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Sylvania Electric Products v. Flanagan

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff owned a truck hauling business and filed a breach of contract suit seeking payment on an oral contract with Defendant. Plaintiff was to haul certain material away from a job site at $13 per hour per truck. The final bill came to over $25,000 and Defendant refused to pay.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Secondary evidence of the content of the original is not admissible unless the proponent shows that a reasonable and diligent search was made for the original.

    Facts. Plaintiff, Paul Flanagan, is trucker and hauls sand, gravel, stone and other materials. Defendant, Sylvania Electric Products, in 1963 hired a general contractor to construct a parking lot for a plant in Needham, Massachusetts. Plaintiff claims that the general contractor agreed to pay him to haul away material left over from leveling off a hill. The agreement was oral and Defendant was to receive $13 per hour per truck. Defendant refused to pay the bill which totaled $25,267.70. Plaintiff filed a breach of contract suit, and the jury found for the plaintiff. Plaintiff offered evidence to prove his claim which was based on daily truck hour slips on tally sheets made at the job site. Defendant objected to the other evidence and claimed the actual tally sheets should have been required.

    Issue. Was the secondary evidence admitted in violation of the best evidence rule?

    Held. Justice McEntee issued the opinion for the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in holding the secondary evidence should not have been admitted as the Plaintiff did not show that the original tally sheets were in fact unavailable or that a reasonable search had been done to find them. The Court ordered a new trial.

    Discussion. An examination of the original records could very well corrobate Defendant’s account of the facts over Plaintiff’s. Plaintiff testified that he knew he had some tally sheets at home, but he never produced them to the Court. Further, Plaintiff did not offer any evidence to show that he conducted a diligent search.


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