SAMELCO II, et al. v. Seludo, Jr. (G.R. No. 173840, April 25, 2012)

Court of Appeals, NEA, RTC, Supreme Court -

SAMELCO II, et al. v. Seludo, Jr. (G.R. No. 173840, April 25, 2012)

The Court, therefore, finds it erroneous on the part of the CA to rule that the doctrine of primary jurisdiction does not apply in the present case. It is true that the RTC has jurisdiction over the petition for prohibition filed by respondent. However, the basic issue in the present case is not whether the RTC has jurisdiction over the petition for prohibition filed by respondent; rather, the issue is who between the RTC and the NEA has primary jurisdiction over the question of the validity of the Board Resolution issued by SAMELCO II. A careful reading of the above-quoted provisions of P.D. No. 1645 clearly show that, pursuant to its power of supervision and control, the NEA is granted the authority to conduct investigations and other similar actions as well as to issue orders, rules and regulations with respect to all matters affecting electric cooperatives. Certainly, the matter as to the validity of the resolution issued by the Board of Directors of SAMELCO II, which practically removed respondent from his position as a member of the Board of Directors and further disqualified him to run as such in the ensuing election, is a matter which affects the said electric cooperative and, thus, comes within the ambit of the powers of the NEA as expressed in Sections 5 and 7 of P.D. No. 1645.

In this regard, the Court agrees with petitioners’ argument that to sustain the petition for prohibition filed by respondent with the RTC would constitute an unnecessary intrusion into the NEA’s power of supervision and control over electric cooperatives.

Based on the foregoing discussions, the necessary conclusion that can be arrived at is that, while the RTC has jurisdiction over the petition for prohibition filed by respondent, the NEA, in the exercise of its power of supervision and control, has primary jurisdiction to determine the issue of the validity of the subject resolution.

It may not be amiss to reiterate the prevailing rule that the doctrine of primary jurisdiction applies where a claim is originally cognizable in the courts and comes into play whenever enforcement of the claim requires the resolution of issues which, under a regulatory scheme, has been placed within the special competence of an administrative agency. In such a case, the court in which the claim is sought to be enforced may suspend the judicial process pending referral of such issues to the administrative body for its view or, if the parties would not be unfairly disadvantaged, dismiss the case without prejudice.

Corollary to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies. The Court, in a long line of cases, has held that before a party is allowed to seek the intervention of the courts, it is a pre-condition that he avail himself of all administrative processes afforded him. Hence, if a remedy within the administrative machinery can be resorted to by giving the administrative officer every opportunity to decide on a matter that comes within his jurisdiction, then such remedy must be exhausted first before the courts power of judicial review can be sought. The premature resort to the court is fatal to ones cause of action. Accordingly, absent any finding of waiver or estoppel, the case may be dismissed for lack of cause of action.

The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies is based on practical and legal reasons. The availment of administrative remedy entails lesser expenses and provides for a speedier disposition of controversies. Furthermore, the courts of justice, for reasons of comity and convenience, will shy away from a dispute until the system of administrative redress has been completed and complied with, so as to give the administrative agency concerned every opportunity to correct its error and dispose of the case.

True, the doctrines of primary jurisdiction and exhaustion of administrative remedies are subject to certain exceptions, to wit: (a) where there is estoppel on the part of the party invoking the doctrine; (b) where the challenged administrative act is patently illegal, amounting to lack of jurisdiction; (c) where there is unreasonable delay or official inaction that will irretrievably prejudice the complainant; (d) where the amount involved is relatively so small as to make the rule impractical and oppressive; (e) where the question involved is purely legal and will ultimately have to be decided by the courts of justice; (f) where judicial intervention is urgent; (g) where the application of the doctrine may cause great and irreparable damage; (h) where the controverted acts violate due process; (i) where the issue of non-exhaustion of administrative remedies has been rendered moot; (j) where there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy; (k) where strong public interest is involved; and (l) in quo warranto proceedings.

Respondent, however, failed to show that the instant case falls under any of the above-enumerated exceptions. (Image: American Public Power Association)

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