SOLID MANILA CORP. vs. BIO HONG TRADING CO.- Easement and Servitudes
Servitudes are merely accessories to the tenement of which they form part, and even if they are possessed of a separate juridical existence, they cannot be alienated from the tenement or mortgaged separately.
Note: In a personal servitude, there is no "owner of a dominant tenement" to speak of, and the easement pertains to persons without a dominant estate, in this case, the public at large. (Merger, which presupposes ownership, is not possible.)
Solid Manila Corp. is the owner of a parcel of land located in Ermita. The same lies in the vicinity of another parcel registered under Bio Hong Trading whose title came from a prior owner. In the deed of sale between Bio Hong and the vendor, 900 sqm of the lot was reserved as an easement of way.
The construction of the private alley was annotated on Bio Hong’s title stating among other things "(6) That the alley shall remain open at all times, and no obstructions whatsoever shall be placed thereon; and (7) that the owner of the lot on which the alley has been constructed shall allow the public to use the same, and allow the City to lay pipes for sewer and drainage purposes, and shall not act (sic) for any indemnity for the use thereof”
The petitioner claims that ever since, it (along with other residents of neighboring estates) made use of the above private alley and maintained and contributed to its upkeep, until sometime in 1983, when, and over its protests, the private respondent constructed steel gates that precluded unhampered use.
On December 6, 1984, the petitioner commenced suit for injunction against the private respondent, to have the gates removed and to allow full access to the easement.
The trial court ordered Bi Hong to open the gates but the latter argued that the easement has been extinguished by merger in the same person of the dominant and servient estates upon the purchase of the property from its former owner.
CA reversed holding that an easement is a mere limitation on ownership and that it does not impair the private respondent's title, and that since the private respondent had acquired title to the property, "merger" brought about an extinguishment of the easement.
Thus, Solid went to the SC alleging that the very deed of sale executed between the Bio Hong and the previous owner of the property "excluded" the alley in question, and that in any event, the intent of the parties was to retain the "alley" as an easement notwithstanding the sale.
[While the case was pending, Bio Hong asked the RTC to cancel the annotation in question, which it granted subject to the final outcome of the prior case.]
1) Whether or not easements may be alienated (sold) from the tenement or mortgaged separately
2) Whether or not the easement had been extinguished by merger.
HELD: NO to both
1) The sale included the alley. The court rejected Solid’s contention that the alley was not included in the sale. It was included but there was a limitation on its use-the easement. As a mere right of way, it cannot be separated from the tenement and maintain an independent existence. (Art. 617)
Even though Bio Hong acquired ownership over the property –– including the disputed alley –– as a result of the conveyance, it did not acquire the right to close that alley or otherwise put up obstructions thereon and thus prevent the public from using it, because as a servitude, the alley is supposed to be open to the public.
2) No genuine merger took place as a consequence of the sale in favor of the private respondent corporation. According to the Civil Code, a merger exists when ownership of the dominant and servient estates is consolidated in the same person. Merger requires full ownership of both estates.
Note that The servitude in question is a personal servitude (established for the benefit of a community, or of one or more persons to whom the encumbered estate does not belong). In a personal servitude, there is therefore no "owner of a dominant tenement" to speak of, and the easement pertains to persons without a dominant estate, in this case, the public at large. Thus, merger could not have been possible.