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June 18, 2014

Lee Tek Sheng vs. CA

Facts:

  • After his mother’s death, petitioner Leoncio Lee Tek Sheng filed a complaint against his father (private respondent) for the partition of the conjugal properties of his parents.
  • The private respondent alleged that the 4 parcels of land registered in petitioner’s name are conjugal properties.
  • The PR contends that the lots were registered under Leoncio’s name only as a trustee because during the registration, Leoncio was the only Filipino in the family.
  • Respondent prayed for the dismissal of the partition case and for the reconveyance of the lots to its rightful owner – the conjugal regime.
  • To protect the interest of the conjugal regime during the pendency of the case, PR caused the annotation of a notice of lis pendens on TCT 8278.
  • Petitioner moved for the cancellation of said annotation but it was denied by RTC on the grounds that: (a) the notice was not for the purpose of molesting or harassing petitioner and (b) also to keep the property within the power of the court pending litigation. CA affirmed the decision. Hence this petition. 
  • Petitioner’s contention: The resolution of an incidental motion for cancellation of the notice of lis pendens was improper to thresh out the issue of ownership of the disputed lots since ownership cannot be passed upon in a partition case and that it would amount to a collateral attack of his title obtained more than 28 years ago.
  • Private respondent’s contention: The evidence of ownership is admissible in a partition case as this is not a probate or land registration proceedings when the court’s jurisdiction is limited. 

Issue: WON the annotation of a notice of lis pendens is valid. 

Held: Yes. 

Petitioner’s claim is not legally tenable. The annotation of a notice of lis pendens does not in any case amount nor can it be considered as equivalent to a collateral attack of the certificate of title for a parcel of land. 

What cannot be collaterally attacked is the certificate of title and not the title. Placing a parcel of land under the mantle of the Torrens system does not mean that ownership thereof can no longer be disputed. Ownership is different from a certificate of title. The TCT is only the best proof of ownership of a piece of land. Besides, the certificate cannot always be considered as conclusive evidence of ownership.

Registration is not the equivalent of title, but is only the best evidence thereof. Title as a concept of ownership should not be confused with the certificate of title as evidence of such ownership although both are interchangeably used. In this case, contrary to petitioner’s fears, his certificate of title is not being assailed by private respondent. What the latter disputes is the former’s claim of sole ownership. Thus, although petitioner’s certificate of title may have become incontrovertible one year after issuance, yet contrary to his argument, it does not bar private respondent from questioning his ownership.

A notice of lis pendens may be cancelled only on two grounds:
(1) if the annotation was for the purpose of molesting the title of the adverse party
(2) when the annotation is not necessary to protect the title of the party who caused it to be recorded. 
Neither ground for cancellation of the notice was convincingly shown to concur in this case. 

It must be emphasized that the annotation of a notice of lis pendens is only for the purpose of announcing “to the whole world that a particular real property is in litigation, serving as a warning that one who acquires an interest over said property does so at his own risk, or that he gambles on the result of the litigation over said property.”

On the contention that ownership cannot be passed upon in partition case, suffice it to say that until and unless ownership is definitely resolved, it would be premature to effect partition of the property. For purposes of annotating a notice of lis pendens, there is nothing in the rules which requires the party seeking annotation to prove that the land belongs to him. Besides, an action for partition is one case where the annotation of a notice of lis pendens is proper.

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