G.R. No. 136448, 3 November 1999
On behalf of “Ocean Quest Fishing Corporation,” Antonio Chua and Peter Yao entered into a Contract dated February 7, 1990, for the purchase of fishing nets of various sizes from the Philippine Fishing Gear Industries, Inc. (herein respondent). They claimed that they were engaged in a business venture with Petitioner Lim Tong Lim, who however was not a signatory to the agreement. The buyers, however, failed to pay for the fishing nets and the floats; hence, private respondent filed a collection suit against Chua, Yao and Petitioner Lim Tong Lim. The suit was brought against the three in their capacities as general partners, on the allegation that “Ocean Quest Fishing Corporation” was a nonexistent corporation as shown by a Certification from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
On September 20, 1990, the lower court issued a Writ of Preliminary Attachment. Chua filed a Manifestation admitting his liability and requesting a reasonable time within which to pay. Peter Yao filed an Answer, after which he was deemed to have waived his right to cross-examine witnesses and to present evidence on his behalf, because of his failure to appear in subsequent hearings. Lim Tong Lim, on the other hand, filed an Answer with Counterclaim and Crossclaim and moved for the lifting of the Writ of Attachment. The trial court maintained the Writ, and upon motion of private respondent, ordered the sale of the fishing nets at a public auction. The trial court ruled that a partnership among Lim, Chua and Yao existed.
The trial court noted that the Compromise Agreement was silent as to the nature of their obligations, but that joint liability could be presumed from the equal distribution of the profit and loss. Lim appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA) which, affirmed the RTC.
Whether by virtue of corporation by estoppel, liability can be imputed only to Chua and Yao, and not to him.
Thus, even if the ostensible corporate entity is proven to be legally nonexistent, a party may be estopped from denying its corporate existence. “The reason behind this doctrine is obvious — an unincorporated association has no personality and would be incompetent to act and appropriate for itself the power and attributes of a corporation as provided by law; it cannot create agents or confer authority on another to act in its behalf; thus, those who act or purport to act as its representatives or agents do so without authority and at their own risk. And as it is an elementary principle of law that a person who acts as an agent without authority or without a principal is himself regarded as the principal, possessed of all the right and subject to all the liabilities of a principal, a person acting or purporting to act on behalf of a corporation which has no valid existence assumes such privileges and obligations and becomes personally liable for contracts entered into or for other acts performed as such agent.”
A third party who, knowing an association to be unincorporated, nonetheless treated it as a corporation and received benefits from it, may be barred from denying its corporate existence in a suit brought against the alleged corporation. In such case, all those who benefited from the transaction made by the ostensible corporation, despite knowledge of its legal defects, may be held liable for contracts they impliedly assented to or took advantage of.
There is no dispute that the respondent, Philippine Fishing Gear Industries, is entitled to be paid for the nets it sold. The only question here is whether petitioner should be held jointly 18 liable with Chua and Yao. Petitioner contests such liability, insisting that only those who dealt in the name of the ostensible corporation should be held liable. Since his name does not appear on any of the contracts and since he never directly transacted with the respondent corporation, ergo, he cannot be held liable.
Unquestionably, petitioner benefited from the use of the nets found inside F/B Lourdes, the boat which has earlier been proven to be an asset of the partnership. He in fact questions the attachment of the nets, because the Writ has effectively stopped his use of the fishing vessel.
It is difficult to disagree with the RTC and the CA that Lim, Chua and Yao decided to form a corporation. Although it was never legally formed for unknown reasons, this fact alone does not preclude the liabilities of the three as contracting parties in representation of it. Clearly, under the law on estoppel, those acting on behalf of a corporation and those benefited by it, knowing it to be without valid existence, are held liable as general partners.
*Case digest by Paul Jason G. Acasio, JD-IV, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2019-2020