Respondent Mach Asia Trading Corporation is a corporation engaged in importing dump trucks and heavy equipments. Petitioner Sixto N. Chu purchased on installment one (1) Hitachi Excavator, one (1) motorgrader and one (1) payloader. Petitioner made down payments with the balance payable in 12 monthly installments through Land Bank postdated checks. However, upon presentment of the checks for encashment, they were dishonored by the bank either by reason of “closed account,” “drawn against insufficient funds,” or “payment stopped.” Respondent filed a complaint before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cebu City for sum of money, replevin, attorney’s fees and damages against the petitioner. The RTC issued an Order allowing the issuance of a writ of replevin on the subject heavy equipments. Sheriff Cortes proceeded at petitioner’s given address for the purpose of serving the summons, together with the complaint, writ of replevin and bond. However, the Sheriff failed to serve the summons personally upon the petitioner, since the latter was not there. The Sheriff then resorted to substituted service by having the summons and the complaint received by a certain Rolando Bonayon, a security guard of the petitioner. Petitioner failed to file any responsive pleading. Upon motion the RTC issued an Order declaring defendant in default and, thereafter, allowed respondent to present its evidence ex parte. The RTC rendered a decision against the petitioner. On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC Decision.
Was the substituted service of summons to the security guard considered to be a valid as to acquire jurisdiction over the person of petitioner Chu?
As a rule, summons should be personally served on the defendant. It is only when summons cannot be served personally within a reasonable period of time that substituted service may be resorted to. Section 7, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court provides:
“SEC. 7. Substituted service. – If, for justifiable causes, the defendant cannot be served within a reasonable time as provided in the preceding section, service may be effected (a) by leaving copies of the summons at the defendant’s residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or (b) by leaving the copies at defendant’s office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.”
It is to be noted that in case of substituted service, there should be a report indicating that the person who received the summons in the defendant’s behalf was one with whom the defendant had a relation of confidence, ensuring that the latter would actually receive the summon. Clearly, it was not shown that the security guard who received the summons in behalf of the petitioner was authorized and possessed a relation of confidence that petitioner would definitely receive the summons. This is not the kind of service contemplated by law. Thus, service on the security guard could not be considered as substantial compliance with the requirements of substituted service. The service of summons is a vital and indispensable ingredient of due process. As a rule, if defendants have not been validly summoned, the court acquires no jurisdiction over their person, and a judgment rendered against them is null and void. Since the RTC never acquired jurisdiction over the person of the petitioner, the judgment rendered by the court could not be considered binding upon him for being null and void.