Concept Builders Inc. v. NLRC
CONCEPT BUILDERS, INC., petitioner,
THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, (First Division); and Norberto Marabe; Rodolfo Raquel, Cristobal Riego, Manuel Gillego, Palcronio Giducos, Pedro Aboigar, Norberto Comendador, Rogelio Salut, Emilio Garcia, Jr., Mariano Rio, Paulina Basea, Alfredo Albera, Paquito Salut, Domingo Guarino, Romeo Galve, Dominador Sabina, Felipe Radiana, Gavino Sualibio, Moreno Escares, Ferdinand Torres, Felipe Basilan, and Ruben Robalos, respondents.
G.R. No. 108734
29 May 1996
Concept Builders, Inc., (CBI), a domestic corporation, with principal office at 355 Maysan Road, Valenzuela, Metro Manila, is engaged in the construction business while Norberto Marabe; Rodolfo Raquel, Cristobal Riego, Manuel Gillego, Palcronio Giducos, Pedro Aboigar, Norberto Comendador, Rogelio Salut, Emilio Garcia, Jr., Mariano Rio, Paulina Basea, Alfredo Albera, Paquito Salut, Domingo Guarino, Romeo Galve, Dominador Sabina, Felipe Radiana, Gavino Sualibio, Moreno Escares, Ferdinand Torres, Felipe Basilan, and Ruben Robalos were employed by said company as laborers, carpenters and riggers. On November 1981, Marabe, et. al. were served individual written notices of termination of employment by CBI, effective on 30 November 1981.
It was stated in the individual notices that their contracts of employment had expired and the project in which they were hired had been completed. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) found it to be, the fact, however, that at the time of the termination of Marabe, et.al.’s employment, the project in which they were hired had not yet been finished and completed. CBI had to engage the services of sub-contractors whose workers performed the functions of Marabe, et. al. Aggrieved, Marabe, et. al. filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, unfair labor practice and non-payment of their legal holiday pay, overtime pay and thirteenth-month pay against CBI.
On 19 December 1984, the Labor Arbiter rendered judgment ordering CBI to reinstate Marabe et. al. and to pay them back wages equivalent to 1 year or 300 working days. On 27 November 1985, the NLRC dismissed the motion for reconsideration filed by CBI on the ground that the said decision had already become final and executory. On 16 October 1986, the NLRC Research and Information Department made the finding that Marabe, et. al.’s back wages amounted to P199,800.00. On 29 October 1986, the Labor Arbiter issued a writ of execution directing the sheriff to execute the Decision, dated 19 December 1984.
The writ was partially satisfied through garnishment of sums from CBI’s debtor, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Authority, in the amount of P81,385.34. Said amount was turned over to the cashier of the NLRC. On 1 February 1989, an Alias Writ of Execution was issued by the Labor Arbiter directing the sheriff to collect from CBI the sum of P117,414.76, representing the balance of the judgment award, and to reinstate Marabe, et. al. to their former positions. On 13 July 1989, the sheriff issued a report stating that he tried to serve the alias writ of execution on petitioner through the security guard on duty but the service was refused on the ground that CBI no longer occupied the premises.
On 26 September 1986, upon motion of Marabe, et. al., the Labor Arbiter issued a second alias writ of execution. The said writ had not been enforced by the special sheriff because, as stated in his progress report dated 2 November 1989, that all the employees inside CBI’s premises claimed that they were employees of Hydro Pipes Philippines, Inc. (HPPI) and not by CBI; that levy was made upon personal properties he found in the premises; and that security guards with high-powered guns prevented him from removing the properties he had levied upon. The said special sheriff recommended that a “break-open order” be issued to enable him to enter CBI’s premises so that he could proceed with the public auction sale of the aforesaid personal properties on 7 November 1989. On 6 November 1989, a certain Dennis Cuyegkeng filed a third-party claim with the Labor Arbiter alleging that the properties sought to be levied upon by the sheriff were owned by HPPI, of which he is the Vice-President.
On 23 November 1989, Marabe, et. al. filed a “Motion for Issuance of a Break-Open Order,” alleging that HPPI and CBI were owned by the same incorporator/stockholders. They also alleged that petitioner temporarily suspended its business operations in order to evade its legal obligations to them and that Marabe, et. al. were willing to post an indemnity bond to answer for any damages which CBI and HPPI may suffer because of the issuance of the break-open order. On 2 March 1990, the Labor Arbiter issued an Order which denied Marabe’s motion for break-open order. Marabe, et. al. then appealed to the NLRC. On 23 April 1992, the NLRC set aside the order of the Labor Arbiter, issued a break-open order and directed Marabe, et. al. to file a bond.
Thereafter, it directed the sheriff to proceed with the auction sale of the properties already levied upon. It dismissed the third-party claim for lack of merit. CBI moved for reconsideration but the motion was denied by the NLRC in a Resolution, dated 3 December 1992.
Hence, the petition.
Whether the NLRC was correct in issuing the break-open order to levy the “HPPI properties” located at CBI amd/or HPPI’s premises at 355 Maysan Road, Valenzuela, Metro Manila.
It is a fundamental principle of corporation law that a corporation is an entity separate and distinct from its stockholders and from other corporations to which it may be connected. But, this separate and distinct personality of a corporation is merely a fiction created by law for convenience and to promote justice. So, when the notion of separate juridical personality is used to defeat public convenience, justify wrong, protect fraud or defend crime, or is used as a device to defeat the labor laws, this separate personality of the corporation may be disregarded or the veil of corporate fiction pierced. This is true likewise when the corporation is merely an adjunct, a business conduit or an alter ego of another corporation. The conditions under which the juridical entity may be disregarded vary according to the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case.
No hard and fast rule can be accurately laid down, but certainly, there are some probative factors of identity that will justify the application of the doctrine of piercing the corporate veil, to wit:
- Stock ownership by one or common ownership of both corporations;
- Identity of directors and officers;
- The manner of keeping corporate books and records; and
- Methods of conducting the business.
The SEC en banc explained the “instrumentality rule” which the courts have applied in disregarding the separate juridical personality of corporations as “Where one corporation is so organized and controlled and its affairs are conducted so that it is, in fact, a mere instrumentality or adjunct of the other, the fiction of the corporate entity of the ‘instrumentality’ may be disregarded. The control necessary to invoke the rule is not majority or even complete stock control but such domination of instances, policies and practices that the controlled corporation has, so to speak, no separate mind, will or existence of its own, and is but a conduit for its principal. It must be kept in mind that the control must be shown to have been exercised at the time the acts complained of took place. Moreover, the control and breach of duty must proximately cause the injury or unjust loss for which the complaint is made.”
The test in determining the applicability of the doctrine of piercing the veil of corporate fiction is as follows:
- Control, not mere majority or complete stock control, but complete domination, not only of finances but of policy and business practice in respect to the transaction attacked so that the corporate entity as to this transaction had at the time no separate mind, will or existence of its own;
- Such control must have been used by the defendant to commit fraud or wrong, to perpetuate the violation of a statutory or other positive legal duty or dishonest and unjust act in contravention of plaintiff’s legal rights; and
- The aforesaid control and breach of duty must proximately cause the injury or unjust loss complained of.
The absence of any one of these elements prevents “piercing the corporate veil.”
In applying the “instrumentality” or “alter ego” doctrine, the courts are concerned with reality and not form, with how the corporation operated and the individual defendant’s relationship to that operation. Thus the question of whether a corporation is a mere alter ego, a mere sheet or paper corporation, a sham or a subterfuge is purely one of fact.
Here, while CBI claimed that it ceased its business operations on 29 April 1986, it filed an Information Sheet with the Securities and Exchange Commission on 15 May 1987, stating that its office address is at 355 Maysan Road, Valenzuela, Metro Manila. On the other hand, HPPI, the third-party claimant, submitted on the same day, a similar information sheet stating that its office address is at 355 Maysan Road, Valenzuela, Metro Manila. Further, both information sheets were filed by the same Virgilio O. Casiño as the corporate secretary of both corporations. Both corporations had the same president, the same board of directors, the same corporate officers, and substantially the same subscribers.
From the foregoing, it appears that, among other things, the CBI and the HPPI shared the same address and/or premises. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said that the property levied upon by the sheriff were not of CBI’s. Clearly, CBI ceased its business operations in order to evade the payment to Marabe, et. al. of back wages and to bar their reinstatement to their former positions. HPPI is obviously a business conduit of CBI and its emergence was skillfully orchestrated to avoid the financial liability that already attached to CBI.
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