A New York Appellate Court, in Stathis v. Estate of Karas, recently addressed a lawsuit against an estate to enforce a real estate contract of sale that was entered into by the decedent pre-death. However, the Plaintiff could not produce the original contract of sale so he submitted a copy to the Court. The Court refused to accept the copy as evidence when hearing the case.
The Court explained that when a plaintiff wants to submit a copy, pursuant to the Best Evidence Rule of CPLR Rule 4539, they must establish:
- Why the original document could not be produced;
- That person’s attempts to find the original contract; and
- That the copy was a reliable and accurate depiction of the original contract.
In Stathis v. Estate of Karas, the Plaintiff failed to show why he could not produce the original contract, and what efforts he undertook to try and find such original contract. Also and most importantly, the Plaintiff failed to show that the copied contract of sale was a reliable and accurate portrayal of the original contract. As a result, the Plaintiff was not allowed to produce the copied contract of sale, the Appellate Court reversed a verdict in the Plaintiff’s favor, and a new trial was ordered.
It is always safe to keep your original real estate contracts of sale because the burden of proof to submit a copy is hard to satisfy.