• Unjust enrichment


    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My family won a case regarding the ownership of a certain property located in Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal. It appeared that the lot where my uncle constructed his “bodega” (warehouse) was ours. He built it there when the property was not yet partitioned off, a move for which a document was issued later. We sought to have the document annulled. He now claims payment of over P300,000.00 for the warehouse. We had won the case and he can no longer refile another action over the property and, hence, can no longer claim the payment for the warehouse. The principle of “res judicata” should therefore be applied. Am I right?

    Sincerely yours,

    Dear Toby,
    The case of Spouses De Vera vs. Spouses Mayondoc (G.R. No. 211170, July 3, 2017), penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, seems to fall squarely with your predicament. It stated:

    “As to the issue of res judicata, the CA [Court of Appeals] is correct in its ruling that there is no identity of subject matter and cause of action between the prior case of annulment of document and the present case, thus:

    “In the instant case, res judicata will not apply since there is no identity of subject matter and cause of action. The first case is for annulment of document, while the instant case is for reimbursement of useful expenses as builders in good faith under Article 448 in relation to Articles 546 and 548 of the New Civil Code.

    “Moreover, we are not changing or reversing any findings of the RTC [Regional Trial Court] and by this court in our 6 February 2004 decision. The court is still bound by this judgment insofar as it found the Deeds of Absolute Sale null and void, and that defendants-appellants are the rightful owners of the lot in question.

    “If the court a quo, however, did not take cognizance of the instant case, plaintiffs-appellees shall lose ownership of the building worth P316,400.00 without any compensation. While, the defendant-appellants not only will recover the land but will also acquire a house without payment of indemnity. The fairness of the rules enunciated in Article 448 is explained by the Supreme Court in the case of Depra v. Dumlao, viz.:

    “Where the builder, planter or sower has acted in good faith, a conflict of rights arises between the owners, and it becomes necessary to protect the owner of the improvements without causing injustice to the owner of the land. In view of the impracticability of creating a state of forced ownership, the law has provided a just solution by giving the owner of the land the option to acquire the improvements after payment of the proper indemnity, or to oblige the builder or planter to pay for the land and the sower to pay the proper rent. It is the owner of the land who is authorized to exercise the option, because his right is older, and because, by the principle of accession, he is entitled to the ownership of the accessory thing.”

    Finally, “the decision of the court a quo should not be viewed as a denigration of the doctrine of immutability of final judgments, but a recognition of the equally sacrosanct doctrine that a person should not be allowed to profit or enrich himself inequitably at another’s expense.”(Emphasis supplied)

    Undoubtedly, the subject matter in the earlier case that you have won is different from your uncle’s claim regarding the amount of the structure he built in good faith. You have admitted that he built the bodega on your property at such time the same was not yet partitioned off. It was also clear that you have annulled a document pertaining to ownership of the lot, which was subsequently issued after the bodega was built. Emphasis should be noted that the structure (bodega) has value. You cannot then use the principle of res judicata in your situation as the subject matters of the cases are different. In view of this, you cannot unjustly enrich yourself with the use or gain of the bodega erected in good faith to the detriment of your uncle who owns it. Your family’s option then, as distinctly discussed above, is either to acquire the bodega after payment of proper indemnity, or oblige your uncle to pay for that portion of land that the structure occupies.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.


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