Government Websites Are Self-Authenticating under Rule 902(5) — Also Authenticatable under Rule 901(b)(4) If Properly Presented

Williams Farm Produce Sales, Inc. v. R & G Produce Co., 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 3369 (Tex. Ct. App. Mar. 27, 2014):

Williams Farms Produce Sales, Inc. argues that there was no evidence to support the finding that it owned the federal cause of action because all of the documents provided by R&G were unauthenticated hearsay. We, however, hold that the printouts from government websites were self-authenticating under Texas Rule of Evidence 902(5). Tex. R. Evid. 902(5).

Texas Rule of Evidence 902(5) dictates that "[b]ooks, pamphlets, or other publications purporting to be issued by public authority" are self-authenticating. Id. Multiple federal district courts have determined that documents printed from government websites are self-authenticating under Federal Rule of Evidence 902(a)(5), the federal counterpart to Texas Rule of Evidence 902(5).6 See Williams v. Long, 585 F. Supp. 2d 679, 689 (D. Md. 2008) (reasoning that "the public authority's selection of the posted information for publication on  [*19] its website will act as the necessary 'seal of approval' needed to establish that the information came from a public authority for purposes of Rule 902(5)"); see also Paralyzed Veterans of Am. v. McPherson, C064670SBA, 2008 WL 4183981 at *7 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 9, 2008) (collecting federal cases from multiple jurisdictions holding that printouts from government websites are self-authenticating); U.S. E.E.O.C. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., CIV. A. 03-1605, 2004 WL 2347559, at *2 (E.D. La. Oct. 18, 2004). Moreover, the application of the rule in these circumstances is consistent with its plain language as information on a government website is a "publication purporting to be issued by a public authority." See F.F.P. Operating Partners, L.P. v. Duenez, 237 S.W.3d 680, 684 (Tex. 2007) ("As with any statutory provision, our goal is to ascertain legislative intent by examining the statute's plain language.").

6   Under Federal Rule of Evidence 902(5) "a book, pamphlet, or other publication purporting to be issued by a public authority" is self-authenticating. Fed. R. Evid. 902(5).

Relying on federal case law and the plain language of the statute, we hold that documents printed from government  [*20] websites are self-authenticating under Texas Rule of Evidence 902(5).7 See Tex. R. Evid. 902(5), see also Reid Rd. Mun. Util. Dist. No. 2 v. Speedy Stop Food Stores, Ltd., 337 S.W.3d 846, 857 n.6 (Tex. 2011) ("Where the Federal Rules of Evidence are similar, we may look to federal case law for guidance in interpreting the Texas evidentiary rules."); Duenez, 237 S.W.3d at 684.

7   In addition, under Texas law, evidence may be authenticated by its "[a]ppearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics, taken in conjunction with circumstances" that support a finding that a document is what its proponent claims. Tex. R. Evid. 901(b)(4). While we hold that the documents printed from government websites are self-authenticating under Rule 902(5), we also acknowledge that, because they indicate they originated from government websites, they could also have been internally authenticated under Rule 901(b)(4). See id.; Tienda v. State, 358 S.W.3d 633, 647 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012) (holding that printouts from MySpace webpages were admissible because there was sufficient evidence on them indicating that they "were what they purported to be--MySpace pages the contents  [*21] of which the appellant was responsible for"); see also U.S. E.E.O.C. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., CIV. A. 03-1605, 2004 WL 2347559, at *2 (E.D. La. Oct. 18, 2004) (finding that, in addition to being admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 902(5), an exhibit printed from a government website was also admissible under the Rule 901 because it contained the internet domain address from the website and the date on which it was printed).

Here, R&G presented a docket sheet for the federal case styled Williams Farms Produce Sales, Inc. v. United States of America et al. Each page of the docket sheet indicates that it was printed from the uscourts.org website on 4/26/2012 at 1:45 PM. The docket sheet shows that the original complaint in the case was filed on June 8, 2011. The docket sheet further reveals that the plaintiff in the case amended the complaint on April 23, 2012. Additionally, R&G presented a printout from the website of the Secretary of State of South Carolina showing that Williams Farms Produce, LLC filed for registration on April 10, 2012. Because these documents indicate that they were printed from government websites, we conclude that they were self-authenticating under  [*22] Texas Rule of Evidence 902(5).8 See Tex. R. Evid. 902(5). The trial court therefore did not err by overruling Williams Farms Produce Sales Inc.'s objections to these documents.

8   We need not determine whether other exhibits were properly admitted because we conclude that the documents discussed above provide sufficient proof of the relevant facts supporting the turnover order.

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