Malicious prosecution may be a ground for the institution of a civil action for damages.

Case Title: Menandro A. Sosmeña v. Benigno M. Bonafe, et al.

Date of Promulgation: G.R. No. 232677 | June 8, 2020

FACTS: Petitioner is the managing director of Expo Logistics, a freight forwarding company doing business in the Philippines. Respondent Benigno was engaged by petitioner as Air Conditioning Assistant sometime in January 2001. Respondents Jimmy and Joel were hired as petitioner’s assistant and respondent Hector was the lead carpenter.

Petitioner’s foreign business partner Abdul became suspicious of petitioner. He thought that petitioner had been erecting ten pavilion halls in local markets without reporting the transaction to him. Abdul approached Benigno and asked him to spy for him against petitioner. Benigno agreed and accepted Abduls’ proposal. Petitioner discovered that he was being surveilled by Benigno. They had a falling out. Petitioner blamed Benigno for problems arising at the work place. Benigno resigned from Expo Logistics in September 2001. He felt that his working conditions had become hostile. Jimmy and Joel followed suit in October 2001.

In February 2002, petitioner filed criminal cases against Benigno, Jimmy, Joel and Hector with the Office of the City Prosecutor in Pasay City. He accused them of conspiring with one another to commit malicious mischief when they allegedly cut-off the cable wires of five (5) air conditioning units in October 2001, and thereafter, deliberately concealing them to damage petitioner’s business to the tune of P30 million, which however did not happen as the cables were located in time for the event.

The complaints were dismissed for insufficiency of evidence. He also concluded that the charges were motivated by petitioner’s grudge with the respondents and that he filed the complaints just to prejudice them. Thereafter, respondents sued petitioner for malicious prosecution seeking the payment of damages. Petitioner defended himself by claiming good faith when he filed the criminal complaints against respondents. The Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals rendered decisions in favor of respondents Benigno, et al.

ISSUE: Is petitioner guilty of malicious prosecution?

RULING: Yes. “Malicious prosecution” has been defined as “an action for damages brought by one against whom a criminal prosecution, civil suit, or other legal proceeding has been instituted maliciously and without probable cause, after the termination of such prosecution, suit, or other proceeding in favor of the defendant therein.” The statutory basis for a civil action for damages for malicious prosecution are found in the provisions of the New Civil Code on Human Relations and on damages particularly Articles 19, 20, 21, 26, 29, 32, 33, 35, 2217, and 2219.

The four (4) elements are: (1) the prosecution did occur, and the defendant was himself the prosecutor or that he instigated its commencement; (2) the criminal action finally ended with an acquittal; (3) in bringing the action, the prosecutor acted without probable cause; and (4) the prosecution was impelled by legal malice –- in improper or a sinister motive.

Malicious prosecution does not only pertain to criminal prosecutions but also to any other legal proceeding such as a preliminary investigation. The first and second elements are present here. As regards the rest, petitioner’s ill will and bad blood towards respondents were established. Petitioner delayed in initiating the criminal complaints at the Office of the City Prosecutor [a delay of three months]. The delay probably points to petitioner’s lack of genuine complaints against respondents – otherwise he would not have delayed and would have acted promptly as any reasonable person would have expectedly done. Petitioner’s witness identified Benigno as the criminal only in his supplemental affidavit that was executed months after serving his first affidavit. The identification of Benigno is more likely than not an after-thought.

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