Civil Law

Sergio Amonoy vs Spouses Jose and Angela Gutierrez

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G.R. No. 140420 – 351 SCRA 73 – Civil Law – Article 19 – Abuse of Rights – Damnum Absque Injuria

In 1965, Atty. Sergio Amonoy represented Alfonso Fornilda (also spelled Formida) in a partition case. Since Fornilda had no money to pay, he agreed to make use of whatever property he acquires as a security for the payment of Amonoy’s attorney’s fees which amounts to P27k. In July 1969, Fornilda died. A month later, the property was finally adjudicated and Fornilda, through his heirs, got his just share from the property in dispute. Fornilda was however unable to pay Amonoy. Hence, Amonoy sought to foreclose the property in 1970. The heirs of Fornilda, the spouses Jose Gutierrez and Angela Fornilda then sued Amonoy questioning the validity of his mortgage agreement with Fornilda. It was their claim that the attorney’s fees he was collecting was unconscionable and that the same was based on an invalid mortgage due to the existing attorney-client relationship between him and Fornilda at the time the mortgage was executed.

The spouses lost in the trial court as well as in the Court of Appeals but they appealed to the Supreme Court, docketed as G.R.No. L-72306. Meanwhile, in 1973, Amonoy was able to foreclose the property. Amonoy was also the highest bidder in the public sale conducted in view of the foreclosure. He was able to buy the property of Fornilda for P23k. But constructed on said property was the house of the spouses Gutierrez.

Pending the spouses’s appeal with the Supreme Court, Amonoy was able to secure a demolition order and so on May 30, 1986, Amonoy started demolishing the house of the spouses. But on June 2, 1986, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the demolition order. On June 4, 1986, Amonoy received a copy of the TRO. Finally, on June 24, 1989, the Supreme Court promulgated a decision in G.R.No. L-72306 where it ruled that the mortgage between Amonoy and Fornilda is void, hence, Amonoy has no right over the property. But by this time, the house of the spouses was already demolished because it appears that despite the TRO, Amonoy continued demolishing the house until it was fully demolished in the middle of 1987.

The spouses then sued Amonoy for damages. It is now the contention of Amonoy that he incurred no liability because he was merely exercising his right to demolish (pursuant to the demolition order) hence what happened was a case of damnum absque injuria (injury without damage).

ISSUE: Whether or not Amonoy is correct.

HELD: No. Amonoy initially had the right to demolish but when he received the TRO that right had already ceased. Hence, his continued exercise of said right after the TRO was already unjustified. As quoted by the Supreme Court: “The exercise of a right ends when the right disappears, and it disappears when it is abused, especially to the prejudice of others.”

What Amonoy did is an abuse of right. Article 19, known to contain what is commonly referred to as the principle of abuse of rights, sets certain standards which may be observed not only in the exercise of one’s rights but also in the performance of one’s duties. These standards are the following: to act with justice; to give everyone his due; recognizes the primordial limitation on all rights: that in their exercise, the norms of human conduct set forth in Article 19 and results in damage to another, a legal wrong is thereby committed for which the wrongdoer must be held responsible.

Clearly then, the demolition of the spouses’s house by Amonoy, despite his receipt of the TRO, was not only an abuse but also an unlawful exercise of such right.

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