Partial default in a case with multiple defendants

What if, in a case filed against multiple defendants, one defendant does not file his Answer but his co-defendants file theirs?

Can a defendant who failed to file his own Answer be declared in default even if Answers were filed by his co-defendants?

Yes. The applicable rule is Section 3 of Rule 9 of the Rules of Court.

At the outset, it must be seen that the rules on Default in Section 3 of Rule 9 provide for two distinct and discrete stages of action.

The first stage of action pertains to the finding that a defendant is in default and the consequent declaration by the Court. With regard to this stage, the first paragraph of Section 3, Rule 9, provides thus:

“Sec. 3. Default; declaration of. — If the defending party fails to answer within the time allowed therefore, the court shall, upon motion of the claiming party with notice to the defending party, and proof of such failure, declare the defending party in default.”

The first stage thus concludes with the declaration that a defending party is in default.

The second stage of action pertains to the conduct of the case after the declaration in default. The ordinary consequence upon a defendant after he is found in default is provided in paragraph (a) of Section 3, Rule 9, thus:

“(a) Effect of order of default. – A party in default is entitled to notice of subsequent proceedings, but not to take part in the trial.”

There is a critical distinction between the first stage of action, a defendant’s being declared in default, and the second stage of action, the consequences thereof, i.e. the conduct of the case after such a declaration. While both pertain to default, they are not identical.

It is clear that paragraph (c) of Section 3, Rule 9 also refers to the second stage.

“(c) Effect of partial default. — When a pleading asserting a claim states a common cause of action against several defending parties, some of whom answer and the others fail to do so, the court shall try the case against all upon the answers thus filed and render judgment upon the evidence presented.”

Paragraph (c) only provides for the manner in which the trial will be conducted in a case where a defendant filed no Answer although his co-defendants did. The paragraph provides only that the case will be tried upon the Answers filed by the responsive defendants. Nowhere does it state that the Rule on default does not apply. It is not an exception to a defendant being declared in default.

The defendant who does not file an Answer is to be declared in default. This is the Rule and paragraph (c) of Section 3, Rule 9 is no exception to it. Said provision, in fact, recognizes a situation where one defendant among several is in default. This is clear from paragraph (c)’s own heading, “Effect of partial default. That very heading recognizes that default exists within the set. This recognition can only be upon the Court’s declaration of default pursuant to the first paragraph of Section 3 of Rule 9.

Paragraph (c) of Section 3, Rule 9 thus provides for the manner of the trial’s conduct in a situation where one party among several, but not all, were declared in default pursuant to the first paragraph of Section 3, Rule 9. It contemplates the existence of default in one of the defendants. It is, therefore, not an exception to the rule on default, but a consequence.

A contrary interpretation would allow a defendant in willful default to nevertheless present evidence contrary to the Rules’ explicit provision. This would render in vain the provisions for the Rule on Default and defeat the Rules of Court’s objective of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.[1]

Jurisprudence is in full support of this view. The Supreme Court has ruled upon Section 3 (c) of Rule 9 in the case of PINLAC, ET AL. vs. COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL., G.R. No. 91486, 19 January 2001. There the Supreme Court affirmed that when a party does not file an Answer, although his co-defendants do so, default is availing against the former. The Supreme Court ruled:

“(c) Effect of partial default. — When a pleading asserting a claim states a common cause of action against several defending parties, some of whom answer and the others fail to do so, the court shall try the case against all upon the answers thus filed and render judgment upon the evidence presented.”

In fact, the court a quo enumerated in the Partial Decision those who filed responsive pleadings. Considering that petitioners in their complaint stated a common cause of action against all the named respondents, the court a quo should have heard the case as against all respondents, the defaulted respondents included. However, the trial court, unmindful of the above-quoted rule, proceeded to receive evidence ex parte only against the defaulted respondents. The trial court’s disposition is not only violative of the rules but also a clear negation of the defaulted respondents’ limited rights.

Whatever defense and evidence the non-defaulted respondents may present which would be applicable to the situation of the defaulted respondents should inure to the benefit of the latter. The nullification of OCT 614 adversely affected the answering respondents for they all share the same mother title. In effect, the court a quo pre-judged the case even against the answering respondents, for how could OCT 614, the mother title, be valid for one set of respondents and null and void for the other respondents? In fine, the Partial Decision was procedurally flawed. [Boldfacing supplied]

Pinlac vs. Court of Appeals affirms that a declaration of partial default is in order in these cicumstances. For, under Pinlac, that a Complaint states a common cause of action against all the named defendants means only that the Honorable Court should hear the case and receive evidence against all defendants, the defaulted defendant included.

But, as Pinlac vs. Court of Appeals makes clear, Section 3 (c) of Rule 9 does not mean that a delinquent defendant  — whose co-defendants did file their Answers — cannot be declared in default. He still should be declared in default for having failed to file an Answer within the time given by the Rules. He does remain entitled to the limited rights of a defendant in default, but to no more than those.

Although such defenses and evidence as the non-defaulted co-defendant may present which would be applicable to the situation of the defaulted defendant could inure to his benefit, being in default, the latter should be so declared. And so the defaulted defendant shall remain entitled to notice of subsequent proceedings, but he cannot take part in the trial.[2]

The Supreme Court again explained in depth the governing rules in a situation of partial default under Section 3 (c) of Rule 9 in the case of REMIGIA GRAGEDA ET AL., vs. HON. NIMFA C. GOMEZ, ET AL., G.R. No. 169536, 21 September 2007:

Stated differently, in all instances where a common cause of action is alleged against several defendants, some of whom answer and the others do not, the latter or those in default acquire a vested right not only to own the defense interposed in the answer of their co-defendant or co-defendants not in default but also to expect a result of the litigation totally common with them in kind and in amount whether favorable or unfavorable. The substantive unity of the plaintiffs cause against all the defendants is carried through to its adjective phase as ineluctably demanded by the homogeneity and indivisibility of justice itself. Indeed, since the singleness of the cause of action also inevitably implies that all the defendants are indispensable parties, the court’s power to act is integral and cannot be split such that it cannot relieve any of them and at the same time render judgment against the rest. Considering the tenor of the section in question, it is to be assumed that when any defendant allows himself to be declared in default knowing that his co-defendant has already answered, he does so trusting in the assurance implicit in the rule that his default is in essence a mere formality that deprives him of no more than the right to take part in the trial and that the court would deem anything done by or for the answering defendant as done by or for him. The presumption is that otherwise he would not have seen to it that he would not be in default. Of course, he has to suffer the consequences of whatever the answering defendant may do or fail to do, regardless of possible adverse consequences, but if the complaint has to be dismissed in so far as the answering defendant is concerned, it becomes his inalienable right that the same be dismissed also as to him. It does not matter that the dismissal is upon the evidence presented by the plaintiff or upon the latter’s mere desistance, for in both contingencies, the lack of sufficient legal basis must be the cause. x x x.

The primary question which a Motion To Declare Defendant In Default hinges on is whether or not the defendant failed to Answer within the time given him.

The question of whether or not his co-defendant had filed an Answer is relevant only as to the second stage, the manner of how trial will subsequently be conducted. It has no bearing on the first stage, the declaration of the delinquent party’s default.

The application of the Rules in such a case are therefore clear. The Rules on partial default are as they were laid out in the same case of Grageda vs. Hon. Gomez:

The effects, therefore, of a failure to file a separate Answer when other co-defendants (against whom a common cause of action was alleged) had already filed theirs, are limited to the following:

  1. While the non-answering defendants may be declared in default, the court would still try the case against them on the assumption that they are deemed to have adopted the Answer of the answering defendants; and
  2. If declared in default, the defaulting party is deprived of no more than the right to take part in the trial. Consequently, the result of the litigation, whether favorable or unfavorable, shall affect and bind the defaulting party and the answering defendant with equal force and effect.

 

[1]           Section 6, Rule 1 of the Rules of Court.

[2]           Section 3 (a), Rule 9 of the Rules of Court.

 

Atty. Francesco C. Britanico

 

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