Evidence Rules Matter: Best Evidence Rule and Hearsay Require Reversal

In an appellate victory for DPW Legal, the Second District Court of Appeal issued an opinion today reaffirming that banks seeking to foreclose on homes must strictly adhere to evidentiary rules governing negotiable instruments and business records.

In Heller v. Bank of America NA, No. 2D14-3530 (Fla. 2d DCA. Jan. 27, 2017) [.pdf], the Bank at a foreclosure trial offered into evidence a copy of the note, rather than the original note, with its counsel asserting that the original had been recently filed with the court clerk. The trial court admitted the copy over defense counsel’s objection, citing the Best Evidence Rule, Section 90.953, Florida Statutes. The Bank also admitted into evidence (again over the homeowner’s objections) testimony of its representative based not on personal knowledge, but on his review of business records that were not in evidence or elsewhere in the court file.

DPW Legal attorney Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik argued on appeal that both rulings were abuses of discretion and an erroneous interpretation of the evidence code, and the Second District agreed. First, the Court held that Section 90.953 of the Florida Evidence Code requires any party seeking to enforce a negotiable instrument—such as the promissory note involved here—to produce and surrender the original of the instrument to the court. The Court rejected the Bank’s argument that the trial court was entitled to rely upon counsel’s assertions that the original had been filed with the clerk. The Court reaffirmed the longstanding tenet of law that a trial court may not “rely on an unsworn statement of counsel to make a factual determination.”

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