by: Mickey Ingles (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
The contract is the law between the parties. That’s as fundamental as it gets in the world of contract law. Unless the stipulations are contrary to law, public order, public policy, or morals, the parties have to abide by whatever they had agreed on. So, what happens when a boxing promoter agrees to pay a world champion boxer US$160,000.00 but only pays him US$29,651.00?
Filipino boxing legend Luisito Espinosa was probably wondering the same thing when his boxing promoters failed to give him what was promised way back in 1997. In November 2019, a whopping 22 years later, Espinosa finally got the answer when the Supreme Court decided in his favor in Heirs of Nazario v. Espinosa.
In 1997, boxing promoters Rodolfo Nazario and Joselito Mondejar agreed to pay the champ a total of US$160,000.00 for his WBC World Featherweight Title bout against Argentine Carlos Rios. Under the contract, Espinosa was set to receive US$60,000.00 before the fight even began. He only received US$29,651.00.
That, it seems, was the extent of what Espinosa would receive from his promoters. To be fair, the promoters knew they owed Espinosa and went on to even execute a Letter of Guarantee to pay him the balance of US$130,349.00 after the fight.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
Espinosa stepped into the ring, TKOd Rios in the sixth (highlights here), defended his title, brought glory to the country, and was rewarded with an empty bag in return. A sad, yet not uncommon, refrain for some of our athletes.
In any case, the Supreme Court finally ruled for Espinosa, ordering the heirs of the now-deceased Nazario to pay him the balance plus legal interest of 6%. Interestingly, the case didn’t turn on contract law, but on a fair bit of remedial law.
Nazario claimed that he had signed the contract and the Letter of Guarantee as a mere accommodation party. Thing is, instead of presenting evidence to prove this, Nazario filed a demurrer of evidence. A demurrer is filed after the plaintiff (in this case Espinosa) has completed presenting his evidence and the defendant thinks the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. If a demurrer is granted, that’s well and good and the defendant wins. But if the demurrer is granted and then reversed on appeal, then the defendant loses all right to present evidence.
Think of the demurrer as a defendant’s way of saying, “you got nothing, plaintiff, go home!”—which is quite ironic given demurrer sounds like “demure” which is the opposite of the confident nature of a demurrer. (“Demurrer” is actually derived from the old French word “demorer” meaning “to delay.”)
The trial court granted Nazario’s demurrer and dismissed the case. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and left Nazario with no right to present evidence to prove he was merely signed as an accommodation party. This was vital, given the basic rule that each party must prove his or her affirmative assertion (which, incidentally, is like the “if-you-love-me-prove-it” doctrine that young couples always cite during love spats) Nazario asserted he was an accommodation party, but he failed to prove it because of his failed demurrer.
Another blow to Nazario’s case was that he failed to specifically deny under oath the execution of the contract and the Letter of Guarantee. This was a huge win for Espinosa because another settled remedial rule is that actions based on written instruments (like contracts and stuff) are deemed admitted if the defendant fails to deny them under oath. In essence, if you don’t deny it, then the defendant admits that the document is true and genuine.
In his Answer, Nazario didn’t deny it. In fact, by asserting that he did sign it (remember, he claimed he signed as an accommodation party), he impliedly admitted that the contract and the Letter of Agreement were true and genuine. And since he wasn’t able to prove that he merely signed it as an accommodation party because of the aforementioned failed demurrer, the SC had no choice but to find that he (or at least his heirs) was indeed liable to Espinosa for the balance.
Since we’re into settled rules, a classic sports adage is that a win’s a win. True, this is a huge win for Espinosa. But is it really? A better win would’ve been him getting paid as agreed upon in 1997. A two-decade delay in payment is simply not just, especially in light of the hard times the boxing champ faced after he retired.
Let this be a good reminder to promoters and managers everywhere—pay your athletes. It’s just right.
They fight for us in the ring, it’s not right that they have to fight in the court as well.