considered the true balance against the estate, as though the claim had been presented directly before the court in the administration proceedings.  Claims not yet due, or contingent, may be approved at their present value.

[7] Rollo, p. 16.

[8] Id. at 8.

[9] Kho v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 115758, 19 March 2002, 379 SCRA 410, 421.

[10] Indiana Aerospace University v. Commission on Higher Education, G.R. No. 139371, 4 April 2001, 356 SCRA 367, 384.

[11] Heirs of Fausta Dimaculangan v. IAC, G.R. No. 68021, 20 February 1989, 170 SCRA 393, 399.

[12] DKC Holdings Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 386 Phil. 107, 115 (2000).

[13] Id. at 118.

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