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Remedial Law Digest: SMART Communications v. Astrorga (2008)

Lessons Applicable:  replevin outside jurisdiction of LA

Laws Applicable: Rule 60
o    May 8, 1997: Regina M. Astorga (Astorga) was employed by SMART as District Sales Manager of the Corporate Sales Marketing Group/ Fixed Services Division (CSMG/FSD) with P33,650 monthly salary and annual performance incentive (30% of her annual gross salary), group life and hospitalization insurance coverage, and a car plan of P455K.
o    February 1998: SMART launched an organizational realignment to achieve more efficient operations where SNMI was formed to do the sales and marketing work so CSMG/FSD was abolished.  SNMI agreed to absorb the CSMG personnel who would be recommended by SMART which excluded Astorga for being last on the performance evaluation. SMART offered her a supervisory position in the Customer Care Department with lower rank and rate so she refused.  And, she continued going to work.
o    March 3, 1998: SMART issued a memorandum advising Astorga of the termination of her employment on ground of redundancy, effective April 3, 1998.
o    Pending the Labor Case on Illegal dismissal, SMART sent a letter to Astorga demanding that she pay the current market value of the Honda Civic Sedan which was given to her under the company’s car plan program, or to surrender the same to the company for proper disposition which she refused
o    RTC (replevin filed by SMART and MTD by Astorga): favored SMART; The car is registered in the name of SMART. Recovery thereof via replevin suit is allowed by Rule 60 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure within the jurisdiction of RTC; MR denied
o    Pending Astorga’s MTD, LA: illegal dismissal
o    CA (certiorari): reversed the RTC; LA has jurisdiction as it is intertwined with illegal dismissal
o    NLRC: valid dismissal; MR denied
o    CA (certiorari): affimed NLRC. However, found that SMART failed to comply with the mandatory 1-month notice prior to the intended termination and imposed a penalty of 1-month salary for this non-compliance. Set aside NLRC’s order for the return of the vehicle as it is civil in nature within the competence of the regular court to decide

o    HELD (petitions for review): granted; Smart’s replevin granted
o    Replevin is an action whereby the owner or person entitled to repossession of goods or chattels may recover those goods or chattels from one who has wrongfully distrained or taken, or who wrongfully detains such goods or chattels. It is designed to permit one having right to possession to recover property in specie from one who has wrongfully taken or detained the property. The term may refer either to the action itself, for the recovery of personalty, or to the provisional remedy traditionally associated with it, by which possession of the property may be obtained by the plaintiff and retained during the pendency of the action
o    Relationship of DR-CR rather than EE-ER
o    Replevin is a possessory action, the gist of which is the right of possession in the plaintiff. The primary relief sought therein is the return of the property in specie wrongfully detained by another person. It is an ordinary statutory proceeding to adjudicate rights to the title or possession of personal property. The question of whether or not a party has the right of possession over the property involved and if so, whether or not the adverse party has wrongfully taken and detained said property as to require its return to plaintiff, is outside the pale of competence of a labor tribunal and beyond the field of specialization of Labor Arbiters.
o    The labor dispute involved is not intertwined with the issue in the Replevin Case
o     acknowledge the prerogative of the employer to adopt such measures as will promote greater efficiency, reduce overhead costs and enhance prospects of economic gains, albeit always within the framework of existing laws
o    procedural infirmity would not render the termination of Astorga’s employment illegal