Fla 4th DCA Provides Short Lesson on Business Records Exception to Hearsay Rule

If you are seeking legal representation or other services call our South Florida customer service number at 954-495-9867 and for the West coast the number remains 520-405-1688. In Northern Florida and the Panhandle call 850-765-1236. Customer service for the livinglies store with workbooks, services and analysis remains the same at 520-405-1688. The people who answer the phone are NOT attorneys and NOT permitted to provide any legal advice, but they can guide you toward some of our products and services. If you are an attorney wishing to retain us for litigation support please use 520-405-1688.
See LivingLies Store: Reports and Analysis

It is interesting that the ruling comes from a condo lien case rather than the hot topic of securitized mortgages. But the rules are the same and in this opinion the Court gives the reader a lesson on hearsay, objections, preservation of issues for appeal, and exceptions to hearsay. As a prelude, evidence is properly admitted into the record if it is unopposed. So you must object if you don’t want it in. If you don’t object, you are cooked.

When an objection is properly AND TIMELY raised it specifies what exactly you are challenging and why. Trustworthiness, Credibility and authenticity are at the heart of all evidence questions. The court will tend to allow the evidence if it determines that it has some “probative value” which is to say it might be concluded that a fact is true based on this evidence. But since courts are composed of human beings there are some boundaries to issues of hearsay and exceptions that have been set by both common law and statutes so that the litigator knows what he is entitled to expect from the court as to rulings on his own evidence or that of his opponent.

Business records are hearsay and therefore excluded from evidence if an objection is made. If an objection is made and properly framed, then the burden shifts to the other side (the proponent of the “information” being tendered as evidence) to explain why the records are not hearsay (that is impossible with business records) or why there is an applicable exception.

The guiding principle behind the rules are that evidence should be admitted if it is trustworthy. If the records come from an independent third party who could care less who wins the lawsuit, the chances are that the judge will be liberal in applying the rules. If the the records come from one of the parties in litigation then the possibility or probability of it being self serving and potentially prepared for litigation rise and the judge is supposed to apply the rules very strictly.

In this case the judge did what judges are doing across the country. The Judge erred. He applied a lenient standard to records that were clearly coming from a party with a stake in the outcome and which could have been fabricated for the purposes of litigation and which relied on the work of other parties without any knowledge of the timing of the entries that were made, the knowledge of the person making the entries, and the documents or events upon which the the outside person relied. Therefore it was unlikely that the business records could be admitted without a very tight foundation from a credible witness.

The Judge admitted the records after extremely dubious testimony and obvious evidence that there was a personal fight going on as well as a bribery or theft claim between a group of unit owners and the association’s board. The appellate court reversed. That means the unit owners win the case even though judgment was entered for the association against the unit owners by the trial court. By the way, the defense, as I have suggested in foreclosure defense cases, was payment.

 

The unit owners had made a large prepayment that had not been carried forward. The receipt was acknowledged but somehow, like the foreclosure cases go, the judge felt it was OK to foreclose the association’s lien even though there was unrefuted evidence that the association had indeed received a huge amount of money for no other purpose than to offset the amount of monthly dues and special assessments.

Note on page 4 the Court says “Because the condo owners’ attorney did not object to the ledgers on the ground that they were untrustworthy, this issue is not preserved. The lack of foundation, however, was argued and preserved.” In my seminars and books I have always stressed that objections must be timely, precise and well-focused preferably with back up in case law. And I generally refer people to Trial Objections by Dombroff, a small book that is worth its weight in gold.

Note that in this condo case the association’s attorney was at least smart enough to put the records custodian on the witness stand. Getting business records into evidence without the records custodian ought to be very difficult. In the lone arena of foreclosure litigation, the courts have veered out of bounds because they think they know how the case should end.

“Magic words” do not suffice. The witness must know that the records are trustworthy and how and why they are trustworthy.

Now in foreclosure litigation it gets even crazier. The party on the stand has some title that more or less clearly shows that the title was invented to have him or her testify in court. Strike one. Like the case reported here, the party lacked personal knowledge that is a prerequisite for any witness to testify about anything — it is called competence of the witness. Strike two.

And after the witness has committed to saying she saw all of the records, ask her about he payments that went out, not the payments that were received. After all, she represents the servicer who collects and then forwards the money, right? Who did the servicer forward the money to? Where are the records of that? Has she seen them? Why not? So she has not seen all the records of the servicer, has she? And what did she do to corroborate that the creditors’ books show the same figures in the account receivable or if extraneous third party transactions have resulted in a reduction or increase of the account receivable as it relates to the subject loan? So she doesn’t know if the balance due on the servicer’s books is actually the same balance due shown on the creditor’s books?

That is the part the opposing side doesn’t want to see. By opening the door to payments out to the creditor, you are now tracing the money trail. By showing that there was deception on the part of the servicer, the records are untrustworthy.  Strike 3.

http://www.4dca.org/opinions/August%202013/08-28-13/4D12-3363.12-3364.op.pdf

Banks Pushing Homeowners Over Foreclosure Cliff

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

Editor’s Comment:

Whether it is force-placed insurance or any other device available, banks and servicers are pushing homeowners, luring homeowners and tricking homeowners into foreclosures. It is the only way they can put distance between them and the collosal corruption of title, the fact that strangers are foreclosing on homes, and claims of predatory, deceptive and fraudulent lending practices.

Most of those five million homes belong back in the hands of the people who lost them in fake foreclosures. And that day is coming.

Foreclosures are good but short- sales are better as those in the real estate Market will tell you. Either way it has someone other than the bank or servicer signing the deed to the ” buyer” and eventually it will all come tumbling down. But what Banks and servicers are betting is that the more chaotic and confused the situation the less likely the blame will fall on them.

Watch out Mr. Banker, you haven’t seen our plan to hold you accountable. You might think you have control of the narrative but that is going to change because the real power is held by the people. Go read the constitution — especially the 9th Amendment.

Look Who’s Pushing Homeowners Off the Foreclosure Cliff

By the Editors

One of the more confounding aspects of the U.S. housing crisis has been the reluctance of lenders to do more to assist troubled borrowers. After all, when homes go into foreclosure, banks lose money.

Now it turns out some lenders haven’t merely been unhelpful; their actions have pushed some borrowers over the foreclosure cliff. Lenders have been imposing exorbitant insurance policies on homeowners whose regular coverage lapses or is deemed insufficient. The policies, standard homeowner’s insurance or extra coverage for wind damage, say, for Florida residents, typically cost five to 10 times what owners were previously paying, tipping many into foreclosure.

The situation has caught the attention of state regulators and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is considering rules to help homeowners avoid unwarranted “force- placed insurance.” The U.S. ought to go further and limit commissions, fine any company that knowingly overcharges a homeowner and require banks to seek competitive bids for force- placed insurance policies. Because insurance is not regulated at the federal level, states also need to play a stronger role in bringing down rates.

All mortgages require homeowners to maintain insurance on their property. Most mortgages also allow the lender to purchase insurance for the home and “force-place” it if a policy lapses or is deemed insufficient. These standard provisions are meant to protect the lender’s collateral — the property — if a calamity occurs.

High-Priced Policies

Here’s how it generally works: Banks and their mortgage servicers strike arrangements — often exclusive — with insurance companies in which the banks agree to buy high-priced policies on behalf of homeowners whose coverage has lapsed. The bank advances the premium to the insurer, and the insurer pays the bank a commission, which is priced into the premium. (Insurers say the commissions compensate banks for expenses like “advancing premiums, billing and collections.”) The homeowner is then billed for the premium, commissions and all.

It’s a lucrative business. Premiums on force-placed insurance exceeded $5.5 billion in 2010, according to the Center for Economic Justice, a group that advocates on behalf of low- income consumers. An investigation by Benjamin Lawsky, who heads New York State’s Department of Financial Services, has found nearly 15 percent of the premiums flow back to the banks.

It doesn’t end there. Lenders often get an additional cut of the profits by reinsuring the force-placed policy through the bank’s insurance subsidiary. That puts the lender in the conflicted position of requiring insurance to protect its collateral but with a financial incentive to never pay out a claim.

Both New York and California regulators have found the loss ratio on these policies — the percentage of premiums paid on claims — to be significantly lower than what insurers told the state they expected to pay out, suggesting that premiums are too high. For instance, most insurers estimate a loss ratio of 55 percent, meaning they’ll have to pay out about 55 cents on the dollar. But actual loss ratios have averaged about 20 percent over the last six years.

It’s worth noting that force-placed policies often provide less protection than cheaper policies available on the open market, a fact often not clearly disclosed. The policies generally protect the lender’s financial interest, not the homeowner’s. If a fire wipes out a house, most force-placed policies would pay only to repair the structure and nothing else.

Lack of Clarity

Homeowners can obviously avoid force-placed insurance by keeping their coverage current. Banks are required to remove the insurance as soon as a homeowner offers proof of other coverage. But the system, as the New York state investigation and countless lawsuits have demonstrated, is defined by a woeful lack of clarity, so much so that Fannie Mae has issued a directive to loan servicers to lower insurance costs and speed up removal times. And it said it would no longer reimburse commissions. The recent settlement with five financial firms over foreclosure abuses also requires banks to limit excessive coverage and ensure policies are purchased “for a commercially reasonable price.”

That’s not enough. Tougher standards should be applied uniformly, regardless of the loan source. Freddie Mac should follow Fannie Mae’s lead and require competitive pricing on the loans it backs. The consumer bureau should require mortgage servicers to reinstate a homeowner’s previous policy whenever possible, or to obtain competitive bids when not.

The bureau should also prevent loan servicers from accepting commissions or, at the very least, prohibit commissions from inflating the premium. It should require servicers to better communicate to borrowers that their policy has lapsed, explain clearly what force-placed insurance will cost and extend a grace period to secure new coverage. Finally, states should follow the example of California, which recently told force-placed insurers to submit lower rates that reflect actual loss ratios.

Many homeowners who experience coverage gaps have severe financial problems that lead them to stop paying their insurance bills. They are already at great risk of foreclosure. Banks and insurers shouldn’t be allowed to add to the likelihood of default by artificially inflating the cost of insurance.

%d bloggers like this: