Evidence Rule 106: Completeness Doctrine in Debt Collection Lawsuits
Evidence Rule 106: Completeness Doctrine in Debt Collection Lawsuits
In this portion of our ongoing series discussing important rules of evidence, we will be taking a closer look at Evidence Rule 106. Specifically, we are looking at how Rule 106 works within a debt collection lawsuit.
This is for lawyers who don’t normally go to court or consumers who do not have a lawyer and will be representing themselves.
What are the rules of evidence you could potentially use to help yourself in the trial?
Familiarizing yourself with these rules will give you a starting point to do your own research to see what applies in your particular case.
There are Federal Rules of Evidence, but each state has its own tweaks to the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Specifically, we will look at the Alabama Rules of Evidence for our example.
First, we will look at the rule itself. Then, we will take a look at the Committee Notes which explain the purpose of the rule.
When a party introduces part of either a writing or recorded statement, an adverse party
may require the introduction at that time of any other part of the writing or statement that ought
in fairness to be considered contemporaneously with it.
In this article, we will focus on the “remainder of writings” portion rather than recorded statements.
Let’s break this down so it is easier to understand.
A party (the debt buyer, for example) introduces a part of a “writing” (document). They do not introduce the entire document.
Since they have only presented a part of a writing, the adverse party (you) may require the introduction of any other part of the writing that “ought in fairness be considered contemporaneously with it.”
Here’s how Evidence Rule 106 works in a personal injury context.
There has been a car wreck.
My client goes immediately to the emergency room, and this generates fifty pages of medical records.
I introduce only one page out of fifty pages of emergency room records that my client had after the wreck.
The defendant (the other side that I have sued) in fairness should be able to say since only one page was entered into evidence, we should be able to see the rest of them.
With just one page, we may not be able to see the complete picture.
So, they can require that the rest of the documents be introduced at that time.
The defendant objects based on Rule 106 and wants ALL the emergency room records put in.
Here’s a classic example of Evidence Rule 106 in a debt collection lawsuit.
Portfolio Recovery says they have the bill of sale which proves they bought the debt.
As we have said before, the debt collector must be able to prove that they own the debt.
Not just that you owe the debt, but that they own it.
We say, “Your honor, we object based on Rule 106 unless the entire document is put in.”
The other side, the defense, claims that this one-page bill of sale is the entire document.
But this specifically says it is Exhibit A and that it is part of the credit card purchase agreement.
Obviously, the one-page bill of sale is only a part of the bigger document.
So we say that we want the whole document introduced.
When we ask for this, they go completely crazy.
They’ll say, “But judge, we can’t put in the other stuff. It’s top secret.”
Well, it doesn’t matter.
The same goes for the personal injury example. Maybe I say, “My medical records are private, very confidential.”
This still doesn’t matter.
If I’m suing someone because I’ve been injured and I put in part of my medical records, then the rest of the medical records will go in as well.
So, when they put in the bill of sale, they cannot claim the rest of the document is top secret and not provide it for the consumer.
Every time I have personally encountered this argument, I’ll ask the lawyer if they have ever seen the full purchase agreement.
“No, they wouldn’t allow us to see it.”
Interesting. They wouldn’t even let their own lawyer see the purchase agreement.
Every time I have encountered this in my 15 years of arguing these cases, I argue that they must provide the full document.
That is exactly what Rule 106 describes.
Rule 106 is commonly known as the Completeness Doctrine.
Most judges, particularly if they are in their 50s, 60s, or 70s, will know the rule as the Completeness Doctrine.
This is because if one side provides part of the document, the other side should be able to request that the complete document be put in.
Committee Notes are not part of the rule, but they explain the rule.
In Alabama, the Committee Notes have a lot of weight.
If you are in another state, you will want to look at your specific state’s rules. They will likely contain something similar.
This is a specialized application of the common law Completeness Doctrine.
Common law Completeness Doctrine says that when one party introduces a portion of a writing it is deemed only fair that the other party be allowed to have admitted any other part of the writing that in fairness ought to be considered.
The Committee Notes point out one main difference between Federal Rule 106 and Alabama Rule 106.
The Federal Rule would say that if I put in my emergency room records, I should also put in medical records from a week later.
However, this is not the historical usage of the Completeness Doctrine.
Historically, the Completeness Doctrine is only concerned with one document in its entirety.
Alabama follows this historical use of the Completeness Doctrine and limits its application to only one document.
This is how it has been traditionally recognized in Alabama law.
Be sure to look up the specific rules in your state, as they may be different.
The Committee Notes say that this rule is basically the same as Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 32(a)(4), which provided that if only part of the deposition is offered then the adverse party may require the party introducing it to introduce all the depositions that should be in fairness considered with the part introduced.
Do you see the common thread here?
If you’re putting part of something in front of the jury, then the other side can say, let’s put the whole thing in front of them.
Let’s go back to my example of the medical record.
What if I only wanted to introduce one sentence from one page of the medical record from the emergency room.
Well obviously you can’t just put in one sentence, right?
We need context. That’s all this rule is saying.
And so, it does say that the trial judge has considerable discretion, in terms of what in fairness ought to be considered.
This is where you have to argue. You have to explain to the judge why it’s important.
In the example of our bill of sale and purchase agreement, you would point out that the bill of sale says that “there are no representations except as recorded in the credit card purchase agreement.”
Well, then we need to look at the purchase agreement to see the full context.
The bill of sale is an exhibit to a bigger document, so we need to see what the bigger document says.
Rule 106 only applies to writings and recorded statements.
It has no impact on unrecorded conversation, which is handled by a different set of rules.
We should not try to use this rule where it is not supposed to be used.
Instead, we focus on a portion of a document that has been introduced. We want to see the rest of the document.
This is the purpose of Rule 106.
There are some other elements to the Completeness Principle that are outside of Rule 106 which relate to hearsay, but we’ll discuss those details in a later post.
Rule 106 is focused on documents.
The reason I’m stressing this is that sometimes when you bring this up the collections lawyer will say, “Oh well, that has no application here and it’s not really talking about documents.”
No. it actually is only talking about documents.
We’re not talking about other documents, we’re not talking about depositions, we’re talking about a single document.
Whether that’s one page or a thousand and one pages.
One whole document.
There’s a portion that’s been admitted, now let’s put the whole document in.
That’s what we’re talking about here.
The Committee Notes also have some instructions about timeliness.
The other side can require that the whole document be admitted at the time that the initial portion of the documents is submitted.
There is a belief that a delay in providing the complete evidence will render it less effective.
Rule 106 says that if the Completeness Doctrine as described in the rule applies then the other side should be able to get the rest of the document immediately without having to wait.
This shows how important this is and how the law views the idea that if part of a document goes in, it’s important that the whole document goes in immediately.
You don’t have to do it immediately unless specifically requested.
This is just saying that we recognize that it is important to have the whole document presented immediately and you have the ability to require that.
They have to put their evidence in first and when they are done, you get to put your evidence in.
You don’t normally get to shove your evidence in while the plaintiff is putting on their case.
But under Rule 106, you do get to jump in because it is important to get the full document put in.
Why is this so important?
Rule 106 is short and takes no time to read, but I want to make sure you understand the concept and theory behind it.
We believe that whoever is making the decision, whether it is a jury or a judge, needs to see the entire document.
If you are in a debt collection case and they put in the bill of sale, at least if it was me, I’m going to request to see the whole entire document under Rule 106.
I want to see all the terms of the purchase agreement.
In fairness, you have to look at these terms. Otherwise, you get an inaccurate picture of the evidence.
The whole point of a judge or a jury deciding the facts is to get to the truth.
The whole truth cannot be discovered based on a single sentence out of my medical record from my emergency room visit on October 11, 2020.
We need to see all the records that happened then. We need to see the entire purchase agreement.
Thanks for reading this and consider subscribing to our YouTube channel to see more posts in our ongoing series on Rules of Evidence.
If you are interested in learning about more rules, check out our post on Rule of Evidence 408.
Thanks and have a great day!