The doctrine of finality of judgment or immutability of judgment and its exceptions

In advocacy of its position, FGU argues that the decision is already final and executory and, accordingly, a writ of execution should issue.  The lower court should not be allowed to hear the matter of turnover of the refrigerators to FGU because it was not an issue raised in the Answer of GPS. Neither was it argued by GPS in the CA and in this Court.  It was only brought out after the decision became final and executory.

Indeed, a writ of mandamus lies to compel a judge to issue a writ of execution when the judgment had already become final and executory and the prevailing party is entitled to the same as a matter of right.[10]

Fundamental is the rule that where the judgment of a higher court has become final and executory and has been returned to the lower court, the only function of the latter is the ministerial act of carrying out the decision and issuing the writ of execution.[11] In addition, a final and executory judgment can no longer be amended by adding thereto a relief not originally included. In short, once a judgment becomes final, the winning party is entitled to a writ of execution and the issuance thereof becomes a court’s ministerial duty.  The lower court cannot vary the mandate of the superior court or reexamine it for any other purpose other than execution; much less may it review the same upon any matter decided on appeal or error apparent; nor intermeddle with it further than to settle so much as has been demanded.[12]

Under the doctrine of finality of judgment or immutability of judgment, a decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable, and may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact and law, and whether it be made by the court that rendered it or by the Highest Court of the land. Any act which violates this principle must immediately be struck down.

But like any other rule, it has exceptions, namely: (1) the correction of clerical errors; (2) the so-called nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party; (3) void judgments; and (4) whenever circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable.[13]  The exception to the doctrine of immutability of judgment has been applied in several cases in order to serve substantial justice. The early case of City of Butuan vs. Ortiz[14] is one where the Court held as follows:

Obviously a prevailing party in a civil action is entitled to a writ of execution of the final judgment obtained by him within five years from its entry (Section 443, Code of Civil Procedure).  But it has been repeatedly held, and it is now well-settled in this jurisdiction, that when after judgment has been rendered and the latter has become final, facts and circumstances transpire which render its execution impossible or unjust, the interested party may ask the court to modify or alter the judgment to harmonize the same with justice and the facts (Molina vs. De la Riva, 8 Phil. 569; Behn, Meyer & Co. vs. McMicking, 11 Phil. 276; Warner, Barnes & Co. vs. Jaucian, 13 Phil. 4; Espiritu vs. Crossfield and Guash, 14 Phil. 588; Flor Mata vs. Lichauco and Salinas, 36 Phil. 809).  In the instant case the respondent Cleofas alleged that subsequent to the judgment obtained by Sto. Domingo, they entered into an agreement which showed that he was no longer indebted in the amount claimed of P995, but in a lesser amount.  Sto. Domingo had no right to an execution for the amount claimed by him.’ (De la Costa vs. Cleofas, 67 Phil. 686-693).

Shortly after City of Butuan v. Ortiz, the case of Candelario v. Cañizares[15] was promulgated, where it was written that:

After a judgment has become final, if there is evidence of an event or circumstance which would affect or change the rights of the parties thereto, the court should be allowed to admit evidence of such new facts and circumstances, and thereafter suspend execution thereof and grant relief as the new facts and circumstances warrant. We, therefore, find that the ruling of the court declaring that the order for the payment of P40,000.00 is final and may not be reversed, is erroneous as above explained.

These rulings were reiterated in the cases of Abellana vs. Dosdos,[16] The City of Cebu vs. Mendoza[17] and PCI Leasing and Finance, Inc. v Antonio Milan.[18] In these cases, there were compelling circumstances which clearly warranted the exercise of the Court’s equity jurisdiction.

In the case at bench, the Court agrees with the RTC that there is indeed a need to find out the whereabouts of the subject refrigerators. For this purpose, a hearing is necessary to determine the issue of whether or not there was an actual turnover of the subject refrigerators to FGU by the assured CII.  If there was an actual turnover, it is very important to find out whether FGU sold the subject refrigerators to third parties and profited from such sale. These questions were brought about by the contention of GPS in its Opposition to Motion for Execution[19] that after the assured, CII, was fully compensated for its claim on the damaged refrigerators, it delivered the possession of the subject refrigerators to FGU as shown in the certification of the Accounting/Administrative Manager of CII. Thereafter, the subject refrigerators were sold by FGU to third parties and FGU received and appropriated the consideration and proceeds of the sale. GPS claims that it verified the whereabouts of the subject refrigerators from the CII because it wanted to repair and sell them to compensate FGU.

If, indeed, there was an actual delivery of the refrigerators and FGU profited from the sale after the delivery, there would be an unjust enrichment if the realized profit would not be deducted from the judgment amount. “The Court is not precluded from rectifying errors of judgment if blind and stubborn adherence to the doctrine of immutability of final judgments would involve the sacrifice of justice for technicality.”[20]

About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in Court, Decision, Judgment, Rules of Procedures, Substantial Justice and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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