Civil Law

Heirs of Tan Eng Kee vs Court of Appeals

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G.R. No. 126881 – 341 SCRA 740 – Civil Law – Partnership – Periodic Accounting – Profit Sharing

Benguet Lumber has been around even before World War II but during the war, its stocks were confiscated by the Japanese. After the war, the brothers Tan Eng Lay and Tan Eng Kee pooled their resources in order to revive the business. In 1981, Tan Eng Lay caused the conversion of Benguet Lumber into a corporation called Benguet Lumber and Hardware Company, with him and his family as the incorporators. In 1983, Tan Eng Kee died. Thereafter, the heirs of Tan Eng Kee demanded for an accounting and the liquidation of the partnership.

Tan Eng Lay denied that there was a partnership between him and his brother. He said that Tan Eng Kee was merely an employee of Benguet Lumber. He showed evidence consisting of Tan Eng Kee’s payroll; his SSS as an employee and Benguet Lumber being the employer. As a result of the presentation of said evidence, the heirs of Tan Eng Kee filed a criminal case against Tan Eng Lay for allegedly fabricating those evidence. Said criminal case was however dismissed for lack of evidence.

ISSUE: Whether or not Tan Eng Kee is a partner.

HELD: No. There was no certificate of partnership between the brothers. The heirs were not able to show what was the agreement between the brothers as to the sharing of profits. All they presented were circumstantial evidence which in no way proved partnership.

It is obvious that there was no partnership whatsoever.  Except for a firm name, there was no firm account, no firm letterheads submitted as evidence, no certificate of partnership, no agreement as to profits and losses, and no time fixed for the duration of the partnership.  There was even no attempt to submit an accounting corresponding to the period after the war until Kee’s death in 1984.  It had no business book, no written account nor any memorandum for that matter and no license mentioning the existence of a partnership.

In fact, Tan Eng Lay was able to show evidence that Benguet Lumber is a sole proprietorship. He registered the same as such in 1954; that Kee was just an employee based on the latter’s payroll and SSS coverage, and other records indicating Tan Eng Lay as the proprietor.

Also, the business definitely amounted to more than P3,000.00 hence if there was a partnership, it should have been made in a public instrument.

But the business was started after the war (1945) prior to the publication of the New Civil Code in 1950?

Even so, nothing prevented the parties from complying with this requirement.

Also, the Supreme Court emphasized that for 40 years, Tan Eng Kee never asked for an accounting. The essence of a partnership is that the partners share in the profits and losses. Each has the right to demand an accounting as long as the partnership exists. Even if it can be speculated that a scenario wherein “if excellent relations exist among the partners at the start of the business and all the partners are more interested in seeing the firm grow rather than get immediate returns, a deferment of sharing in the profits is perfectly plausible.” But in the situation in the case at bar, the deferment, if any, had gone on too long to be plausible.  A person is presumed to take ordinary care of his concerns. A demand for periodic accounting is evidence of a partnership which Kee never did.

The Supreme Court also noted:

In determining whether a partnership exists, these rules shall apply:

(1) Except as provided by Article 1825, persons who are not partners as to each other are not partners as to third persons;

(2) Co-ownership or co-possession does not of itself establish a partnership, whether such co-owners or co-possessors do or do not share any profits made by the use of the property;

(3) The sharing of gross returns does not of itself establish a partnership, whether or not the persons sharing them have a joint or common right or interest in any property which the returns are derived;

(4) The receipt by a person of a share of the profits of a business is prima facie evidence that he is a partner in the business, but no such inference shall be drawn if such profits were received in payment:

(a) As a debt by installment or otherwise;

(b) As wages of an employee or rent to a landlord;

(c) As an annuity to a widow or representative of a deceased partner;

(d) As interest on a loan, though the amount of payment vary with the profits of the business;

(e) As the consideration for the sale of a goodwill of a business or other property by installments or otherwise.

Read the full text here.

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