G.R. No. 139325. April 12, 2005.
MAIN TOPIC – Rule 39.
Petitioners, prominent victims of human rights violations during Marcos Regime, filed a Complaint with the Regional Trial Court – Makati for the enforcement of the Final Judgment. They alleged that they are members of the plaintiff class in whose favor the US District Court awarded damages. The US District Court rendered a Final Judgment awarding the plaintiff class a total of 1,964,005,859.90. They argued that since the Marcos Estate failed to file a petition for certiorari with the US Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed the Final Judgment, the decision of the US District Court had become final and executory, and hence should be recognized and enforced in the Philippines, pursuant to Section 50, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court then in force.
Marcos Estate filed a motion to dismiss, raising the non-payment of the correct filing fees. It alleged that petitioners had only paid P410.00 as docket and filing fees, notwithstanding the fact that they sought to enforce a monetary amount of damages in the amount of US$2.25 Billion. In response, the petitioners claimed that an action for the enforcement of a foreign judgment is not capable of pecuniary estimation; hence, a filing fee of only P410.00 was proper.
Makati RTC dismissed the complaint without prejudice and opined that the subject matter of the complaint was indeed capable of pecuniary estimation, as it involved a judgment rendered by a foreign court ordering the payment of definite sums of money. The RTC estimated the proper amount of filing fees was approximately P472 Million, which obviously had not been paid.
(1) Whether or not the subject matter of the complaint—the enforcement of a foreign judgment—is incapable of pecuniary estimation
(2) Whether or not the Makati RTC erred in interpreting the action for the execution of a foreign judgment as a new case, in violation of the principle that once a case has been decided between the same parties in one country on the same issue with finality, it can no longer be relitigated again in another country.
(1) Yes, the complaint to enforce the US District Court judgment is one capable of pecuniary estimation. The petitioners thus paid the correct amount of filing fees, and it was a grave abuse of discretion for respondent judge to have applied instead a clearly inapplicable rule and dismissed the complaint.
(2) Yes, there is an evident distinction between a foreign judgment in an action in rem and one in personam. For an action in rem, the foreign judgment is deemed conclusive upon the title to the thing, while in an action in personam, the foreign judgment is presumptive, and not conclusive, of a right as between the parties and their successors in interest by a subsequent title. However, in both cases, the foreign judgment is susceptible to impeachment in our local courts on the grounds of want of jurisdiction or notice to the party, collusion, fraud, or clear mistake of law or fact. Thus, the party aggrieved by the foreign judgment is entitled to defend against the enforcement of such decision in the local forum. It is essential that there should be an opportunity to challenge the foreign judgment, in order for the court in this jurisdiction to properly determine its efficacy.
It is clear then that it is usually necessary for an action to be filed in order to enforce a foreign judgment, even if such judgment has conclusive effect as in the case of in rem actions, if only for the purpose of allowing the losing party an opportunity to challenge the foreign judgment, and in order for the court to properly determine its efficacy. Consequently, the party attacking a foreign judgment has the burden of overcoming the presumption of its validity
There is an evident distinction between a foreign judgment in an action in rem and one in personam; It is essential that there should be an opportunity to challenge the foreign judgment, in order for the court in this jurisdiction to properly determine its efficacy