Hearsay Exemption of Rule 801(d)(2)(A) (An Opposing Party’s Statement) Requires Only That Statement Be Offered against a Party Opponent — Rule 804(b)(3) (Statement Against Interest) Distinguished

Matter of Romanowski, 2014 Mich. App. LEXIS 763 (Mich. Ct. App. April 22, 2014):

In these consolidated appeals, respondents, the adoptive parents of the involved minor child, appeal as of right from a circuit court dispositional order placing the child in the temporary custody of the court with petitioner, the Department of Human Services (DHS), after an adjudication jury trial. We affirm.

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III. ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE

Both respondents additionally argue that the circuit court improperly admitted during Szczepanski's testimony emails from respondent mother. Respondents claim that the emails were not admissible under MRE 801(d)(2)(A) because the contents of those emails were not against respondent mother's interest. Although respondent father raised a hearsay objection to petitioner's counsel's questions of Szczepanski concerning statements or emails from respondent mother relating to things that respondent father said, respondent mother made no such objection.

With respect to respondent father's preserved objection, we review for an abuse of discretion a circuit court's  [*15] ruling on a preserved challenge to the admissibility of evidence. In re Utrera, 281 Mich App 1, 15; 761 NW2d 253 (2008). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the [circuit] court chooses an outcome that falls outside the range of principled outcomes." Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted). This Court considers de novo any underlying question of law involving statutory or court rule interpretation. Id. But with respect to respondent mother's unpreserved evidentiary objection, we review it "for plain error affecting [her] substantial rights." Lockridge v Oakwood Hosp, 285 Mich App 678, 691; 777 NW2d 511 (2009).

The emails were authored by respondent mother and were admitted pursuant to MRE 801(d)(2)(A), which provides that a statement is not hearsay if "[t]he statement is offered against a party and is . . . the party's own statement, in either an individual or a representative capacity." Respondents' argument that the emails did not fall under MRE 801(d)(2)(A) because they supposedly were not "against" respondent mother's "interest" is unavailing. The plain language of MRE 801(d)(2)(A) does not require that the statement be "against" any "interest"; instead, it merely requires  [*16] that it must be the party's own statement and offered against the party. In Shields v Reddo, 432 Mich 761, 774 n 19; 443 NW2d 145 (1989), our Supreme Court addressed this common misperception:

   The rationale for the nonhearsay status of statements by party opponents is often confused with the rationale for statements against interest, MRE 804(b)(3) [Statement Against Interest] . . . . The confusion is understandable given that the rule [in MRE 801(d)(2)(A)] is referred to as the "party-opponent admission" rule, despite the fact that a statement need not be an admission in the ordinary meaning of the word to qualify as a "party-opponent admission." Although party-opponent admissions frequently do fall within the category of statements against interest, this is not necessarily the case. Party-opponent admissions need not be statements against interest at all to be admissible, nor, when they are statements which can be construed as against the interest of the party is it necessary, as under [MRE 804(b)(3)], that the statements have been against the party's interest at the time they were made. [Emphasis in original omitted; emphasis added.]

Therefore, whether the emails were "against" respondent mother's "interest" is  [*17] of no consequence. All that matters is that they were authored by her and offered against her by petitioner. Accordingly, we discern no plain error in the trial court's admission of the email statements in mother's case under MRE 801(d)(2)(A), and the admission of the same evidence was not an abuse of discretion in father's case.

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