Replevin and its common law origins

“In our jurisdiction, replevin may be a combination of the main remedy with a claim for interim relief, or for the recovery of a loan obligation with a claim for a writ of replevin on movable property used as collateral”

The action in replevin has deep roots in common law, as it was “one of the most valued defenses of the feudal tenant against the lord”.

In the 13th century this was often referred to as action de quarre, calling on the defendant (the lord) to show why he had taken distressed cattle and kept them despite the owner’s offer of “pledge and pledge” (Theodore FT Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law).

In the Middle Ages, the replevin was used when a landlord seized his tenant because the latter disputed his responsibility to perform certain services.

The lessee can recover possession of the chattels by giving a security to the sheriff to maintain his claim in court (A Concise History of the Common Law).

If the lord’s case is proved and a judgment is entered for restitution of chattels, possession will be restored to the lord (A concise history of the common law).

In other words, furniture originally seized by the lord and returned to the tenant must be returned to the tenant to keep it again as a pledge.

Replevin is both a primary remedy and interim relief. When replevin is used as a primary remedy, the goal is to recover possession of personal property that has been wrongfully held by another.

When sought as an interim measure, it allows the plaintiff to keep the disputed property for the duration of the action (Enriquez v. Mercantile Insurance Co., Inc., GR n° 210950, August 15, 2018).

In our jurisdiction, this may be a combination of the main remedy with a claim for interim relief, or for the recovery of a loan obligation with a claim for a writ of replevin on movable property used as security.

Examples of personal property subject to a writ of replevin include, but are not limited to, motor vehicles, financial and corporate documents, or jewelry.

In Fernandez v. International Corporate Bank, the complaint for the recovery of the sum of 190,635.90 pula with a request for writ of replevin of a motor vehicle was filed in the Metropolitan Court of First Instance (MTC) of the city of Pasay; however, the value of the vehicle subject to the interim relief was beyond the court’s jurisdiction (GR no. 131283, October 7, 1999).

The Supreme Court said that while the value of the vehicle seized under the writ of replevin may have exceeded the MTC’s jurisdiction, that fact does not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction over the case.

After all, the vehicle was simply the subject of a chattel mortgage which had been used to secure the applicant’s loan (GR no. 131283, 7 October 1999).

Who is the defendant in an action for possession of personal property?

The person in possession of the property to be repaired is usually the appropriate and only necessary defendant; the plaintiff is not required to cite in defense other persons claiming a right to the property but not being in possession of it (GR n° 210950, August 15, 2018 citing BA Finance Corporation v. Court of Appeal).

As an interim remedy, a party may seek an order for the return of property before the action commences or at any time before an answer is filed. Article 60 of the Rules of Court describes the procedure for applying for a writ of replevin (GR n° 210950, August 15, 2018).

The party requesting the issuance of the writ must file the required affidavit and a bond amounting to twice the value of the property (GR No. 210950, August 15, 2018).

The applicant or another person with personal knowledge of the facts must prove:

that the plaintiff is the owner of the property claimed, describing it in particular; or is entitled to possession thereof;

that the property is wrongfully detained by the opposing party, alleging the cause of its detention;

that the property has not been seized or seized for imposition or fine according to law, or seized under a writ of execution or provisional garnishment, or otherwise placed in legal custody, or if so seized, that he is exempt from such seizure or custody; and

the actual market value of the property (Section 2, Rule 60, Amended Rules of Civil Procedure).

Once the affidavit has been filed and the bond has been approved by the court, the court will issue an order and writ of seizure compelling the sheriff to take the property into custody.

If there is no objection to the bond posted within five (5) days of taking possession, the sheriff will return it to the applicant (GR No. 210950, August 15, 2018).

Therefore, the disputed property remains in the custody of the claimant until the court determines, after a trial on the issues, who among the parties has the right of possession (GR no. 210950, August 15, 2018).

If for any reason the property is not returned to the plaintiff, the sheriff must return it to the opposing party (section 6, rule 60).

Personal property in custodia legis cannot be recovered. When property is legally taken under legal process, it is considered to be in the custody of the law.

Therefore, when a thing is in the official custody of an executive officer of justice by virtue of his execution of a judicial act, it is in custodia legis (Superlines Transportation v. PNCC et. al, GR n° 169596 , March 28, 2007).

In Dagudag v. Paderanga, the crew of the MV General Ricarte failed to produce the certificate of origin and other relevant transport documents covering forest products.

Since no one claimed the forest products, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) deemed them abandoned and issued a seizure receipt (AM no. RTJ-06-2017, June 19, 2008).

Forest products legally seized by the DENR are already in custodia legis and therefore cannot be subject to replevin. In case of violation of the revised Forest Code, the DENR seized the forest products in accordance with the law (AM n° RTJ-06-2017, June 19, 2008).

In another case, the presiding judge of the Masbate Municipal Trial Court was held administratively responsible for issuing a writ of seizure ordering the sheriff of the Masbate Regional Trial Court (RTC) to immediately take possession of a truck 6 x 6 which was in custodia legis.

The truck whose seizure was ordered by the judge was part of the documents formally presented as evidence in a criminal case (Danao v. Ginete, AM no. MTJ-03-1474, January 21, 2003).

The writ of replevin, being a provisional remedy, is incidental to the main action.

The dismissal of the replevin case for non-prosecution leads to the restoration of the status of the parties before the litigation, as if no complaint had been filed at all (Advent Capital v. Young, GR n° 183018, August 03, 2011 ).

To allow the writ of replevin to remain after the dismissal of the complaint would amount to declaring the plaintiff (Advent) the winner, precisely when no decision has been rendered.

Since Young owned the car in question before the filing of the replevin case, it must be returned to him (GR n° 183018, 03 August 2011).

A writ of replevin issued by any court in the Philippines can be served and enforced anywhere in the country.

There is no legal, statutory or regulatory provision, explicit or implicit, which limits jurisdictionally or territorially the field of application of a writ of replevin (GR n° 131283, October 7, 1999).

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