Invalid service


In civil actions, courts acquire jurisdiction by proper service of summons upon the defendants. If summons have not been properly served, judgments or orders rendered by the courts are null and void. This is illustrated in this case of the spouses Ted and Risa.

For non-payment of their obligation representing the balance of the purchase price of broiler starters and finishers amounting to P353,500, the spouses were sued by the supplier, MAC on June 21, 2000 before the Regional Trial Court (RTC). MAC prayed that the couple be ordered to pay the said amount plus interest and attorney’s fees of P60,000 as well as expenses of litigation. The complaint specified their poultry farm address in the province (Barangay Kalayaan, Gerona, Tarlac) and their residence address in Quezon City (230 Apo Street Sta. Mesa Heights) as the places where they could be served with summons.

On September 17, 2000, the court process server Tino went to 230 Apo St. to serve the summons. There, Ted’s father told Tino that the spouses were presently residing at Tierra Pura Subdivision, Tandang Sora, QC. Despite being informed of the spouses’ correct address, Tino still went to their poultry farm at Barangay Kalayaan in Gerona Tarlac to serve the summons, only to find out that the property has been foreclosed and that the spouses no longer resided there. On September 26, 2000, Tino went to the Tierra Pura Subdivision in QC and, without any explanation, served the summons not on the spouses but on Vicky, the sister-in-law of Ted who received it, as evidenced by her signature.

Ted and Risa failed to answer, so they were declared in default and MAC was allowed to present its evidence ex-parte. On June 27, 2001, the RTC rendered its decision in favor of MAC and ordered the spouses to pay P353,500 plus 6% interest and P30,000 attorney’s fees.

On November 10, 2004, the RTC issued a writ of execution of its June 27, 2001 decision. The spouses received a copy of this order from their parents-in-law who gave it to them on December 13, 2004. So on January 6, 2005, they filed a petition for the annulment of the June 27, 2001 judgment and the order of execution dated November 10, 2004.

The spouses claimed that the RTC failed to acquire jurisdiction over their persons because the service of summons was invalid. They said that the resort of the process server to what purport to be a substituted service when he left the summons with Vicky is unjustified as it was premature. They pointed out that in his return of service the process server did not state that attempts to serve the summons on them personally had failed and that the same could not be made within a reasonable time. He likewise failed to state facts and circumstances showing why personal service of the summons upon them at their address at Tierra Pura was impossible. Finally the couple pointed out that the process server also failed to state that Vicky was a person of sufficient age and discretion residing at Tierra Pura. Were the spouses correct?

Yes. Substituted service of summons is valid only if (1) personal service of summons on the defendants within a reasonable time is impossible; (2) the person serving the summons exerted efforts to locate the defendant/s; (3) the person to whom the summons is served is of sufficient age and discretion; (4) the person to whom the summons is served resides at the defendant’s place of residence; (5) the return of service states facts and circumstances showing why personal service upon defendants at their place of residence is impossible.

In the present case, there was no showing in the return of service that: (1) personal service to Ted and Risa within a reasonable time is impossible; (2) Vicky, the person on whom summons was served, was of suitable age and discretion and (3) that she resided in the residence of the Ted and Risa. Consequently, the RTC did not acquire jurisdiction over the person of the spouses and thus the spouses are not bound by its decision of June 27, 2001 and Order dated November 10, 2004 which are hereby set aside for being null and void (Spouses Galura vs. Math Agro Corporation, G.R. 167230, August 14, 2009).

Note: Books containing compilation of my articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now available. Call tel. 7249445.

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