Tuesday, March 01, 2011, 11:59 PM

Web Page Printout Deemed Unauthenticated Hearsay

In Rankin v. Food Lion, a unanimous panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals determined that a trial court cannot consider printouts of web pages when deciding a motion for summary judgment.

Rankin filed a complaint in Mecklenburg County Superior Court alleging that she sustained serious injuries after slipping and falling at a Food Lion in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Defendants subsequently sought, and were granted, summary judgment on the grounds that Defendant Food Lion Store #276 was not a legal entity, Defendants Food Lion, Inc. and Food Town Stores, Inc. no longer existed, and the Defendant Delhaize America, Inc. was a holding company who had no role in the operation of the Food Lion in which Rankin allegedly fell.

On appeal, Rankin contended that the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment to Delhaize because she "presented evidence that the Food Lion store in which [she] was injured is owned by" Delhaize.  In support of this contention, Rankin pointed to "a page printed from the website of the North Carolina Secretary of State [and] an internet posting concerning" Delhaize.  According to Rankin, these documents constituted "proof of evidence of public record" that should have been considered by the trial court.

In an opinion authored by Judge Ervin and joined by Judges Bryant and Steelman, the Court of Appeals rejected Rankin's argument and held that the printouts constituted  "unauthenticated hearsay."  As unauthenticated hearsay would not be admissible at trial, it would have been inappropriate for the trial court to consider it in connection with a motion for summary judgment. 

While the Court of Appeals' opinion held that web page printouts are "unauthenticated hearsay," it provided no specific guidance on what a party needs to do to properly authenticate a web page or how a web page can fit within an exception to the hearsay rule.  Given the ubiquitous nature of the internet, it is likely that the Court of Appeals will have additional opportunities to explain how the rules of evidence apply to the internet.


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