Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An Object Lesson on the Epistemic Limits of Debt Collectors

Sierra Managed Asset Plan, LLC v. Hale, No. 06-2013-00443856-CL-CC-VTA (Venura App. Div. Aug. 20, 2015) 

In trials in limited civil cases, the parties can submit declarations in lieu of live direct testimony under Code of Civil Procedure § 98. In order to do that, the declarant has to represent that he is available for service of process at an address within 150 miles of the courthouse, so he can be subpoenaed for cross-examination if the other party is so inclined. In this case, the address given by the declarant in this case was a PO box in a store, so the declaration was false and deficient in that respect. The declarant, however, was present at trial and actually cross-examined by the defendant. So the purpose of § 98, if not its letter was met, and there was no prejudice. Under the circumstances, the trial court didn’t err in accepting the declaration.

But the declaration attached various bank documents as business records. The declarant, however, was not an employee of the bank, but of the plaintiff, a collections agent that had taken the matter under an assignment. The declarant thus was unqualified to say anything other than that he had received the documents from the bank. That isn’t enough to lay business records foundation because it doesn’t establish that “[t]he sources of information and method and time of preparation [of the records] were such as to indicate [their] trustworthiness.” See Cal. Evid. Code § 1271. So the documents and related testimony were hearsay that should have been excluded. And since they were the only evidence that the defendant actually owed the debt at issue, their admission was prejudicial.

Reversed.

Kinda reminds me of something I once heard on the radio.

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