Dec 122014

Dominador A. Almirante
Labor case digest

COMPLAINANTS Josephine Solano and 10 others filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, monetary claims and damages against Podden International Philippines, Inc. (Podden) and respondent Alejandro Cruz-Herrera. They engaged the services of petitioner Atty. Emmanuel D. Agustin to handle the case upon the verbal agreement that he will be paid on a contingency basis, at 10 percent of the final monetary award.

The complainants, through Atty. Agustin, obtained a favorable ruling before the labor arbiter (LA). No appeal was taken from the judgment. Hence, on Feb. 2, 1999, a motion for execution was filed. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), in a resolution dated May 7, 2003, ordered the labor arbiter to immediately issue the corresponding writ of execution for the enforcement of the decision, the total monetary award of which as of July 20, 1999 reached P3,358,441.84. On Aug. 6, 2004, respondent Herrera filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals (CA) assailing the resolution of the NLRC. While the petition was pending on Aug. 30, 2005, a joint compromise agreement was submitted to the CA. In a resolution dated Sept. 30, 2005, the CA approved the compromise agreement and entered judgment. Displeased, Atty. Agustin filed a petition for review on certiorari with the Supreme Court. He assailed the CA resolution, contending, among others, that the compromise agreement was unconscionable and executed without his knowledge and consent. While the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the compromise agreement, it ruled that Atty. Agustin is entitled to his contingent attorney’s fees. Who can be held liable to pay Atty. Agustin?

Ruling: Respondent Herrera.

Collusion between complainants and Herrera cannot be inferred from the fact that Atty. Agustin obtained lesser attorney’s fees under the compromise agreement as against that which he could have gained if the LA Decision dated Sept. 27, 1998 was executed.

Unless there is a showing that the complainants actually received an amount higher than that stated in the settlement agreement, it cannot be said that Atty. Agustin was unlawfully prejudiced. There is no proof submitted supporting such inference. Under the above circumstances, Herrera cannot be made solidarily liable for Atty. Agustin’s fees which, as a rule, are the personal obligation of his clients, the complainants.

However, pursuant to his undertaking in the joint compromise agreement, Herrera is solely bound to compensate Atty. Agustin at the rate of 10 percent of the total settlement agreement. Since the entire provisions of the joint compromise agreement are not available in the records and only the relevant portions thereof were quoted in the CA Resolution dated Sept. 30, 2005, the Court deems it reasonable to impose a period of ten days within which Herrera should fulfill his obligation to Atty. Agustin (Reyes, J., SC, First Division; Atty. Emmanuel D. Agustin, et. al. vs. Alejandro Cruz-Herrera, G.R. No. 174564, Feb. 12, 2014).

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 13, 2014.

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