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Splitting a Cause of Action


Section 3. One suit for a single cause of action. — A party may not institute more than one suit for a single cause of action.

Section 4. Splitting a single cause of action; effect of. — If two or more suits are instituted on the basis of the same cause of action, the filing of one or a judgment upon the merits in any one is available as a ground for the dismissal of the others. (Rule 2, Rules of Court)


What is splitting a single cause of action?

●  Splitting a single cause of action is the act of instituting two or more suits for the same cause of action

● It is the practice of dividing one cause of action into different parts and making each part the subject of a separate complaint (Bachrach vs. Icaringal, 68 SCRA 287). 

● In splitting a cause of action, the pleader divides a single cause of action, claim or demand into two or more parts, brings a suit for one of such parts with the intent to reserve the rest for another separate action. It also occurs when a party brings a suit for each part of the same action that was split. (Quadra vs. CA, GR 147593, July 31, 2006)


Is splitting a single cause of action allowed by the Rules?

No. Section 3, Rule 2 of the Rules of Court provides: "A party may not institute more than one suit for a single cause of action"


Why is splitting a single cause of action not allowed?

The practice of splitting a single cause of action is discouraged because it breeds multiplicity of suits, clogs the court dockets, leads to vexatious litigation, operates as an instrument of harassment, and generates unnecessary expenses to the parties.


Does the rule against splitting a single cause of action apply only to complaints?

The rule against splitting a single cause of action applies not only to complaints but also to counterclaims and cross-claims.


Examples:

● The act of a defendant in taking possession of the plaintiff's land by means of force and intimidation constitutes a single act of dispossession but gives rise to two reliefs: (a) recovery of possession, and (b) damages arising from the loss of possession. Both of these reliefs result from a single wrong hence, constitute but a single cause of action. Each of them cannot be the subject of two separate actions. It is procedurally erroneous for the, plaintiff to file an action to recover possession and another action for damages. Both remedies must be alleged and claimed in only one complaint. To file a separate action for each relief is to split a single cause of action. (Dean Riano)

● An action for forcible entry should include not only the plea for restoration of possession but also claims for damages arising out of the forcible entry. The claim for damages cannot be filed separately.

● The same principle applies to an action to recover the possession of a land. The action must also include the recovery of the fruits already taken from the land and appropriated by the defendant. A suit for the recovery of the land and a separate suit to recover the fruits will not be sustained.

● A single act may sometimes violate several rights of a person. Nevertheless the plaintiff has only one cause of action regardless of the number of rights violated. If a car owner sustains injuries to his person and damage to his car as a result of the negligent driving of the defendant, two rights of the plaintiffs have been violated, namely, his personal right to be safe in his person and his property right to have his car intact and free from any damage. Under the circumstances, the plaintiff can only file a single action for the recovery of damages for both types of injuries. Filing an action to recover damages to his person and later for damages to his car would be splitting a single cause of action. If however, a passenger in the same car was also injured, the injuries to the passenger gives rise to a cause of action separate and distinct from those sustained by the car owner because distinct rights belonging to different persons have been violated. The injured passenger may file a suit against the defendant separate from the suit filed by the car owner.

● A tenant illegally ejected from the land is entitled to two reliefs - one for reinstatement and another for damages. Since both reliefs arose from the same cause of action, they should be alleged in one complaint.

 An action for the recovery of taxes should also include the demand for surcharges resulting from the delinquency in the payment of said taxes. The non-payment of taxes gave rise to two reliefs: (a) the recovery of the unpaid taxes; and (b) the recovery of the surcharges resulting from non-payment of the taxes. These two reliefs are results of a single cause of action and which should be pursued in a single complaint.

● A bank cannot file a civil action against the debtor for the collection of the debt and then subsequently file an action to foreclose the mortgage. This would be splitting a single cause of action.

●An action for annulment of the sale of certain shares of stock should include a claim for the recovery of accrued dividends (Bar 1996).

● A contract which requires the performance of several obligations at different times, like an obligation to be performed on an installment basis, gives rise to divisible independent obligations. Each obligation not performed when due and upon proper demand gives rise to an independent cause of action. In other words since the failure to pay an installment constitutes a distinct cause of action, each installment that falls due can be the subject of a separate suit. If there is already a pending suit based on a default of a previous installment and during such pendency an installment falls due and is not paid, the latter may, as an alternative move, be incorporated in the pending suit by filing a supplemental pleading.

● In a contract of lease which provides for the payment of rentals in separate installments, each unpaid installment constitutes an independent cause of action. However, when at the time the complaint is filed, there are several installments already due, all of them constitute but a single cause of action and should be included in a single complaint.

● A claim for partition of real property and a claim for compensation for the improvements thereon constitute a single cause of action. An action for partition alone will bar a subsequent action for the recovery of compensation on the improvements.


Anticipatory breach

● Where the parties enter into a contract for the delivery of a specified amount of goods every month for a period of ten years and the defendant expressed his intention not to make any deliveries under the contract, the breach is total and there can only be one action. This is an unqualified and positive refusal to perform a contract and even if assuming that the performance thereof is not yet due, the renunciation goes to the whole contract and shall be treated as a complete breach that will entitle the injured party to bring his action at once. This anticipatory breach committed by the defendant entitles the plaintiff to only one cause of action for damages.

● Blossom & Company, Inc. entered into a contract with Manila Gas Corporation for the sale and delivery of water gas and coal gas tar at stipulated prices for a period of four years. On the second year of the contract, Manila Gas willfully and deliberately refused to deliver any coal and water gas tar to Blossom and Company, Inc. because it was asking for a higher price than what had been previously stipulated by them. The price of its tar products had gone up. We held that:

even if the contract is divisible in its performance and the future periodic deliveries are not yet due, if the obligor has already manifested his refusal to comply with his future periodic obligations, the contract is entire and the breach total, hence, there can only be one action for damages. (Danfoss, Inc. vs. Continental Cement Corporation, G.R. No. 143788, September 9, 2005) 


Examples where there is no splitting a single cause of action

● It has been held however, that an action to collect the amount of the loan will not preclude a subsequent action for the rescission of the mortgage based on violation of the conditions of the mortgage.

● However, an action for the reconveyance of title over property does of include a cause of action for forcible entry or unlawful detainer. They are distinct causes of action. Hence, the pendency of an action for reconveyance of title does not divest the Municipal Trial Court of its jurisdiction to try an ejectment case of either forcible entry or unlawful detainer. What is involved in an ejectment case is possession de facto or material possession. In an action for reconveyance, the issue is ownership.


What is the effect of splitting a single cause of action?  (Bar 1998;1999)

If two or more suits are instituted for a single cause of action, "the filing of one or a judgment upon the merits in any of one is available as a ground for dismissal of the others" (Sec. 4, Rule 2). The remedy of the defendant is to file a motion to dismiss.

Hence, If the first action is pending when the second action is filed, the latter may be dismissed based on litis pendencia, i.e., there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause (Sec. 1[e], Rule 16). If a final judgment had been rendered in the first action when the second action is filed, the latter may be dismissed based on res judicata, i.e., that the cause of action is barred by a prior judgment (Sec. 1[f], Rule 16).


Bar Questions:

A purchased a lot from B for P 1,500,000.00 He gave a down payment of P500,000.00, signed a promissory note payable thirty days after date, and as security for the settlement of the obligation, mortgaged the same lot to B. When the note fell due and A failed to pay, B commenced suit to recover from A the balance of P1 million. After securing a favorable judgment on his claim, B brought another action against A before the same court to foreclose the mortgage. A now files a motion to dismiss the second action on the ground of bar by a prior judgment. Rule on the motion. (Bar 1999)

Suggested answer.

The motion to dismiss must be granted. The action to foreclose the mortgage tantamounts to splitting a single cause of action. One cannot file an action to collect the indebtedness and then file another action for foreclosure.


Raphael, a warehouseman, filed a complaint against V Corporation, X Corporation and Y Corporation to compel them to interplead. He alleged therein that the three corporations claimed title and right of possession over the goods deposited in his warehouse and that he was uncertain which of them was entitled to the goods. After due proceedings, judgment was rendered by the court declaring that X Corporation was entitled to the goods. The decision became final and executory.

Raphael filed a complaint against X Corporation for the payment of P100,000.00 for storage charges and other advances for the goods. X Corporation filed a motion to. dismiss the complaint on the ground of res judicata. X Corporation alleged that Raphael should have incorporated in his complaint for interpleader his claim for storage fees and advances and that for his failure to do so he was barred from interposing his claim. Raphael replied that he could not have claimed storage fees and other advances as in his complaint for interpleader because he was not yet certain as to who was liable therefore.

Resolve the motion with reasons.  (Bar 2005)

Suggested answer.

The motion to dismiss should be granted. When the complaint for interpleader was filed, Raphael should have incorporated the claim for storage charges and other expenses. They are part of Raphael‘s cause of action which he may not split. The filing of the interpleader is available as a ground for the dismissal of the second case (Sec. 4, Rule 2). It is akin to a compulsory counterclaim which, if not set up, is barred (Sec. 2, Rule 9). The law also abhors the multiplicity of suits; hence, the claim for storage fees should have been made part of his cause of action in the interest of complete adjudication of the controversy and its incidents (Arreza vs. Diaz, 364 SCRA 88 [2001]).


While cruising on a highway, a taxicab driven by Mans hit an electric post. As a result thereof, its passenger, Jovy, suffered serious injuries. Mans was subsequently charged before the Municipal Trial Court with reckless imprudence resulting in serious physical injuries.

Thereafter, Jovy filed a civil action against Lourdes, the owner of the taxicab, for breach of contract, and Mans for quasi-delict. Lourdes and Mans filed a motion to dismiss the civil action on the ground of litis pendency, that is, the pendency of the civil action impliedly instituted in the criminal action for reckless imprudence resulting in serious physical injuries.

Resolve the motion with reasons. (Bar 2005)

Suggested answer.

The action for breach of contract against the taxicab owner cannot be barred. This is not a case of splitting a single cause of action. The suit against the owner is based on breach of contract of carriage separate and distinct from the cause of action arising from the crime. A contract is a source of obligation separate and distinct from a crime (Art. 1156, Civil Code of the Philippines).

The civil action based on a quasi-delict is likewise not barred. Its source is likewise separate and distinct from the crime. A quasi-delict is a separate source of a civil obligation and is independent of the criminal act committed by the defendant (Art. 1156; Art. 2177, Civil Code of the Philippines).


X brought an action against Y for the recovery of certain shares of stocks. After the case was decided in favor of X, he filed another action for the recovery of the dividends that had already accrued even when the first action was filed. Is the second action for the recovery of dividends proper? (Bar 1996)

Suggested answer:

The second action is not proper. There was a splitting of a single cause of action.

When X filed an action to annul the sale of the shares, he should have included therein the recovery of the dividends that had accrued.

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