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Jurisprudence: G.R. No. 74761

G.R. No. 74761 November 6, 1990
Lope E. Adriano for petitioners.
Padilla Law Office for private respondent.

The pivotal issue in this petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus is whether a corporation, which has built through its agents, waterpaths, water conductors and contrivances within its land, thereby causing inundation and damage to an adjacent land, can be held civilly liable for damages under Articles 2176 and 2177 of the Civil Code on quasi-delicts such that the resulting civil case can proceed independently of the criminal case.
The antecedent facts are as follows:
Petitioner spouses Emmanuel and Natividad Andamo are the owners of a parcel of land situated in Biga (Biluso) Silang, Cavite which is adjacent to that of private respondent, Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, Inc., a religious corporation.
Within the land of respondent corporation, waterpaths and contrivances, including an artificial lake, were constructed, which allegedly inundated and eroded petitioners' land, caused a young man to drown, damaged petitioners' crops and plants, washed away costly fences, endangered the lives of petitioners and their laborers during rainy and stormy seasons, and exposed plants and other improvements to destruction.
In July 1982, petitioners instituted a criminal action, docketed as Criminal Case No. TG-907-82, before the Regional Trial Court of Cavite, Branch 4 (Tagaytay City), against Efren Musngi, Orlando Sapuay and Rutillo Mallillin, officers and directors of herein respondent corporation, for destruction by means of inundation under Article 324 of the Revised Penal Code.
Subsequently, on February 22, 1983, petitioners filed another action against respondent corporation, this time a civil case, docketed as Civil Case No. TG-748, for damages with prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction before the same court. 1
On March 11, 1983, respondent corporation filed its answer to the complaint and opposition to the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction. Hearings were conducted including ocular inspections on the land. However, on April 26, 1984, the trial court, acting on respondent corporation's motion to dismiss or suspend the civil action, issued an ordersuspending further hearings in Civil Case No, TG-748 until after judgment in the related Criminal Case No. TG-907-82.
Resolving respondent corporation's motion to dismiss filed on June 22, 1984, the trial court issued on August 27, 1984 the disputed order dismissing Civil Case No. TG-748 for lack of jurisdiction, as the criminal case which was instituted ahead of the civil case was still unresolved. Said order was anchored on the provision of Section 3 (a), Rule III of the Rules of Court which provides that "criminal and civil actions arising from the same offense may be instituted separately, but after the criminal action has been commenced the civil action cannot be instituted until final judgment has been rendered in the criminal action." 2
Petitioners appealed from that order to the Intermediate Appellate Court. 3
On February 17, 1986, respondent Appellate Court, First Civil Cases Division, promulgated a decision 4 affirming the questioned order of the trial court. 5 A motion for reconsideration filed by petitioners was denied by the Appellate Court in its resolution dated May 19, 1986. 6
Directly at issue is the propriety of the dismissal of Civil Case No. TG-748 in accordance with Section 3 (a) of Rule 111 of the Rules of Court. Petitioners contend that the trial court and the Appellate Court erred in dismissing Civil Case No. TG-748 since it is predicated on a quasi-delict. Petitioners have raised a valid point.
It is axiomatic that the nature of an action filed in court is determined by the facts alleged in the complaint as constituting the cause of action. 7 The purpose of an action or suit and the law to govern it, including the period of prescription, is to be determined not by the claim of the party filing the action, made in his argument or brief, but rather by the complaint itself, its allegations and prayer for relief. 8 The nature of an action is not necessarily determined or controlled by its title or heading but the body of the pleading or complaint itself. To avoid possible denial of substantial justice due to legal technicalities, pleadings as well as remedial laws should be liberally construed so that the litigants may have ample opportunity to prove their respective claims. 9
Quoted hereunder are the pertinent portions of petitioners' complaint in Civil Case No. TG-748:
4) That within defendant's land, likewise located at Biga (Biluso), Silang, Cavite, adjacent on the right side of the aforesaid land of plaintiffs, defendant constructed waterpaths starting from the middle-right portion thereof leading to a big hole or opening, also constructed by defendant, thru the lower portion of its concrete hollow-blocks fence situated on the right side of its cemented gate fronting the provincial highway, and connected by defendant to a man height inter-connected cement culverts which were also constructed and lain by defendant cross-wise beneath the tip of the said cemented gate, the left-end of the said inter-connected culverts again connected by defendant to a big hole or opening thru the lower portion of the same concrete hollowblocks fence on the left side of the said cemented gate, which hole or opening is likewise connected by defendant to the cemented mouth of a big canal, also constructed by defendant, which runs northward towards a big hole or opening which was also built by defendant thru the lower portion of its concrete hollow-blocks fence which separates the land of plaintiffs from that of defendant (and which serves as the exit-point of the floodwater coming from the land of defendant, and at the same time, the entrance-point of the same floodwater to the land of plaintiffs, year after year, during rainy or stormy seasons.
5) That moreover, on the middle-left portion of its land just beside the land of plaintiffs, defendant also constructed an artificial lake, the base of which is soil, which utilizes the water being channeled thereto from its water system thru inter-connected galvanized iron pipes (No. 2) and complimented by rain water during rainy or stormy seasons, so much so that the water below it seeps into, and the excess water above it inundates, portions of the adjoining land of plaintiffs.
6) That as a result of the inundation brought about by defendant's aforementioned water conductors, contrivances and manipulators, a young man was drowned to death, while herein plaintiffs suffered and will continue to suffer, as follows:
a) Portions of the land of plaintiffs were eroded and converted to deep, wide and long canals, such that the same can no longer be planted to any crop or plant.
b) Costly fences constructed by plaintiffs were, on several occasions, washed away.
c) During rainy and stormy seasons the lives of plaintiffs and their laborers are always in danger.
d) Plants and other improvements on other portions of the land of plaintiffs are exposed to destruction. ... 10
A careful examination of the aforequoted complaint shows that the civil action is one under Articles 2176 and 2177 of the Civil Code on quasi-delicts. All the elements of a quasi-delict are present, to wit: (a) damages suffered by the plaintiff, (b) fault or negligence of the defendant, or some other person for whose acts he must respond; and (c) the connection of cause and effect between the fault or negligence of the defendant and the damages incurred by the plaintiff. 11
Clearly, from petitioner's complaint, the waterpaths and contrivances built by respondent corporation are alleged to have inundated the land of petitioners. There is therefore, an assertion of a causal connection between the act of building these waterpaths and the damage sustained by petitioners. Such action if proven constitutes fault or negligence which may be the basis for the recovery of damages.
In the case of Samson vs. Dionisio12 the Court applied Article 1902, now Article 2176 of the Civil Code and held that "any person who without due authority constructs a bank or dike, stopping the flow or communication between a creek or a lake and a river, thereby causing loss and damages to a third party who, like the rest of the residents, is entitled to the use and enjoyment of the stream or lake, shall be liable to the payment of an indemnity for loss and damages to the injured party.
While the property involved in the cited case belonged to the public domain and the property subject of the instant case is privately owned, the fact remains that petitioners' complaint sufficiently alleges that petitioners have sustained and will continue to sustain damage due to the waterpaths and contrivances built by respondent corporation. Indeed, the recitals of the complaint, the alleged presence of damage to the petitioners, the act or omission of respondent corporation supposedly constituting fault or negligence, and the causal connection between the act and the damage, with no pre-existing contractual obligation between the parties make a clear case of a quasi delict or culpa aquiliana.
It must be stressed that the use of one's property is not without limitations. Article 431 of the Civil Code provides that "the owner of a thing cannot make use thereof in such a manner as to injure the rights of a third person." SIC UTERE TUO UT ALIENUM NON LAEDAS. Moreover, adjoining landowners have mutual and reciprocal duties which require that each must use his own land in a reasonable manner so as not to infringe upon the rights and interests of others. Although we recognize the right of an owner to build structures on his land, such structures must be so constructed and maintained using all reasonable care so that they cannot be dangerous to adjoining landowners and can withstand the usual and expected forces of nature. If the structures cause injury or damage to an adjoining landowner or a third person, the latter can claim indemnification for the injury or damage suffered.
Article 2176 of the Civil Code imposes a civil liability on a person for damage caused by his act or omission constituting fault or negligence, thus:
Article 2176. Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this chapter.
Article 2176, whenever it refers to "fault or negligence", covers not only acts "not punishable by law" but also acts criminal in character, whether intentional and voluntary or negligent. Consequently, a separate civil action lies against the offender in a criminal act, whether or not he is criminally prosecuted and found guilty or acquitted, provided that the offended party is not allowed, (if the tortfeasor is actually charged also criminally), to recover damages on both scores, and would be entitled in such eventuality only to the bigger award of the two, assuming the awards made in the two cases vary. 13
The distinctness of quasi-delicta is shown in Article 2177 of the Civil Code, which states:
Article 2177. Responsibility for fault or negligence under the preceding article is entirely separate and distinct from the civil liability arising from negligence under the Penal Code. But the plaintiff cannot recover damages twice for the same act or omission of the defendant.
According to the Report of the Code Commission "the foregoing provision though at first sight startling, is not so novel or extraordinary when we consider the exact nature of criminal and civil negligence. The former is a violation of the criminal law, while the latter is a distinct and independent negligence, which is a "culpa aquiliana" or quasi-delict, of ancient origin, having always had its own foundation and individuality, separate from criminal negligence. Such distinction between criminal negligence and "culpa extra-contractual" or "cuasi-delito" has been sustained by decisions of the Supreme Court of Spain ... 14
In the case of Castillo vs. Court of Appeals, 15 this Court held that a quasi-delict or culpa aquiliana is a separate legal institution under the Civil Code with a substantivity all its own, and individuality that is entirely apart and independent from a delict or crime — a distinction exists between the civil liability arising from a crime and the responsibility for quasi-delicts or culpa extra-contractual. The same negligence causing damages may produce civil liability arising from a crime under the Penal Code, or create an action for quasi-delicts or culpa extra-contractual under the Civil Code. Therefore, the acquittal or conviction in the criminal case is entirely irrelevant in the civil case, unless, of course, in the event of an acquittal where the court has declared that the fact from which the civil action arose did not exist, in which case the extinction of the criminal liability would carry with it the extinction of the civil liability.
In Azucena vs. Potenciano, 16 the Court declared that in quasi-delicts, "(t)he civil action is entirely independent of the criminal case according to Articles 33 and 2177 of the Civil Code. There can be no logical conclusion than this, for to subordinate the civil action contemplated in the said articles to the result of the criminal prosecution — whether it be conviction or acquittal — would render meaningless the independent character of the civil action and the clear injunction in Article 31, that his action may proceed independently of the criminal proceedings and regardless of the result of the latter."
WHEREFORE, the assailed decision dated February 17, 1986 of the then Intermediate Appellate Court affirming the order of dismissal of the Regional Trial Court of Cavite, Branch 18 (Tagaytay City) dated August 17, 1984 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The trial court is ordered to reinstate Civil Case No. TG-748 entitled "Natividad V. Andamo and Emmanuel R. Andamo vs. Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette Inc." and to proceed with the hearing of the case with dispatch. This decision is immediately executory. Costs against respondent corporation.
Gutierrez, Jr. and Bidin, JJ., concur.
Feliciano, J., is on leave.

1 Rollo. pp. 27-30.
2 Rollo, p. 33.
3 AC-G.R. CV No. 04340.
4 Through Associate Justice Ma. Rosario Quetulio-Losa, ponente, with Presiding Justice Ramon G. Gaviola, Jr., and Associate Justices Eduardo P. Caguioa and Leonor Ines-Luciano, concurring.
5 Rollo, pp. 16-24.
6 Rollo, p. 26.
7 Republic v. Estenzo, G.R. No. L-35512, February 29, 1988, 158 SCRA 282; Alger Electric, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-34298, February 28, 1985, 135 SCRA 3; Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. 71375, June 18, 1987,151 SCRA 161.
8 De Tavera vs. Philippine Tuberculosis Society, Inc., G.R. No. L-48928, February 25, 1982,112 SCRA 243.
9 Dominguez vs. Lee, G.R. No. 74960-61, November 27, 1987,155 SCRA 703.
10 Rollo, pp. 27-28.
11 Taylor vs. Manila Electric Company, 16 Phil. 8; Vergara vs Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 77679, September 30, 1987,154 SCRA 564.
12 11 Phil 538 (1908).
13 Virata vs. Ochoa, G.R. No. L-46179, January 31, 1978, 81 SCRA 472.
14 Report of the Code Commission on the Proposed Civil Code of the Philippines, January 26, 1948, p. 162.
15 G.R. No. 48541, August 21, 1989,176 SCRA 591.
16 No. L-14028, June 30, 1962, 5 SCRA 468, 470-471.