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GRAND UNION SUPERMARKET, INC. and NELIA SANTOS FANDINO, petitioners, vs. JOSE J. ESPINO JR.

, and THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, respondents.

FACTS: Plaintiff Jose J. Espino, Jr., a civil engineer and an executive of Procter and Gamble, was accused of intentionally refusing to pay a “rat tail” file in one of the South Supermarket stores in Makati, as he forgot to pay such item as his wife paid for all the grocery items they bought for the supermarket. The guards asked him to follow their store procedures as to that situation, including signing of an incident report. As not to worsen the situation caused by the procedures of the store, which was catching attention from other people from the store, petitioner offered to pay defendant Nelia Santos-Fandino a P5.00 bill and said he was paying for the file whose cost was P3.85. Fandino took the P5.00 bill from plaintiff stating that such is only the petitioner’s fine for having committed the act. Plaintiff was shocked and objected vigorously that he was not a common criminal, and they wanted to get back the P5.00. But Fandino told them that the money would be given as an incentive to the guards who apprehend pilferers. The plaintiff then filed the present case to the trial to claim for damages of the humiliation caused to him by the incident and to the fine collection, which, the plaintiff believes, the store owner has no legal ground to collect such. After trial, the Court of First Instance of Pasig, Rizal dismissed the complaint, interposing the appeal to the Court of Appeals, the latter reversed and set aside the appealed judgment, granting damages, including exemplary damages for collecting a fine to the plaintiff. Not satisfied with the decision of the respondent court, the petitioner instituted the present petition with the ground that there is no basis for her to pay exemplary damages to the plaintiff. Issue: Whether or not the petitioner legitimately exercised the right of defense of property within the context of Article 429 of the Civil Code and is thus exempted to pay the plaintiff with exemplary damages. Held: Petitioners acted in good faith in trying to protect and recover their property, a right which the law accords to them. Under Article 429, New Civil Code, the owner or lawful possessor of a thing has a right to exclude any person from the enjoyment and disposal thereof and for this purpose, he may use such force as may be reasonably necessary to repel or prevent an actual or threatened unlawful physical invasion or usurpation of his property. And since a person who acts in the fulfillment of a duty or in the lawful exercise of a right or office exempts him from civil or criminal liability, petitioner may not be punished by imposing fine against the plaintiff or anyone who may cause damage to his property, or for that matter, to her store. We agree that petitioners acted upon probable cause in stopping and investigating private respondent for taking the file without paying for it, hence, the imposition of exemplary damages as a warning to others by way of a deterrent is without legal basis. We, therefore, eliminate the grant of exemplary damages to the private respondent.