Lawyer for a complainant in airline dispute – a case study

NOTHING REINFORCES TECHNICAL RULES MORE THAN A LAWYER FOR A COMPLAINANT

The first breach of contract case I handled (a long time) involved an airline passenger and his wife who were unable to take their scheduled flight. We were for the airline.

I came into the picture the night before a scheduled mediation hearing. I was then a Junior Associate. I was given a basic instruction by a Senior Associate (SA), which I vivdly recall as going like this: Attend the the mediation hearing and ask the complainant if he has any proposed offer for settlement. I was to proceed directly in the morning at the Philippine Mediation Center (PMC) at Paranaque City to factor in traffic.

So I did.

The SA may have failed to mention that the complainant was a lawyer himself and who happened to be a veteran litigator. He also happened to be quite a piece of work who was a stickler for technicalities. Yes, this last point was about to be made known to me.

Here I was early to the conference. I surveyed around the office and familiarize myself with people inside the PMC Office. I asked around and informed them that I was representing the airline in the case. I was advised to wait for the complainant who was running late (even if he resided in the same city while I had to wade through a 2-hour traffic to get there).

I did.

When the complainant arrived, we started with the hearing. The mediation took out the Minutes to write on the attendance portion of the document. He asked our complete names and which side we were on. We provided him the details.

Before we could formally start, the complainant who by that time I had already assessed was a veteran lawer, asked a simple question. The kind which is ordinarily no longer asked. After all, while the objective of mediation is to provide the parties with a venue to discuss settlement, this is seen by many parties as an added stage that they have to go through the motions. Thus, the parties simply attend the two (2) mandatory conferences and then advise the mediation officer that there would be no settlement. They then proceed to the trial of the case.

Context is provided before I explain what happens next.

Remember the part where the SA was short on the details and the complainant was a stickler for technicalities?

This is where is all converge.

“Where is your Special Power of Attorney (SPA)?”

Now we have to go back to the instructions given to me. Proceed to the hearing and go see if there is any offer for settlement. There was no mention about bringing any SPA. The instruction was given late at night the day before the hearing.

Why is that question important?

Simple, except the party themselves, any representative to a mediation hearing are required to show proof that they are authorized via an SPA. If a representative does not have an SPA, he has no standing and thus whoever party he is representing is considered absent.

At that time, and for some ridiculous reasons which I still find unwise, a non-appearance to a mediation hearing may result in the absent party being declared in default, for the entire case. This means the said party will not be given the opportunity to be heard or present their case. This, for non-appearance in mediation? The penalty is not commensurate to the offense, as it is said.

Barely months from getting my license to practice law, I found myself in my first crisis (well, at least it felt like it).

So here I was explaining to them that I was just asked to pitch in the night before by my SA. Went straight to the hearing to see if there were any offer on the table. So, I offered to bring the SPA the next hearing date.

My words fell on deaf ears. The complainant insisted on the rules. The mediator did not want to argue otherwise as the complainant was bringing to the table his being a lawyer. Mediators are not lawyers and they tend to shy away from any legal arguments.

The complainant then moved and insisted that the hearing be terminated and that I be prohibited from signing the Minutes as I has no legal standing. Now you know why he is a piece of work. Most litigators will not make a big deal of failing to bring the SPA on the first hearing and instead ask the other party to bring it the next hearing.

You could see in the complainant’s eyes that he thinks he has find a way to win his case on a technicality. He was deseperately holding on it.

You can tell whether a case is strong or weak depending on the laywer’s heavy reliance on technicalities. The complainant was clutching so hard on his trophy technicality.

The mediation was terminated and the case was returned back to the court to be heard. In the interim, the complainant submitted a motion to declare as in default and in true fashion cited the non-presentation of an SPA during the mediation.

It was flimsy bordering the absurd.

But, the rules are the rules.

So, I replied with a comment citing numerous Supreme Court decisions advising lower courts to be liberal in the application of the rules particularly if the technicality is something so small, as with non-presentation of an SPA.

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) resolved the matter by ordering our side to pay a penalty of P500.00. This was the complainant’s reward, I suppose.

I left the law firm a year after and I did not get to see how the case eventually turned out. I am also not that curious to know. The experience stayed with me and I am for the better for it. There are just people who are not good in communication and there are those who are plainly jerks. The first sharpens your own communication skills by asking relevant questions, while the second improves your interpersonal relationship skills by acknowledging their existence in this world.