On class suits

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

Troublingly, news about the upcoming power outages in the next 3-5 days is swirling on social media. It seems that the distribution utilities have yet again been forewarned by NGCP that due to the manual load drop (MLD), there would be rotational brown outs that would result.

Several sectors, foremost of which are the media outlets, are mulling the filing of a class suit against the responsible players in the power industry who should be held accountable for the power outages the past week and the forthcoming ones.

What are class suits?

Are the reported penalties to be imposed by the government on any of the power industry players in the form of fines or penalties similar to the damages that can be awarded in a class suit?

The answer is no.

Whatever fines or sanctions in monetary form that the government will hand down on any or some or all of the power industry players are not the same as the monetary award for damages that will be fixed by the court in a class suit. The fines and sanctions are in the nature of administrative penalties which will accrue in favor of the government and will not be turned-over to the consumers.

Instead, “class suits” as envisaged in jurisprudence refer to actions where the plaintiffs are so numerous and their causes of action have a commonality.

In Liana’s Supermarket v. NLRC, G.R. No. 111014, May 31, 1996, citing in reference In Re: Request of the Heirs of the Passengers of the Doña Paz to Set Aside the Order Dated January 4, 1988 of Judge B. D. Chingcuangco, a “class suit” was explained as follows:

“What is contemplated, as will be noted, is that (a) the subject matter in controversy is of common or general interest to many persons, and (b) those persons are so numerous as to make it impracticable to bring them all before the court . . . What makes the situation a proper case for a class suit is the circumstance that there is only one right or cause of action pertaining or belonging in common to many persons (emphasis supplied), not separately or severally to distinct individuals . . . . The object of the suit is to obtain relief for or against numerous persons as a group or as an integral entity, and not as separate, distinct individuals whose rights or liabilities are separate from and independent of those affecting the others. . . The other factor that serves to distinguish the rule on class suits . . . is . . . the numerousness of parties involved . . . The rule is that for a class suit to be allowed, it is needful inter alia that the parties be so numerous that it would be impracticable to bring them all before the court.”

Both the requirement of commonality of interests and numerousness of plaintiffs are present in respect to the damages suffered and will be suffered by the consumers because of the prolonged power outages and unstable supply of electricity.

So, a class suit may be availed in respect to the power outages that had occurred of late. But it must be underlined that in order to prove the amount of damages, each consumer must provide proof of actual and/or moral damages that he/she suffered.

The essence of a class suit is that it would be impracticable for all the consumers to join the case because of sheer numerousness. Thus, those taking a proactive stance must initiate the meeting of all consumers heavily affected by the blackouts so that an approximation of the total economic and psychological damages can be ascertained and documented.

As the timeless adage goes, “in unity there is strength.”

                (The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor, MCLE lecturer, bar reviewer and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).