“The rules will take effect on April 11.”
The Supreme Court recently issued the Rules on Expedited Procedures in the First Level Courts (Expedited Rules) which shall take effect on April 11, 2022. These Rules will significantly affect the manner by which cases are handled, prosecuted, defended, and resolved in First Level Courts.
The First Level Courts are the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Cities and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts. The issuance of the Expedited Rules will “recalibrate, reconcile and harmonize” the Rule on Summary Procedure and Rules on Small Claims with Republic Act (RA) No. 11576.
RA No. 11576 expanded the jurisdictional amounts in First Level Courts to: (a) not exceeding P2Million for claims in civil cases; and (b) not exceeding the assessed value of P400,000 for actions involving the title to, or possession of real property, or interest therein.
The Expedited Rules highlight the move of the judiciary to further accelerate the disposition of cases in First Level Courts. The implementation of this reinvigorated policy will be possible with the help of pro-active judges who have a strong support staff, and who will study, hear, and resolve cases in a timely manner.
The Expedited Rules on Summary Procedure increased the maximum value of civil cases and complaints for damages that First Level Courts can resolve to P2Million [Rule 1A(1)(b)(c), Expedited Rules]. This development will fast-track the resolution of money claims and damages cases in that level. Examples of these cases include the recovery of sums of money or personal properties, and complaints for damages due to negligence.
With the Expedited Rules on Summary Procedure, more civil cases will be resolved by the First Level Courts, since after the preliminary conference, mediation, and judicial dispute resolution – especially when these proceedings still result in an unresolved case – the parties will be ordered to submit their position papers, if still necessary and without need of trial; and thereafter, the court can proceed to render its judgment.
Excluded from the Expedited Rules on Summary Procedure are probate proceedings, admiralty and maritime actions, and small claims cases falling under the Rules on Small Claims which are incorporated in the Expedited Rules. However, forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases remain to be covered by Summary Procedure [Rule 1A(1)(a)(b)].
Also included under the Expedited Rules on Summary Procedure are: (a) enforcements of barangay settlement agreements and arbitration awards where the money claim exceeds P1Million; (b) revival of any First Level Court judgment if not enforced within 5 years from its finality; and (c) civil aspect of a violation of the Bouncing Checks Law, if no criminal action was instituted [Rule 1A(1)(d)(e)(f)].
The Expedited Rules also adjusted the amount for Small Claims Cases in the First Level Courts to not exceed P1Million, exclusive of interest and costs. A “small claim” is an action that is purely civil in nature, where the claim or relief raised by the plaintiff is solely for the payment or reimbursement of a sum of money [Rule 1A(2)].
The “small claim” may be for money owed under: (a) contracts of lease; (b) contracts of loan and other credit accommodations; (c) contracts of services; (d) contracts of sale of personal property; and (e) the enforcement of barangay settlement agreements and arbitration awards where the money claim does not exceed P1Million [Rule 1A(2)]. If it exceeds said amount, the case will fall under Summary Procedure.
The intention of the Supreme Court in providing the Expedited Rules on Small Claims, among others, is “to provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the disposition of small claims cases”. This type of action does not require the representation of a lawyer; no formal pleading is required except for the Statement of Claim (SOC), which is available in court.
While the Expedited Rules on Summary Procedure and Small Claims are intended to hasten proceedings in First Level Courts, they have procedural differences, which include, among others, the following: (a) the period to file an Answer or Response; (b) the effect of failure to file an Answer or Response; (c) the proceedings after filing an Answer or Response; (d) the applicability of mediation and judicial dispute resolution; and (e) the remedies after judgment.
Period to file an Answer or Response. In Summary Procedure, the period to file an Answer is within 30 days from the receipt of summons [Rule III A, Section 6], while the period to file a Response in Small Claims is within a non-extendible period of 10 days from the receipt of summons [Rule IV, Section 13].
Effect of failure to file an Answer or Response. In Summary Procedure, the court, on its own initiative or upon manifestation of the plaintiff that the period for filing an Answer has lapsed, shall render a judgment [Rule III A, Section 9]. However, in Small Claims, the failure to file a Response coupled with the failure to appear on the date set for the hearing will push the court to render a judgment within 24 hours from the termination of the hearing [Rule IV, Section 14].
Proceedings after Answer or Response. In Summary Procedure, the Clerk of Court, within 5 days after the filing of the last responsive pleading, shall issue a Notice of Preliminary Conference setting such a conference within 30 days from the filing of the last responsive pleading [Rule III A, Section 10]. On the other hand, in Small Claims, the court shall hear the case on the date set for the hearing and render a judgment within 24 hours from its termination [Rule IV, Section 22].
Applicability of mediation and judicial dispute resolution. In Summary Procedure, the court shall issue a preliminary conference order, referring the parties to mediation and judicial dispute resolution [Rule III A, Section 13]. No such referral is required in Small Claims since the parties may enter into a compromise at any stage of the proceedings [Rule IV, Section 27].
Remedy after judgment. In Summary Procedure, the remedy in case of an adverse judgment is an appeal. A motion for reconsideration of judgment is a prohibited pleading [Rule III (C); Rule II, Section 2]. The remedy in Small Claims is a Petition for Certiorari since the decision or judgment of the court shall be final, executory, and unappealable.
For the author, the most important innovation introduced by the Supreme Court is the power given to the judges of the First Level Courts to dismiss the case of their own initiative. Undoubtedly, this will spur the resolution and disposition of more cases even before the Answer or Response is filed by the defendants.
The grounds for dismissal include lack of subject matter jurisdiction, improper venue, lack of legal capacity to sue, litis pendentia, res judicata, prescription, failure to state a cause of action, non-submission of the certification against forum shopping, and lack of compliance with condition precedent [Rule III A, Section 4 and Rule IV, Section 9].
These grounds for motu proprio dismissal by the court are made available to proceedings concerning either Summary Procedure and Small Claims, except that there are two additional grounds for dismissal in the latter set of Rules. These grounds are: (a) absence of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant; and (b) failure to submit the required affidavits [Rule IV, Section 9].
The goal of the Supreme Court is to simplify and expedite proceedings in First Level Courts. This reflects its genuine intention to improve the administration of justice and the advancement of the “constitutional right of persons to a speedy disposition of their cases”. This Expedited Rules is a big leap towards making the courts truly accessible to every litigant in this country.