There is Forum Shopping in Filing Separate Actions before the IPO and the RTC

 

Petitioner avers that respondents are guilty of forum shopping for having filed separate actions before the IPO and the RTC praying for the same relief.

The Court agrees.

Forum shopping is defined as the act of a party against whom an adverse judgment has been rendered in one forum, of seeking another (and possibly favorable) opinion in another forum (other than by appeal or the special civil action of certiorari), or the institution of two (2) or more actions or proceedings grounded on the same cause on the supposition that one or the other court would make a favorable disposition.

The elements of forum shopping are: (a) identity of parties, or at least such parties that represent the same interests in both actions; (b) identity of rights asserted and reliefs prayed for, the reliefs being founded on the same facts; (c) identity of the two preceding particulars, such that any judgment rendered in the other action will, regardless of which party is successful, amount to res judicata in the action under consideration.

There is no question as to the identity of parties in the complaints filed with the IPO and the RTC.

Respondents argue that they cannot be held guilty of forum shopping because their complaints are based on different causes of action as shown by the fact that the said complaints are founded on violations of different patents.
The Court is not persuaded.

Section 2, Rule 2 of the Rules of Court defines a cause of action as the act or omission by which a party violates a right of another. In the instant case, respondents’ cause of action in their complaint filed with the IPO is the alleged act of petitioner in importing, distributing, selling or offering for sale Sulbactam Ampicillin products, acts that are supposedly violative of respondents’ right to the exclusive sale of the said products which are covered by the latter’s patent. However, a careful reading of the complaint filed with the RTC of Makati City would show that respondents have the same cause of action as in their complaint filed with the IPO. They claim that they have the exclusive right to make, use and sell Sulbactam Ampicillin products and that petitioner violated this right. Thus, it does not matter that the patents upon which the complaints were based are different. The fact remains that in both complaints the rights violated and the acts violative of such rights are identical.

In fact, respondents seek substantially the same reliefs in their separate complaints with the IPO and the RTC for the purpose of accomplishing the same objective.

It is settled by this Court in several cases that the filing by a party of two apparently different actions but with the same objective constitutes forum shopping. The Court discussed this species of forum shopping as follows:
Very simply stated, the original complaint in the court a quo which gave rise to the instant petition was filed by the buyer (herein private respondent and his predecessors-in-interest) against the seller (herein petitioners) to enforce the alleged perfected sale of real estate. On the other hand, the complaint in the Second Case seeks to declare such purported sale involving the same real property as unenforceable as against the Bank, which is the petitioner herein. In other words, in the Second Case, the majority stockholders, in representation of the Bank, are seeking to accomplish what the Bank itself failed to do in the original case in the trial court. In brief, the objective or the relief being sought, though worded differently, is the same, namely, to enable the petitioner Bank to escape from the obligation to sell the property to respondent.

In Danville Maritime, Inc. v. Commission on Audit, G.R. Nos. 85285 & 87150, July 28, 1989, 175 SCRA701, the Court ruled as follows:

In the attempt to make the two actions appear to be different, petitioner impleaded different respondents therein PNOC in the case before the lower court and the COA in the case before this Court and sought what seems to be different reliefs. Petitioner asks this Court to set aside the questioned letter-directive of the COA dated October 10, 1988 and to direct said body to approve the Memorandum of Agreement entered into by and between the PNOC and petitioner, while in the complaint before the lower court petitioner seeks to enjoin the PNOC from conducting a rebidding and from selling to other parties the vessel T/T Andres Bonifacio, and for an extension of time for it to comply with the paragraph 1 of the memorandum of agreement and damages. One can see that although the relief prayed for in the two (2) actions are ostensibly different, the ultimate objective in both actions is the same, that is, the approval of the sale of vessel in favor of petitioner, and to overturn the letter directive of the COA of October 10, 1988 disapproving the sale.

In the instant case, the prayer of respondents in their complaint filed with the IPO is as follows:

A. Immediately upon the filing of this action, issue an ex parte order (a) temporarily restraining respondent, its agents, representatives and assigns from importing, distributing, selling or offering for sale Sulbactam Ampicillin products to the hospitals named in paragraph 9 of this Complaint or to any other entity in the Philippines, or from otherwise infringing Pfizer Inc.’s Philippine Patent No. 21116; and (b) impounding all the sales invoices and other documents evidencing sales by respondent of Sulbactam Ampicillin products.

B. After hearing, issue a writ of preliminary injunction enjoining respondent, its agents, representatives and assigns from importing, distributing, selling or offering for sale Sulbactam Ampicillin products to the hospitals named in paragraph 9 of the Complaint or to any other entity in the Philippines, or from otherwise infringing Pfizer Inc.’s Philippine Patent No. 21116; and

C. After trial, render judgment:

(i) declaring that respondent has infringed Pfizer Inc.’s Philippine Patent No. 21116 and that respondent has no right whatsoever over complainant’s patent;

(ii) ordering respondent to pay complainants the following amounts:
(a) at least P1,000,000.00 as actual damages;
(b) P700,000.00 as attorney’s fees and litigation expenses;
(d) P1,000,000.00 as exemplary damages; and
(d) costs of this suit.
(iii) ordering the condemnation, seizure or forfeiture of respondent’s infringing goods or products, wherever they may be found, including the materials and implements used in the commission of infringement, to be disposed of in such manner as may be deemed appropriate by this Honorable Office; and

(iv) making the injunction permanent.

In an almost identical manner, respondents prayed for the following in their complaint filed with the RTC:
(a) Immediately upon the filing of this action, issue an ex parte order:

(1) temporarily restraining Pharmawealth, its agents, representatives and assigns from importing, distributing, selling or offering for sale infringing sulbactam ampicillin products to various government and private hospitals or to any other entity in the Philippines, or from otherwise infringing Pfizer Inc.’s Philippine Patent No. 26810.

(2) impounding all the sales invoices and other documents evidencing sales by pharmawealth of sulbactam ampicillin products; and

(3) disposing of the infringing goods outside the channels of commerce.

(b) After hearing, issue a writ of preliminary injunction:

(1) enjoining Pharmawealth, its agents, representatives and assigns from importing, distributing, selling or offering for sale infringing sulbactam ampicillin products to various government hospitals or to any other entity in the Philippines, or from otherwise infringing Patent No. 26810;

(2) impounding all the sales invoices and other documents evidencing sales by Pharmawealth of sulbactam ampicillin products; and

(3) disposing of the infringing goods outside the channels of commerce.

(c) After trial, render judgment:

(1) finding Pharmawealth to have infringed Patent No. 26810 and declaring Pharmawealth to have no right whatsoever over plaintiff’s patent;

(2) ordering Pharmawealth to pay plaintiffs the following amounts:
(i) at least P3,000,000.00 as actual damages;
(ii) P500,000.00 as attorney’s fees and P1,000,000.00 as litigation expenses;
(iii) P3,000,000.00 as exemplary damages; and
(iv) costs of this suit.
(3) ordering the condemnation, seizure or forfeiture of Pharmawealth’s infringing goods or products, wherever they may be found, including the materials and implements used in the commission of infringement, to be disposed of in such manner as may be deemed appropriate by this Honorable Court; and

(4) making the injunction permanent.

It is clear from the foregoing that the ultimate objective which respondents seek to achieve in their separate complaints filed with the RTC and the IPO, is to ask for damages for the alleged violation of their right to exclusively sell Sulbactam Ampicillin products and to permanently prevent or prohibit petitioner from selling said products to any entity. Owing to the substantial identity of parties, reliefs and issues in the IPO and RTC cases, a decision in one case will necessarily amount to res judicata in the other action.

It bears to reiterate that what is truly important to consider in determining whether forum shopping exists or not is the vexation caused the courts and parties-litigant by a party who asks different courts and/or administrative agencies to rule on the same or related causes and/or to grant the same or substantially the same reliefs, in the process creating the possibility of conflicting decisions being rendered by the different fora upon the same issue.

Thus, the Court agrees with petitioner that respondents are indeed guilty of forum shopping.

Jurisprudence holds that if the forum shopping is not considered willful and deliberate, the subsequent case shall be dismissed without prejudice, on the ground of either litis pendentia or res judicata. However, if the forum shopping is willful and deliberate, both (or all, if there are more than two) actions shall be dismissed with prejudice. In the present case, the Court finds that respondents did not deliberately violate the rule on non-forum shopping. Respondents may not be totally blamed for erroneously believing that they can file separate actions simply on the basis of different patents. Moreover, in the suit filed with the RTC of Makati City, respondents were candid enough to inform the trial court of the pendency of the complaint filed with the BLA-IPO as well as the petition for certiorari filed with the CA. On these bases, only Civil Case No. 04-754 should be dismissed on the ground of litis pendentia (Phil Pharmawealth, Inc. v. Pfizer, Inc. and Pfizer (Phil.), Inc., G.R. No. 167715, November 17, 2010).

 

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