THE PROVINCE OF AKLAN v. JODY KING CONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT CORP., G.R. Nos. 197592 & 202623, November 27, 2013

Remedial law; Doctrine of primary jurisdiction. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction holds that if a case is such that its determination requires the expertise, specialized training and knowledge of the proper administrative bodies, relief must first be obtained in an administrative proceeding before a remedy is supplied by the courts even if the matter may well be within their proper jurisdiction. It 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, have 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. The objective of the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is to guide the court in determining whether it should refrain from exercising its jurisdiction until after an administrative agency has determined some question or some aspect of some question arising in the proceeding before the court.

Exceptions to the rule on primary jurisdiction. There are established exceptions to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, such as: (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 small so 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) when its application may cause great and irreparable damage; (h) where the controverted acts violate due process; (i) when the issue of non-exhaustion of administrative remedies has been rendered moot; (j) when there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy; (k) when strong public interest is involved; and, (l) in quo warranto proceedings. However, none of the foregoing circumstances is applicable in the present case. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction does not warrant a court to arrogate unto itself authority to resolve a controversy the jurisdiction over which is initially lodged with an administrative body of special competence. All the proceedings of the court in violation of the doctrine and all orders and decisions rendered thereby are null and void.

Administrative law; The Commission on Audit (COA) has primary jursidiction over money claims against the government. It is the COA and not the RTC which has primary jurisdiction to pass upon petitioner’s money claim against respondent local government unit. Such jurisdiction may not be waived by the parties’ failure to argue the issue nor active participation in the proceedings. Respondent’s collection suit being directed against a local government unit, such money claim should have been first brought to the COA. Hence, the RTC should have suspended the proceedings and refer the filing of the claim before the COA. Moreover, petitioner is not estopped from raising the issue of jurisdiction even after the denial of its notice of appeal and before the CA.

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