Petitioner E.B. Villarosa & Partner Co., Ltd. is a limited partnership with principal office address at Davao City and with branch offices in Parañaque, Metro Manila and Cagayan de Oro City. Private respondent, as plaintiff, filed a Complaint for Breach of Contract and Damages against petitioner, as defendant, before the Regional Trial Court of Makati allegedly for failure of the latter to comply with its contractual obligation in that, other than a few unfinished low cost houses, there were no substantial developments therein. Summons, together with the complaint, were served upon the defendant, through its Branch Manager, but the Sheriff’s Return of Service stated that the summons was duly served “upon defendant E.B. Villarosa & Partner Co., Ltd. thru its Branch Manager Engr. WENDELL SALBULBERO. Defendant filed a Special Appearance with Motion to Dismiss alleging that summons intended for defendant” was served upon Engr. Wendell Sabulbero, an employee of defendant at its branch office at Cagayan de Oro City. Defendant prayed for the dismissal of the complaint on the ground of improper service of summons and for lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant. Defendant contends that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over its person since the summons was improperly served upon its employee in its branch office at Cagayan de Oro City who is not one of those persons named in Section 11, Rule 14 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure upon whom service of summons may be made. Defendant’s argument was not sustained.
Did the trial court acquire jurisdiction over the person of petitioner upon service of summons on its Branch Manager?
[T]he service of summons upon the branch manager of petitioner at its branch office at Cagayan de Oro, instead of upon the general manager at its principal office at Davao City is improper. Consequently, the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over the person of the petitioner.
The fact that defendant filed a belated motion to dismiss did not operate to confer jurisdiction upon its person. There is no question that the defendant’s voluntary appearance in the action is equivalent to service of summons. Before, the rule was that a party may challenge the jurisdiction of the court over his person by making a special appearance through a motion to dismiss and if in the same motion, the movant raised other grounds or invoked affirmative relief which necessarily involves the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court. This doctrine has been abandoned in the case of La Naval Drug Corporation vs. Court of Appeals, et al., which became the basis of the adoption of a new provision in the former Section 23, which is now Section 20 of Rule 14 of the 1997 Rules. Section 20 now provides that “the inclusion in a motion to dismiss of other grounds aside from lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant shall not be deemed a voluntary appearance.” The emplacement of this rule clearly underscores the purpose to enforce strict enforcement of the rules on summons. Accordingly, the filing of a motion to dismiss, whether or not belatedly filed by the defendant, his authorized agent or attorney, precisely objecting to the jurisdiction of the court over the person of the defendant can by no means be deemed a submission to the jurisdiction of the court. There being no proper service of summons, the trial court cannot take cognizance of a case for lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant. Any proceeding undertaken by the trial court will consequently be null and void.