Facebook Posts Not Hearsay Where Offered To Show How Ex-Wife Presented Relationship To Others – Illinois Case Note

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Reversing a family law judge’s decision to terminate ex-spousal maintenance, the Second District appeals court in In re Marriage of Miller, 2015 IL App(2d) 140530 delves into the foundation requirements for getting Facebook pages into evidence and again highlights the crucial role social media plays in litigation in this digitally saturated culture.

The trial court granted the ex-husband (“Husband”) motion to terminate maintenance payments to his ex-wife (“Wife”) based on her multiple Facebook posts that she was in a relationship and (presumably) living with another man.  Illinois divorce law posits that maintenance payments must cease when the recipient remarries or cohabitates with another on a continuing basis.

Since the Facebook posts revealed the Wife frequently trumpeting her new relationship, the court found that the policies behind maintenance payments would be compromised by allowing the Wife to continue receiving payments from Husband.

The Wife appealed, arguing that the trial court shouldn’t have allowed her Facebook posts into evidence.

Held: Reversed (but on other grounds).  Wife’s social media posts were properly authenticated, not hearsay and any prejudice to her didn’t substantially outweigh the posts’ probative value.

Rules/reasoning:

– To enter a document into evidence at trial or on summary judgment, the offering party must lay a foundation for it;

– The party offering the document into evidence – including a document to impeach (contradict) a witness on the stand – must authenticate the document through the testimony of a witness who has personal knowledge sufficient to satisfy the court that the document is what the proponent claim it is;

– To lay a foundation for an out-of-court statement (including a document), the party attempting to get the statement into evidence must direct the witness to the time, place, circumstances and substance of the statement;

– Hearsay is a statement, other than made by the declarant while testifying at trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted;

– When the making of statement is the significant fact, hearsay isn’t involved (ex: the mere fact that a conversation took place isn’t hearsay);

Here, the court found that the Facebook posts weren’t offered for their truth.  Instead, they were offered to illustrate the way the Wife was portraying her current relationship to others.  The court deemed the posts relevant to the issue of how “public” or “out in the open” the Wife was about the relationship. 

And since the Husband didn’t offer the posts for the truth of their contents (that Wife was in fact living with someone and so disqualified from further maintenance payments) but instead to show the court the manner in which the Wife presented the relationship to others, the court properly allowed the posts into evidence.

The Second District also agreed with the trial court that the posts didn’t unfairly prejudice the Wife.  Indeed, the court characterized the posts as “bland”, “cumulative” and less effective than the parties’ live testimony.

(¶¶ 33-38)

The Wife still won though as the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision to terminate Husband’s maintenance obligations.  The court found that more evidence was needed on the specifics of the Wife’s existing relationship including whether it was continuing and conjugal enough to constitute a “de facto marriage” (as opposed to a “dating” relationship only) and thus exclude the Wife from further maintenance payments from Husband.

Take-aways:

Hearsay doesn’t apply where out-of-court statement has independent legal significance;

Facebook posts authored by a party to lawsuit will likely get into evidence unless their prejudice outweighs their probative value;

Where social media posts are authored by third parties, it injects another layer of hearsay into the evidence equation and makes it harder to get the posts admitted at trial.

Summary of Business Records Allowed Into Evidence In Ponzi Scheme Claw-back Hearing – 11th Cir.

The interplay between Federal Rules of Evidence 1006 (summaries) and 803(6)(business records) is examined by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in In re International Management Associates, LLC, 2015 WL 1245503 (C.A.11 Ga.), a case where a trustee was able to admit a summary of bulky business records into evidence and avoid a $200K transfer from the debtor and Ponzi scheme operator (IMA) to the investor defendants.

(A Ponzi scheme typically involves a business entity that doesn’t really operate any legitimate business and that uses the principal investments of newer investors to pay older investors.  In reality though, the investors are being paid their own principal or that of other investors.)

The defendants in the IMA case received over $600K in payouts from IMA over a several-year period.  IMA’s trustee sought to avoid (recover) the most recent $200K payment to the defendants.

At the hearing, the trustee offered summaries of the debtor’s business records in evidence to support the avoidance claim.  The bankruptcy court allowed the summaries into evidence and entered judgment for the trustee.  The Georgia district court affirmed and the defendants appealed to the 11th Circuit on the basis that the summaries should have been excluded since the underlying records weren’t authenticated or offered into evidence at the hearing.

Held: affirmed

Q: Why?

A: Federal Rule of Evidence 1006 allows a “summary, chart or calculation” to be used in evidence to prove the content of voluminous writing (or photographs or recordings) that can’t be conveniently reviewed by the court.

The main qualification is that the actual records underlying the summary must be made available to the opponent for copying and examination.  The summary evidence proponent doesn’t have to offer the underlying documents into evidence but he must establish that those documents would have been admissible in evidence if he did offer them.  FRE 1006.

To make the requisite showing for admissibility under Rule 1006, the person offering the summary must establish that the underlying documents are authentic and meet the requirements for admissibility as business records under FRE 803(6) – the business records rule.

The authenticity burden is light.  All the proponent must show is that the documents are what they appear to be and he can do this through the testimony of a witness who is knowledgeable about the documents.

To meet the business record admissibility test under FRE 803(6), the offering party must show (1) that the record was made at or near the time by – or from information transmitted by someone with knowledge; and (2) the record was kept in the course of a regularly conducted activity, and (3) making the record was a regular practice of a given business.  FRE 803(6)(A)-(C).

A qualified witness to testify on business records is one who can explain the system of record keeping utilized by a business.  He does not have to have firsthand knowledge or be the author of the records, though. As long as the movant establishes enough circumstantial evidence to show the documents are trustworthy, the record can be admitted in evidence.

Here, the court found that the trustee’s evidence summary was supported by trustworthy business records.  While the trustee didn’t author or maintain IMA’s records in the first instance, he engaged in thorough examination and investigation into the records’ preparation and storage and interviewed multiple witnesses who played integral roles in the creation of the underlying records.  The trustee also cross-referenced IMA’s records with those of various financial institutions that did business with IMA.

Considered cumulatively, this was enough circumstantial evidence for the court’s avoidance judgment for the trustee.

Take-aways:

– Summaries of business records are admissible where the underlying documents are voluminous and are themselves admissible as business records under FRE 803(6);

– A witness testifying as to business records doesn’t have to be the creator of a given record.  It’s enough that the witness is familiar with a company’s process utilized to create and store the records in question;

– the more meticulous a third party’s (like a trustee or receiver) efforts are to verify the accuracy of business records, the more likely that third party can defeat a hearsay objection at trial or hearing.

 

LinkedIn Page Doesn’t Get Into Evidence As a Rule 803(17) “Directory” or “Compilation” in Podcast Dispute

imagesA key issue in Personal Audio, LLC v. CBS Corporation, 2014 WL 1202698 (E.D. Tex. 2014) was whether a LinkedIn page, printed off the ‘Net by a testifying witness, was admissible at a motion to transfer venue hearing as a “compilation” or “directory” under Federal Evidence Rule 803(17).

A broadcast behemoth defendant (CBS) tried to transfer a podcast patent infringement case from Texas to New York on the basis that material witnesses to the dispute lived closer to New York than Texas (where plaintiff was based).  The plaintiff wanted to keep the case in Texas.  In support of its motion to transfer, CBS tried to offer into evidence a LinkedIn page of a third-party witness who apparently lived in New York.  CBS wanted the page into evidence to support its argument that New York was the more convenient forum for the case.

HeldThe LinkedIn page was inadmissible hearsay since CBS failed to lay a foundation for the page’s authenticity. CBS’s motion to transfer venue is denied.

Federal Rule of Evidence 803(17)

The basis for the court’s ruling was Evidence Rule 803(17).  This rule provides for potential admission of “market quotations, lists, directories, or other compilations” generally relied on by the public or persons in particular occupations.

The twin purposes for streamlined admissibility under this rule are reliability and necessityNecessity exists because most commercial publications have multiple authors so it’s not logistically feasible to have all of them testify to a document’s contents.  Reliability lies in the fact that the documents are regularly consulted by third parties and that if the documents weren’t accurate, the public or a given industry would stop consulting them. (*5).

To support its argument that key third-party witnesses lived closer to New York than Texas, CBS offered a third-party witness’s LinkedIn page through a CBS employee.  CBS labelled the LinkedIn page as “compilation” evidence under Rule 803(17).  Testifying about the page, the CBS employee stated he was a journalist and that he regularly used online resources to locate individuals – including the witness whose LinkedIn page was involved in this case.

Rejecting CBS’ argument, the court found that the LinkedIn page failed both prongs of the 803(17) admissibility test: “This is clearly not the type of evidence contemplated by FRE 803(17)”, it said.  The LinkedIn page wasn’t reliable because CBS offered no evidence to show LinkedIn (the “compiler” under the Rule) makes any effort to verify the accuracy of its member’s profile pages.  The court also found that the page wasn’t necessary since CBS could have provided testimony or an affidavit of someone who had actual knowledge of the witness’s/LinkedIn member’s location.

Because the page failed both the necessity and reliability prongs of the 803(17) test, the court discredited CBS’ evidence and found that CBS failed to carry its burden of showing it was more convenient to have the case litigated in New York instead of Texas. (*5).

Take-away:

A LinkedIn page or other social media member page can likely be authenticated and admitted into evidence but not as a Rule 803(17) compilation or directory (at least in this District).  If documentary evidence that supposedly shows a witness’s location isn’t reliable or necessary, the proponent of the evidence will need to do more than simply offer hearsay evidence through a third-party.  Instead, the proponent should try to get the evidence in through live testimony or an affidavit of someone who has first-hand knowledge of a witness’s whereabouts.

Post-script: In September 2014, the Federal jury awarded the plaintiff over $1.3M in damages against CBS for infringing the plaintiff’s podcast distribution patent.