Beech Aircraft v. Rainey
488 U.S. 153, 109 S.Ct. 439, 102 L.Ed.2d 445 (1988)

  • Rainey was a Navy flight instructor.  Her plane crashed, killing her and her student.  Rainey’s husband sued the plane manufacturer (Beech) claiming some manufacturing defect.
    • Beech countered by claiming that the crash was caused by pilot error.
  • At trial, Beech attempted to introduce a report made by Rainey’s commanding officer about the accident for the Navy JAG.
    • The report contained both findings of fact as well as opinions and recommendations.  It included the opinion that the most probable cause of the accident was pilot error.
    • Rainey objected on the grounds that the out-of-court report was hearsay.
    • Beech argued that the report was an exception to hearsay because it was a public record as specified in FRE 803(8)(C).
      • “Records, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth…in civil actions and proceedings and against the Government in criminal cases, factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law, unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.”
  • The Trial Judge allowed the report to be admitted.
  • The Trial Court found for Beech.  Rainey appealed.
    • Rainey argued that since the record contained opinions and not just facts, it must be hearsay and couldn’t possibly be admissible as a public record.
      • The Federal Circuit Courts were split on this issue.  Some agreed with Rainey’s position about ‘opinions’, some didn’t.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.  Rainey appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court looked to the language of FRE 803(8) and found that the words ‘factual findings’ was not limited to facts, but also included conclusions and opinions that flow from a factual investigation.
      • The legislative history of FRE 803(8) contained diametrically opposed views between the House and Senate debates.
    • The Court found that it would be impossible to distinguish between facts in a report from opinions.  All facts contain some opinion by the author, since the facts are really just the interpretation of clues.
  • Basically, as long as the report is based on a factual investigation that is deemed to be trustworthy, nothing in FRE 803(8) excludes part of a public record because it is an opinion.