Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Western District of Virginia Finds Technical Drawings of a Rose's Department Store Admissible Under Rule 901(b)(4)
Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(4) allows for the authentication of evidence based upon
The appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics of the item, taken together with all the circumstances.
Nowadays, you often see courts allowing parties to use Rule 901(b)(4) to authenticate social media evidence, like Facebook posts. But the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Variety Stores, Inc. v. Martinsville Plaza, LLC., 2021 WL 1376959 (W.D.Va. 2021), involves a more old school use of the Rule.
In Variety Stores,
after several hours of torrential rain, the roof of the Rose's department store in Martinsville, Virginia, collapsed. When it collapsed, a remarkable amount of water flooded into the store. Portions of the roof also struck a Rose's employee, Trevia Dillard, who thankfully survived but suffered serious injuries. Witnesses at the scene described water up to their knees at the time of the collapse and standing water up to three inches deep the next day. The owner of the store, Plaintiff Variety Stores, Inc. (“Variety”), later determined that the collapse destroyed more than $80,000 in inventory and that the costs of salvaging the store were roughly $300,000....
Variety [subsequently] sued its landlord, Defendant Martinsville Plaza, LLC (“Martinsville”), to recover those costs, as well as other, unrelated expenses stemming from the replacement of six HVAC units after two of the units had failed and the others were in a state of disrepair.
In support of its motion for summary judgment, Martinsville alleged that
[i]n 1984, after Rose's entered into a lease for the store, someone (records are unclear) constructed a parapet wall (a wall which extends above the roof) on the rear of the building. The building already had parapet walls on the front and sides, so the fourth parapet wall effectively enclosed the roof. Martinsville believes that Rose's constructed the wall, rendering the drainage on the roof insufficient and causing its eventual collapse.
To support its claim that Rose's installed the parapet well, Martinsville sought to introduce "a set of technical drawings from Rose's Store Planning Department showing, among other things, the construction of a parapet." In response,
[t]he court conclude[d] that the drawings, even though they are not “stamped by a licensed engineer or architect,” are sufficiently authenticated. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 901, the proponent of a document must offer sufficient evidence to support a finding that the document is what its proponent claims it to be. Section (b) of Rule 901 provides a non-exhaustive list of ways the proponent may provide authenticity, including “[t]he appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics of the item, taken together with all the circumstances.” Fed. R. Evid. 901(b)(4). Ultimately, a party seeking to admit an exhibit-either for purposes of a summary judgment record or at trial-“need only make a prima facie showing that it is what he or she claims it to be,” which is not “a particularly high bar.”...The drawings at issue clear this low bar. First, each page bears the mark of Rose's Planning Department on the bottom right corner. (See ECF No. 82-8 at 24-30.) Second, the drawings are dated June 1984, around the time that the lease was signed. Third, writing on the drawings indicate that the design itself pertains to a Rose's store in Martinsville, Virginia. Fourth, the drawings themselves depict, without question,