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Labao v. Flores [G.R. No. 187894. November 15, 2010]

03 Oct

FRANCISCO A. LABAOpetitioner,
vs.
LOLITA N. FLORES et al., respondents.

[G.R. No. 187894. November 15, 2010]

FACTS:

Petitioner is the proprietor and general manager of a licensed security-service contractor.  Respondents were security guards assigned to the National Power Corporation (NPC-Mindanao). Petitioner issued a memorandum requiring all security guards to submit their updated personal data files, security guard professional license, and other pertinent documents.  When respondents failed to comply with the petitioner’s directive, despite several notices to do so, the petitioner relieved them. Respondents filed individual complaints with Labor Arbiter (LA) for illegal dismissal and money claims, claiming they were constructively dismissed when they were not given new assignments for a period of over 6 months, despite their repeated requests. Petitioner countered that the respondents’ relief from duty was a valid exercise of its management prerogative. Furthermore, petitioner issued a notice directing the respondents to report to SMPSA’s main office for new assignments, but the latter failed or refused to comply without any valid reasons. The LA ruled in favor of the petitioner. On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the LA decision. Counsel for the respondents appealed with the Court of Appeals (CA) outside the reglementary period, yet the ruling was in favor of respondents. The petitioner and SMPSA moved for reconsideration, arguing that the CA should have dismissed the petition outright for late filing, and that there was no compelling reason for the reversal of the LA and the NLRC’s factual findings. CA considered the respondents’ petition as timely filed and also opined that disregarding any procedural lapses best served substantial justice.

ISSUES:

Labor Law

(1)  Whether or not the ruling of the Labor Arbiter is proper in the sense that petitioner was validly exercising a management prerogative.

Remedial Law

(1)  Whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in acting on the respondents’ petition despite of its late filing.

(2)  Whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the LA and NLRC decisions.

Legal Ethics

(1)  Whether or not the negligence of counsel binds the respondents.

RULINGS:

Labor Law

(1)  Yes. The LA dismissed the consolidated complaints for lack of merit.  He held that the respondents’ relief from NPC-MRC duty was due to their failure to comply with SMSPA’s requirement for its employees to submit updated documents to meet NPC-MRC contract renewal requirements.  According to the LA, this was a legitimate exercise of NPC-MRC’s management prerogative, in light of the information it received that some security guards carried falsified documents.

Remedial Law

(1)  Yes. Late filing should not be allowed. Under Section 4 of Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, certiorari should be instituted within a period of 60 days from notice of the judgment, order, or resolution sought to be assailed. The 60-day period is inextendible to avoid any unreasonable delay that would violate the constitutional rights of parties to a speedy disposition of their case. Procedural rules do not exist for the convenience of the litigants; the rules were established primarily to provide order to, and enhance the efficiency of, our judicial system. While procedural rules are liberally construed, the provisions on reglementary periods are strictly applied, indispensable as they are to the prevention of needless delays, and are necessary to the orderly and speedy discharge of judicial business. The timeliness of filing a pleading is a jurisdictional caveat that even this Court cannot trifle with.

(2)  Yes. The NLRC’s resolution became final ten (10) days after counsel’s receipt, and the respondents’ failure to file the petition within the required (60)-day period rendered it impervious to any attack through a Rule 65 petition for certiorari.  Thus, no court can exercise jurisdiction to review the resolution. A decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable and may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact or law and whether it will be made by the court that rendered it or by the highest court of the land. All the issues between the parties are deemed resolved and laid to rest once a judgment becomes final and executory; execution of the decision proceeds as a matter of right as vested rights are acquired by the winning party.  Just as a losing party has the right to appeal within the prescribed period, the winning party has the correlative right to enjoy the finality of the decision on the case. After all, a denial of a petition for being time-barred is tantamount to a decision on the merits. Otherwise, there will be no end to litigation, and this will set to naught the main role of courts of justice to assist in the enforcement of the rule of law and the maintenance of peace and order by settling justiciable controversies with finality. Petition was granted and the decision of Labor Arbiter is reinstated.

Legal Ethics

(1)  Yes. The Court cannot sustain the respondents’ argument that they cannot be bound by their counsel’s negligence since this would set a dangerous precedent. It would enable every party-litigant to render inoperative any adverse order or decision of the courts or tribunals, through the simple expedient of alleging his/her counsel’s gross negligence. The general rule is that a client is bound by the acts, even mistakes, of his counsel in the realm of procedural technique. The exception to this rule is when the negligence of counsel is so gross, reckless and inexcusable that the client is deprived of his day in court. The failure of a party’s counsel to notify him on time of the adverse judgment, to enable him to appeal therefrom, is negligence that is not excusable.  [Court had] repeatedly held that notice sent to counsel of record is binding upon the client, and the neglect or failure of counsel to inform him of an adverse judgment resulting in the loss of his right to appeal is not a ground for setting aside a judgment valid and regular on its face.

 

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