G.R. No. 94699 – 205 SCRA 393 – Civil Law – Law on Property – Co-ownership – When is prescription not available for or against a co-owner
In 1934, Bernarda Lim died and she left a parcel of land inherited in common by Sunglao et al (2), Querubin Cuevas et al (5), Gaudencio Coronel et al (2), and David et al (2). The property was formally adjudicated to the co-owners in 1940. In the adjudication, Querubin and his family were given the right to occupy the property in whole.
In 1972, Gaudencio acquired a Torrens title (under Act No. 496) over the whole property as he claimed that he was the owner in fee simple and that he was the only occupant thereon.
In 1978, Gaudencio died and his clan (Coronel clan) had the property titled under their names.
In 1984, the Coronel clan sued the Cuevas, Sunglaos, and Davids for them to be evicted from the property. This was the only time that the other co-owners found out about the granting of a Torrens title in favor of Gaudencio in 1972. The Cuevas clan then filed a case for reconveyance against the Coronel clan.
The lower court and the Court of Appeals ruled against the Coronel clan. The trial court and the appellate court ruled that Gaudencio acquired the title fraudulently as he misrepresented himself in his Torrens application.
The Coronel clan argued that laches (prescription) has set in. They claim there was inaction on the part of Cuevas et al for more than ten years have already lapsed since the granting of the title to Gaudencio and that the same constituted a repudiation of the trust given to Gaudencio.
ISSUE: Was there prescription or not?
This case is governed by Article 494 of the Civil Code, to wit:
No prescription shall run in favor of a co-owner or co-heir against his co-owners or co-heirs so long as he expressly or impliedly recognizes the co-ownership.
Gaudencio was merely one of the 4 designated administrators of the property and at the same time one of the co-owners. There was no special designation whatsoever as to any special right granted to him.
Further, it was Querubin Cuevas and his family who was granted possession over the property. Prescription could not have run against them as they were the ones in possession.
The rule regarding prescription cannot be pleaded between them except when one heir openly and adversely occupies the property for a period sufficiently long to entitle him to ownership under the law. In other words, as long as other heirs acknowledge their ownership or do not set up any adverse title to the property, prescription is unavailable.
The other requirement of prescription in favor of a co-owner is continuous, open, peaceful, public adverse possession for a period of time required under the law.