A child gets to read over the documents her dad has in the office. It is actually something that has to be filed in court. He asks, “looks like you are really desperate here, Daddy.” The dad asks why does she say that and she replies, “Because you have a prayer at the end.”
If you have ever looked at pleadings or the papers that are filed in court by your lawyers, invariably the last portion has the heading “Prayer.” Legalese is sometimes hard to understand. It pays to have some knowledge of the forms and how they appear.
Let us have a look at the lower courts and civil cases. There are actually rules on court papers or what has been termed as “pleadings.” Pleadings contain “the respective claims and defenses of the parties submitted to the court for appropriate judgment. (Section 1, Rule 6).
Complaint and Answer
A party’s claims (or whatever you are asking from your opponent, be it damages or requiring something to be done) are contained in the “complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim, third (fourth, etc.) party complaint, or complaint-in-intervention.” And the “defenses of a party are alleged in the answer to the pleading asserting a claim against him.” In short, someone files a claim and you file an “Answer” to that claim. Thereafter, the claimant can file a “Reply” to the answer (Section 2). It is not in the rules but lawyers then usually file a rejoinder to the reply. No lawyer worth his salt will allow the other party to have the last word. So after the rejoinder, you get to see the “Sur-rejoinder” or a “Sur-Reply.” So even if the rules don’t expressly allow such pleadings, trust the lawyers to find something to go around them.
A reply is “a pleading, the office or function of which is to deny, or allege facts in denial or avoidance of new matters alleged by way of defense in the answer and thereby join or make issue as to such new matters. If a party does not file such reply, all the new matters alleged in the answer are deemed controverted. If the plaintiff wishes to interpose any claims arising out of the new matters so alleged, such claims shall be set forth in an amended or supplemental complaint (Section 10).” So if the defendant files an Answer with new matters, the Reply is the plaintiff’s way of answering back. However, he may choose not to, as all new matters are deemed controverted anyway.
You will even see pleadings like “Answer Ad Cautelam” or a “Manifestation Ad Cautelam.” What are these things? It just means that your lawyers are filing something “for caution” so as not to forestall something for you. For example, an “Answer Ad Cautelam” may be filed if your lawyer thinks his motion for extension of time may be arbitrarily denied or if he is still questioning the jurisdiction of the court, but does not want you to be defaulted for failing to file an answer within the time allowed. Strictly speaking, such pleadings are not expressly provided for in the Rules.
What are the defenses you can raise? These may either be negative or positive defenses. ‘”A negative defense is the specific denial of the material fact or facts alleged in the pleading of the claimant essential to his cause or causes of action. An “affirmative defense” is an allegation of a new matter which, while hypothetically admitting the material allegations in the pleading of the claimant, would nevertheless prevent or bar recovery by him.” These include “fraud, statute of limitations, release, payment, illegality, statute of frauds, estoppel, former recovery, discharge in bankruptcy, and any other matter by way of confession and avoidance (Section 5). For example, a negative defense would be to denying you owe a debt to the plaintiff. An affirmative defense would be that the cause of action on the debt has prescribed.
Counterclaim and Cross-claim
If you also have a claim against the plaintiff, then you file a counterclaim against him. “A counterclaim is any claim which a defending party may have against an opposing party. (Section 6)” Or if you have co-defendants against whom you have a claim, then you can make a cross-claim against them. “A cross-claim is any claim by one party against a co-party arising out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter either of the original action or of a counterclaim therein. Such cross-claim may include a claim that the party against whom it is asserted is or may be liable to the cross-claimant for all or part of a claim asserted in the action against the cross-claimant (Section 8).” How could such a situation come about? It could be that you are a guarantor of a debt. If the borrower fails to pay, and you are the only one sued by the creditor, you may wish to bring in the borrower as a party to the case, against whom you will demand compensation if you are adjudged liable to pay.
It doesn’t end with co-parties though. Since misery loves company, then the defendant can bring in other parties by filing third party or more complaints against persons in respect of complaint. “A third (fourth, etc.) party complaint is a claim that a defending party may, with leave of court, file against a person not a party to the action, called the third (fourth, etc.) party defendant, for contribution, indemnity, subrogation or any other relief, in respect of his opponent's claim.” (Section 11). But this must be with the court’s permission. Once this complaint is filed, then we begin with an Answer all over again."A third (fourth, etc.) party defendant may allege in his answer his defenses, counterclaims or cross-claims, including such defenses that the third (fourth, etc.) party plaintiff may have against the original plaintiff's claim. In proper cases, he may also assert a counterclaim against the original plaintiff in respect of the latter's claim against the third-party plaintiff (Section 13).”
From the pleadings contents, we go to the form. There must be a caption which “sets forth the name of the court, the title of the action, and the docket number if assigned. The title of the action indicates the names of the parties. They shall all be named in the original complaint or petition; but in subsequent pleadings, it shall be sufficient if the name of the first party on each side be stated with an appropriate indication when there are other parties. Their respective participation in the case shall be indicated (Section 1, Rule 7).
The body of the pleading “sets forth its designation (whether it an Answer or Reply for example), the allegations of the party's claims or defenses, the relief prayed for, and the date of the pleading. It is to be divided into numbered paragraphs, “each of which shall contain a statement of a single set of circumstances so far as that can be done with convenience. A paragraph may be referred to by its number in all succeeding pleadings. There should be heading and when “two or more causes of action are joined, the statement of the first shall be prefaced by the words "first cause of action," of the second by "second cause of action," and so on for the others. When one or more paragraphs in the answer are addressed to one of several causes of action in the complaint, they shall be prefaced by the words "answer to the first cause of action" or "answer to the second cause of action" and so on; and when one or more paragraphs of the answer are addressed to several causes of action, they shall be prefaced by words to that effect (Section 2).”
And we come to the prayer, since the “pleading shall specify the relief sought, but it may add a general prayer for such further or other relief as may be deemed just or equitable. Section 2”
The pleading must be dated (Section 2). At the end it “must be signed by the party or counsel representing him, stating in either case his address which should not be a post office box.” Signing is not an empty exercise. “The signature of counsel constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief there is good ground to support it; and that it is not interposed for delay.”
While an “unsigned pleading produces no legal effect,” failure to sign is not always fatal. As “the court may, in its discretion, allow such deficiency to be remedied if it shall appear that the same was due to mere inadvertence and not intended for delay. Counsel who deliberately files an unsigned pleading, or signs a pleading in violation of this Rule, or alleges scandalous or indecent matter therein, or fails to promptly report to the court a change of his address, shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action (Section 3).”
A pleading may need to be verified or be under oath if required by applicable law or rules. (Section 4) Lastly, the plaintiff or principal party has to certify that he is not engaging in forum shopping (Section 5). What is forum shopping?
“A party is guilty of forum shopping when he repetitively avails of several judicial remedies in different courts, simultaneously or successively, all substantially founded on the same transactions and the same essential facts and circumstances, and all raising substantially the same issues either pending in, or already resolved adversely, by some other court. And what is truly important to consider in determining whether forum shopping exists is the vexation caused the courts and the litigants by a party who asks different courts and/or administrative agencies to rule on the same or related causes and/or grant the same or substantially the same reliefs, in the process creating the possibility of conflicting decisions being rendered by the different for a upon the same issues. TANTOY, SR., vs .
COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL. ( G.R. No. 141427 April 20, 2001)”
COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL. ( G.R. No. 141427 April 20, 2001)”
This is only a quick overview of the rules for civil actions. There are particular requirements for appeals and petitions before the courts. Nowhere in the rules is there mention that a mere letter will suffice in order to be entertained by any court. But as at least two (2) cases will show, the Supreme Court has seen fit to do away with formalities for reasons of its own, allowing letters to re-open its decisions. It has done so when it recalled the decision rendered by the court in 2 recent cases: a labor case involving Philippine Airlines and a case deciding for the constitutionality of the creation of 16 cities, after previously ruling that it was not. We can only pray that they are guided by right and reason.
 (Supreme Court recalls final ruling on PAL cabin layoffs) Mendoza’s letter does trick; airline union outraged By Philip C. Tubeza, Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 11, 2011, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/73877/supreme-court-recalls-final-ruling-on-pal-cabin-layoffs
 SC procedures and flip-flops, GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc, The Philippine Star, http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=738204&publicationSubCategoryId=64