Add TAGS to your cases to easily locate them or to build your SYLLABUS.
Please SIGN IN to use this feature.
Highlight text as FACTS, ISSUES, RULING, PRINCIPLES to generate case DIGESTS and REVIEWERS.
Please LOGIN use this feature.
Show printable version with highlights

[ GR No. 48936, Jun 22, 1943 ]



74 Phil. 227

[ G.R. No. 48936, June 22, 1943 ]




The question in this  case is whether the loss of a sum deposited with the Clerk of Court to  answer for Attorney's  Fees, during  the  pendency of an appeal, exempts the distributees of the estate of a deceased person from paying the fees, the attorney having rendered his services to the  estate.  From  an  order of  the respondent court  compelling said distributees to pay the fees to respondent attorney, the petitioners have appealed to this Court.

It appears that  Attorney Jose Sotelo had been rendering services to the estate of Juan de la Vina in the special proceedings before  the Court  of First Instance of Manila.  The universal heir of Juan de la Viña was his wife Julia Berceño,  who also died before the final settlement of her  husband's  estate.   Julia Berceño's heirs are her brothers and  sisters, petitioners  herein.  Tho Court  of First Instance,  on April 8. 1940. ordered the administrator of the  estate of Juan de la Viña to pay the fees, of Attorney Jose Sotelo. The administrators of both estates of  Juan de  la   Vina and  Julia Berceño appealed from that order to the Court  of  Appeals.   After the perfection of that appeal, and under date of May 27, 1940, the Court of First Instance ordered the estate of Julia Berceño (to which all the property or the estate of Juan de la Viña had passed in the meantime by authority of the court) to file a bond in the amount of P4,200 or  deposit that amount with the Clerk of Court to answer for the outcome of  the appeal from the order  of April 8,  1940  ("para estar a las resultas de  la apelacion  interpuesta").  Accordingly, on August 2, 1940, the estate of  Julia Berceño deposited P4,200 with the Clerk of Court.   The Court of Appeals later  affirmed the order referred to but reduced  the amount of  fees to P4,200. from  which the sum of P1,464 which had already been received by Attorney Jose Sotelo,  should  be deducted.  The petitioners have already receive their shares of the estate of Julia Berceño, which has been settled.

In an order dated January 25, 1943, the respondent court ordered petitioners herein to pay, in the respective portions therein stated, the  respondent Attorney Jose  Sotelo the sum of P2,736 within ten days; otherwise, a writ of  execution would be issued.  That order is questioned by petitioners in this appeal.

Petitioners contend that respondent Attorney Sotelo became the owner of P2,736 (the unpaid balance of the fees due him) from the date of the  deposit, and he should therefore bear the loss, while petitioners themselves should also bear the loss of P1,464.  To support this  theory, counsel for petitioners cites our resolution in Gutierrez vs. Gutierrez, G. R. No. 48055 (dated December 23, 1942) denying a motion of respondent therein for a  writ of execution against petitioner therein, the money deposited for costs having been lost in the government treasury on account of the present emergency.  However, we believe  and so hold that there is a clear distinction between a  deposit for costs and the deposit under  consideration.  Attorney Sotelo is a creditor of the estate of Julia Berceño (which succeeded to the assets and liabilities of the estate of Juan de la Viña).   As such creditor, he has a statutory lien against said'estate of Julia Berceño.   (Suiliong & Co. vs. Chio-Taysan, 12 Phil., 13; Enriquez vs. Panopio, G. R. No. 48891, May  28,  1943.)  Was such lien extinguished by  the mere deposit of P4,200 with the Clerk of Court? No, because the deposit was simply a guarantee or security for such amount of fees as may be adjudicated, pending the appeal regarding the fees.  It partakes of the nature of the bond required by Rule 91, Section 1, 2nd paragraph, of the Rules of Court, which provides:
"No distribution shall be allowed until the payment of the obligations above mentioned has been made or provided for, unless the distributees  or any of them, give a bond, in a sum to be fixed by the court, conditioned for the payment of said obligations within such time as the court directs."
In fact, the Court of First  Instance in its order of May 27, 1940, required the estate of Julia Berceño either to  file a bond in the amount of P4,200 or to deposit that amount with the Clerk of Court.  Certainly, the character of the liability of the estate is not altered  by the fact that the estate chose to deposit the amount, instead of filing a bond.  As a matter of fact,  it was  not necessary  for the petitioners either to make a deposit or file a bond, because in the  absence  of bond or deposit all the assets of  the estate responded,for  the claim.  The order of the court requiring either bond or  deposit was made for  the  convenience  of the distributees, to enable them to get their shares pending their appeal against the allowance of Attorney Sotelo's  claim.   Therefore, the claim of Attorney Sotelo for fees can be enforced against the  distributees of the estate of Julia  Berceno, even  after the loss of the amount deposited.

On the other hand, a deposit for  costs made by a party in a suit constitutes payment in advance of  a fixed and definite sum to the other party, if the latter should win  the case.  The deposit for costs in this Court is obligatory on the depositor because it is a condition precedent to the admission  of his petition or the allowance of his appeal.  And the adverse party has no lien against  all the  property, of the depositor, as in the instant case.  The sum deposited for costs is a specific amount, held in trust by the government for the other party if and when the latter should succeed.  If the amount is later lost by force majeure, the  depositor cannot again be made liable, as we held in the Gutierrez case, supra.

Furthermore,  equitable  considerations compel petitioners to satisfy this lien against the property which has been distributed to and among them.  The assets of Juan de la Vina have passed to them through inheritance from their sister, Julia Berceño the universal heir of  Juan de la Vina   The deposit made by the petitioners having been lost  through no negligence of either Attorney Sotelo or the petitoners, the latter  should not be permitted to evade  liability to pay for  services rendered for the benefit of the estate from which the property already  received by them originally came.  There is still more than sufficient  of that property in the hands of petitioners to satisfy this just and lawful debt of  the original estate. Weighing the equities due  both sides and neither being at fault, the balance must incline toward Attorney Jose Sotelo who should be paid for services actually rendered,  rather than toward petitioners who have come to this inheritance through the bounty of their  sister, the  deceased Julia Berceño.  As between hard toil and an act of liberality of the testatrix, the choice is not difficult to make.  The principle underlying this just solution is recognized in positive legislation, such as the lien of creditors  against the  estate  of  deceased persons,  and the  inheritance tax laws which discourage gratuitous transmission of property.

Petitioners' counsel advances" the theory that the estate  of Julia Berceño having been closed,  there should be a prior declaration in a separate and independent proceeding  to the effect  that the heirs (petitioners herein) are liable, before the Court of First Instance can acquire jurisdiction to make the heirs pay this debt.  But the obligation of both estates of Juan de la Viña and JuJia Befceno for the payment of the attorney's fees having become final upon the affirmance by the Court of Appeals of the order of the Court of First Instance dated April 8, 1940, this point of the respondent's counsel  is not well taken.  The estate of Julia Berceño (which succeeded to the rights and liabilities of the estate of  Juan  de la  Vina) being liable, the responsibility of  the distributees of Julia  Berceno's estate necessarily follows. Further declaration to that effect in a separate action would be superfluous.

Wherefore, the  order of January  25, 1943, requiring the petitioners herein to pay the respondent Attorney Jose Sotelo the sum of P2,736 under the terms stated therein, should be and is hereby affirmed, with costs against petitioners.  So ordered.

Yulo, C. J., Moran, Ozaeta and Paras, JJ., concur.