hearsay exception

Admitting a Business Record Under the Hearsay Exception

Posted by David Adelstein on May 06, 2017
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If you have perused this blog, then you know if there is a new case discussing the business records exception to the hearsay rule, I am writing about it.   The reason being is that it comes up in many business disputes. Lately, there has been a trend where this business records exception comes up in mortgage foreclosure cases where the borrower argues that the lender failed to properly introduce key evidence (such as payment histories) under the business records exception. As a result, the evidence was inadmissible hearsay warranting a reversal of a foreclosure judgment.

The recent opinion in Evans v. HSBC Bank, USA, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1033a (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) is but another example of the business records exception coming up in a mortgage foreclosure case.   At trial, the lender offered the testimony of an employee of a loan subservicer to introduce the borrower’s payment history from different servicers. Her knowledge came from reviewing records. However, she confirmed during examination that (i) she really did not create the payment history of the borrower, (ii) another servicer created most of the payment history, (iii) the payment history was transferred over to her company, (iv) she did not know who created most of the entries on the payment history, and (v) she did not know the procedures used to incorporate other payment servicer’s records into her company’s records. Notwithstanding, the trial court admitted the payment history into evidence over the borrower’s objection that the payment history was inadmissible hearsay not satisfying the business records exception to the hearsay rule.

As you know from prior articles, hearsay is an out of court statement (written or oral) offered for the truth of the matter asserted.   Thus the payment history (a written out of court statement) is hearsay.   But, there are exceptions to the hearsay rule to introduce certain hearsay evidence. One applicable exception is the business records exception.

To admit a business record under the exception, a party must lay the right foundation that:

  • the business record was made at or near the time of the event;
  • the business record was made by or from information transmitted by an individual with knowledge;
  • the business record was kept in the ordinary course of business; and
  • it was a regular practice of the business to make such a record.

Of course, there is more to this with many cases discussing these foundational requirements. In this case, the witness could not properly lay the foundation since she did not know the procedures of prior loan servicers or even the procedure to incorporate their business records into her company’s business records. There was no testimony establishing the reliability of such records that is the hallmark to admitting evidence under a business records exception to the hearsay rule.   Based on this lack of reliability, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Improperly Admitting Hearsay can still be Harmless Error

Posted by David Adelstein on September 03, 2016
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I have discussed the hearsay rule (the evidentiary exclusionary rule and the numerous exceptions) ad nauseam and will continue to do so because it is such an important aspect of a civil trial. There will invariably be an objection under the hearsay rule during trial. The trial court will either sustain the objection or overrule the objection, perhaps under an exception to the hearsay rule.

What if a trial court makes a mistake—it happens—and overrules a hearsay objection and admits hearsay evidence? As previously mentioned, an appellate court will review the admission of evidence under an abuse of discretion standard of review, limited by Florida’s rules of evidence.

In Johnson v. State, 2016 WL 446889 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016)—yes, a criminal case—a defendant argued that the trial court erred in overruling a hearsay objection and admitting hearsay evidence / testimony. During the trial, the defendant objected when the responding police officer was asked to testify how the victim and the victim’s friend described the defendant. The trial court overruled this objection and the officer was allowed to testify. The appellate court correctly found that this testimony was hearsay as it was offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted–that the defendant was involved in the crime. There was not a hearsay exception that would otherwise allow the officer to recount the victim and the victim’s friend’s description of the defendant.

Unfortunately for the defendant, the trial court’s error was harmless. So, yes, the trial court erred by allowing the officer to offer hearsay testimony, but the error was deemed harmless error. If the error is harmless, then the appellate court will affirm the trial court. Remember, just because a trial court commits error during the course of the trial does not mean the error will result in a new trial or a reversal.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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A Promissory Note is NOT Hearsay

Posted by David Adelstein on April 23, 2016
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A promissory note is NOT regarded as hearsay. This means a party introducing a promissory note does not need to lay down the foundation to a hearsay exception such as the business records exception in order to admit the note into evidence.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal in Deutsche Bank National Trust Co., Etc. v. Alaqua Property, Etc., 41 Fla.L.WeeklyD994b (Fla. 5th DCA 2016) explained that a promissory note in a foreclosure action is NOT hearsay because it is NOT being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted; rather, the note has independent legal significance, that being “to establish the existence of the contractual relationship and the rights and obligations of the parties to the note.” Deutsche Bank National Trust Co., supra.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Agent’s Out-of-Court Statements Could Constitute Admissions by a Party Opponent

Posted by David Adelstein on March 05, 2016
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Below is an example in a criminal trial of the exception to the hearsay rule referred to as admissions against party opponents when a party’s agent makes an out-of-court statement. Check out this article and this article for more on this important hearsay exception embodied in Florida Statute s. 90.803(18).

In Osorio v. State of Florida, 41 Fla.L.WeeklyD547b (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), the police used a confidential informant to make an arrest in a drug case. The confidential informant happened to be a co-worker of the defendant (that had previously been arrested on an unrelated drug charge and turned into an informant to obtain credit in his prosecution). The defendant was relying on an entrapment defense. During the defendant’s cross-examination of a detective at trial, the court refused to allow the detective to testify about an issue that the co-worker / informant relayed to the detective. Then, when the defendant took to stand to testify, the trial court refused to allow the defendant to testify about statements his co-worker / informant made. The court precluded this testimony based on the hearsay rule since both the detective and defendant would be testifying about out-of-court statements from the co-worker / informant offered for the truth of the matter asserted.

Could the co-worker / informant, acting as an agent of the police, be classified as a party-opponent to fall within the hearsay exception known as admissions against party opponents.   The court said yes!

“[A]n agent is one who consents to act on behalf of some person, with that person’s acknowledgment, and is subject to that person’s control.” Osorio, supra, citing Goldschmidt v. Holman, 571 So.2d 422, 424, n.5 (Fla. 1990).

The court held that the co-worker / informant was serving as an agent since the police encouraged his involvement including setting up the drug-buy that led to the defendant’s arrest in furtherance of obtaining credit in his prosecution.  As an agent, the co-worker / informant’s out-of-court statements did fall within the hearsay exception known as admissions against a party opponent. The statements made by the co-worker / informant were statements by the party’s [the state / police] agent concerning a matter within the scope of his agency and made during the existence of the relationship.   See Fla. Stat. s. 90.803(18).  The court held it was error not to allow the defendant to introduce these out-of-court statements that restricted the defendant’s ability to put on his entrapment defense.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Excited Utterance Hearsay Exception

Posted by David Adelstein on January 23, 2016
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I have discussed that hearsay is inadmissible evidence. Again, hearsay “is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” Fla.Stat. 90.801(1)(c).

While hearsay is inadmissible, there are exceptions that allow hearsay to be admissible at trial.

One hearsay exception is known as an “excited utterance.” Typically, this hearsay exception is more applicable in criminal trials than civil trials. An excited utterance is a “statement or excited utterance relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.” Fla.Stat. 90.803(2). An excited utterance is admissible even though the declarant of the statement does not testify to making the statement at trial.

“There are three requirements for a statement to qualify as an excited utterance: (1) there must have been an event startling enough to cause nervous excitement; (2) the statement must have been made before there was time to contrive or misrepresent; and (3) the statement must have been made while the person was under the stress of excitement caused by the startling event.”

Smith v. Florida, 2016 WL 64341, *4 (4th DCA 2016) (internal quotation omitted).

For example, Smith was a murder trial. At trial, the murder victim’s daughter testified she called 911 and told the 911 operator that her aunt, the criminal defendant’s sister, told her that he seriously hurt the victim. The aunt then called 911 telling the operator that she saw blood and pleading with the operator to send help. In response to the 911 calls, the police discovered the victim stabbed to death.

At trial, the aunt denied making the statement to the victim’s daughter that the defendant told her that he seriously hurt the victim. The aunt, of course, was not the most credible since the defendant was her brother. The issue was whether the daughter could testify what the aunt told her (that the defendant told the aunt that he seriously hurt the vicim) since the statement constitutes hearsay.

The appellate court affirmed that the daughter could testify what the aunt told her since the aunt’s statement was an excited utterance: a) the startling event that caused the aunt’s nervous excitement was the thought that the victim was seriously hurt or dead; b) the aunt made the statement to the victim’s daughter immediately after she heard from her brother; and c) the statement was made before the aunt even called 911 so it was clearly made while the aunt was under the stress of the event and before there was time to make any misrepresentation. Further, the startling event the aunt experienced was supported by the aunt’s independent 911 call.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Witness Laying the Foundation for the Admission of Business Records

Posted by David Adelstein on December 09, 2015
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More on the business records exception to the hearsay rule and the importance of laying the proper foundation to introduce business records under this exception. This is a must-know hearsay exception to any business-related dispute; and, it is imperative to understand the required testimony of the witness utilized to lay the foundation for the business records exception.

In Sanchez v. Suntrust Bank, 4D14-2457 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) – yes, a mortgage foreclosure case—the lender introduced a screenshot of its record keeping system, the payment history with the borrower, default letters, and a payoff calculation. The lender introduced this documentation through the testimony of a loan servicer.

In introducing this documentation, however, the proper foundation for these business records was not laid.

To introduce documents under the business records exception, the introducing party must show through a witness:

(1) the record was made at or near the time of the event; (2) was made by or from information transmitted by a person with knowledge; (3) was kept in the ordinary course of a regularly conducted business activity; and (4) that it was a regular practice of that business to make such a record.

Sanchez, supra (citation omitted).

In this case, the witness was never asked whether the documents were made at or near the time of the event. And, as it related to the screenshot of the record keeping system, the witness did not know how the screenshot was created.

When it comes to the witness laying the foundation for the business records exception, the Fourth District explained:

To lay a foundation for the admission of a business record, it is not necessary for the proponent of the evidence to call the person who actually prepared the business records. The records custodian or any qualified witness who has the necessary knowledge to testify as to how the record was made can lay the necessary foundation. Stated another way, the witness just need be well enough acquainted with the activity to provide testimony. To the extent the individual making the record does not have personal knowledge of the information contained therein, the second prong of the predicate requires the information to have been supplied by an individual who does have personal knowledge of the information and who was acting in the course of a regularly conducted business activity.

Sanchez, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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State of Mind Hearsay Exception

Posted by David Adelstein on November 01, 2015
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Sometimes hearsay statements are introduced at trial not to show the truth of the matter asserted by the out-of-court statement, but to prove a certain state of mind of the person that heard the out-of-court statement. In this situation, the out-of-court statement would be admissible and not considered hearsay.

Florida Statute 90.803(3)(a) provides the following hearsay exception:

(a) A statement of the declarant’s then-existing state of mind, emotion, or physical sensation, including a statement of intent, plan, motive, design, mental feeling, pain, or bodily health, [is an exception to hearsay] when such evidence is offered to:

  1. Prove the declarant’s state of mind, emotion, or physical sensation at that time or at any other time when such state is an issue in the action.
  2. Prove or explain acts of subsequent conduct of the declarant.

For example, in a medical malpractice action, a CT Scan interpreted by a radiologist revealed an aortic tear (Type I dissection) that needed to be repaired. A test was conducted by a cardiologist to determine the extent and precise location of the tear and the patient died during or immediately after the test. The plaintiff (estate) argued that the test performed caused another tear and this tear caused the patient’s death. During trial, and over the objection of the plaintiff, the cardiologist testified that he was told by the radiologist (the declarant) that read the CT Scan of the aortic tear (Type I dissection). The plaintiff argued that this constituted hearsay since what the radiologist told the cardiologist was an out-of-court statement. The appellate court held that this did not constitute inadmissible hearsay because the out-of-court statement was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but simply to prove that the cardiologist had notice of the aortic tear (Type I dissection).   See Dorsey v. Reddy, 931 So.2d 259 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006).

In a civil action involving the termination of a county employee, the terminated employee sued a third party for intentionally interfering with the employee’s employment causing the county to terminate the employee. The third party wanted a report introduced at trial. The report was prepared by another county employee that depicted various wrongdoings of the terminated employee. The trial court ruled that this report constituted hearsay. The appellate, however, found that the exclusion of the report was reversible error since the report was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but to prove the fact that the county had knowledge (notice) of the terminated employee’s alleged wrongdoings prior to terminating the employee. See Spatz v. Kirby, 705 So.2d 657 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998).

Finally, in a criminal action involving grand theft of a van, the defendant was arrested with a passenger in the van. The defendant’s defense was that he had the good faith belief that the van was owned by the passenger. At trial, the defendant called a witness. The witness testified that the day before the arrest, the defendant was driven to his house by the passenger.   The trial court, however, excluded the witness from testifying that the passenger told the witness in front of the defendant that the passenger owned the van. The appellate court held that this testimony was not hearsay because it was offered to prove the defendant’s state of mind–that the defendant had a good faith belief that the passenger actually owned the van. See Alfaro v. State, 837 So.2d 429 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002).

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Admissions Against Party Opponent (Hearsay Exception) Does Not Need to be Based on Party’s Personal Knowledge

Posted by David Adelstein on April 25, 2015
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An admission against a party opponent is an important exception to the hearsay rule. I previously discussed this hearsay exception in detail because it is an exception that routinely applies in order to admit testimony / evidence at trial.

Recently, the case of Jones v. Alayon, 2015 WL 1545005 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) discussed the applicability of this exception. This case was a wrongful death action brought by the decedent’s daughter as personal representative of the estate stemming from an automobile accident caused by an off-duty police officer that originally fled the scene of the accident. The jury awarded the plaintiff less damages than the plaintiff desired and the plaintiff appealed. One issue, amongst others, that the plaintiff argued on appeal was that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing hearsay evidence to come in that the decedent’s current wife spent decedent’s money on drugs and alcohol.

Prior to trial, the defense moved in limine to prevent evidence coming in at trial that the defendant was an off-duty police officer arguing that the prejudice of this evidence outweighs its probative value. The plaintiff argued that this evidence was relevant to damages and proffered testimony from the decedent’s current wife that she was traumatized to learn that the accident was caused by an off-duty police officer that originally fled the scene. The trial court denied the motion in limine and allowed this evidence to come in.

During trial, the defense cross-examined the decedent’s daughter (personal representative of the estate) and asked whether she ever told her sister (decedent’s other daughter that resided out of state) that decedent’s current wife spent money on drugs and alcohol. The decedent’s daughter testified no.   Then, during the defense’s case, the defense read into evidence, over a hearsay objection by the plaintiff, a portion of the deposition transcript from the sister where she testified that decedent’s daughter (personal representative of estate) told her that decedent’s current wife did not work and was spending decedent’s money on drugs and alcohol.   The plaintiff objected that this statement constituted hearsay within hearsay in that (a) the sister was relaying something said to her by decadent’s daughter (hearsay) and (b) what decedent’s daughter told her sister was obviously told to her by the decedent (hearsay) and decedent’s daughter had no personal knowledge of this fact. The defense countered that this testimony was admissible as an admission by a party opponent. The trial court agreed with the defense and overruled the plaintiff’s objection since decedent’s daughter was the personal representative of the decedent’s estate (the party plaintiff) and, thus, the statement fell within the admission by a party opponent exception to the hearsay rule.

 

Admission Against Party Opponent — Hearsay Exception

 

 

An admission against a party opponent is set forth in Florida Statute s. 90.803(18):

Admissions.—A statement that is offered against a party and is:

(a) The party’s own statement in either an individual or a representative capacity;

(b) A statement of which the party has manifested an adoption or belief in its truth….

An admission, however, does not need to be based on the party’s personal or firsthand knowledge. Jones, supra, at *3 citing Charles W. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence, s. 803.18 (2014 ed.) (admission against party opponent does not need to be based on firsthand knowledge because when person makes relevant admissions or speaks against their interests it may be assumed they would not do so without an adequate investigation).

In this case, decedent’s daughter (personal representative of the estate) made a statement to her sister that decedent’s current wife spent decedent’s money on drugs and alcohol. Decedent’s daughter, however, apparently did not have any personal or firsthand knowledge about this fact. But, as the Fourth District expressed: “That it [statement] is based upon what someone else may have told Jones [decedent’s daughter – personal representative of estate] is unimportant, in that she would not make the statement without some investigation or indicia of reliability.” Jones, supra, at *3.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Introducing Business Records — An Exception To Hearsay

Posted by David Adelstein on December 15, 2014
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Business Records Exception

 

Business records are oftentimes introduced during trial. But, just because the record is called a “business record” does not automatically mean the record is admissible during trial. The business record still needs to be properly introduced (the foundation for the record properly laid) at trial; otherwise, the record constitutes hearsay: an out-of-court statement (written or oral) introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the out-of-court statement. Thus, a business record would constitute hearsay evidence since it would most likely be introduced at trial to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the record.

Florida’s Evidence Code contains a hearsay exception for records of regularly conducted business activities (see below statutory reference). Fla. Stat. s. 90.803(6). This exception allows a business’s record custodian to lay the foundation for the introduction of business records to avoid the exclusion of such records under a hearsay objection.

The key to laying the foundation and satisfying the hearsay exception is that the records MUST BE:

  • made at or near the time of the event / activity – the event should be recorded when it is fresh in someone’s mind to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the record;
  • made from information transmitted by a person with personal knowledge – the person recording the event does not need personal knowledge, but they do need to have obtained the information by a person within the business with personal knowledge acting within their scope;
  • kept in the regular course by the business; and
  • a regular practice of the business to make a record whenever that activity occurs.

See Fla. Stat. s. 90.803(6); United Auto Ins. Co. v. Affiliated Healthcare Centers, Inc., 43 So.3d 127, 130 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010).

A business’s record custodian or other qualified witness that knows how the record was made is called to lay the foundation for this hearsay exception and, thus, introduction of the business records. This is important so that the business records can be published or presented to the jury.

As explained by the Third District:

“[I]n order to lay a foundation for the business records exception to the hearsay rule, it is not necessary to call the person who actually prepared the document. The records custodian or any person who has the requisite knowledge to testify as to how the record was made can lay the necessary foundation.”

Affiliated Healthcare, 43 So.3d at 130 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Under certain circumstances, an affidavit can be used instead of live testimony to lay the foundation for a business record. Fla. Stat. s. 90.803(6)(c).

Finally, parties relying on business records to support a summary judgment motion should likewise lay the appropriate foundation for the record in an affidavit.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Florida Statute s. 90.803

(6) Records of regularly conducted business activity.–

(a) A memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, in any form, of acts, events, conditions, opinion, or diagnosis, made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge, if kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity and if it was the regular practice of that business activity to make such memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, all as shown by the testimony of the custodian or other qualified witness, or as shown by a certification or declaration that complies with paragraph (c) and s. 90.902(11), unless the sources of information or other circumstances show lack of trustworthiness. The term “business” as used in this paragraph includes a business, institution, association, profession, occupation, and calling of every kind, whether or not conducted for profit.

(b) Evidence in the form of an opinion or diagnosis is inadmissible under paragraph (a) unless such opinion or diagnosis would be admissible under ss. 90.701-90.705 if the person whose opinion is recorded were to testify to the opinion directly.

(c) A party intending to offer evidence under paragraph (a) by means of a certification or declaration shall serve reasonable written notice of that intention upon every other party and shall make the evidence available for inspection sufficiently in advance of its offer in evidence to provide to any other party a fair opportunity to challenge the admissibility of the evidence. If the evidence is maintained in a foreign country, the party intending to offer the evidence must provide written notice of that intention at the arraignment or as soon after the arraignment as is practicable or, in a civil case, 60 days before the trial. A motion opposing the admissibility of such evidence must be made by the opposing party and determined by the court before trial. A party’s failure to file such a motion before trial constitutes a waiver of objection to the evidence, but the court for good cause shown may grant relief from the waiver.

 

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