First State Bank of Denton v. Maryland Casualty Co.
918 F.2d 38 (1990)

  • The Mills’ house was completely destroyed by a fire.  They were insured by Maryland Casualty Co. for $133k.
  • When inspecting the house, Maryland came to the conclusion that it had been intentionally set, thereby negating the policy.  They refused to pay.  The Mills sued.
    • During the lawsuit, they both died, so the executor (Denton) continued the claim on their behalf.)
  • At Trial, Maryland introduced a bunch of evidence:
    • The house had been unoccupied for several weeks prior to the fire, but that a neighbor had seen a light on in the house a few hours before it caught fire.
    • Another neighbor testified that they say a pickup truck leaving the house prior to the fire.
      • Mr. Mills happened to own a pickup truck.
    • Mills was in financial trouble because he had bought a second house but couldn’t sell the first one.  It was worth significantly less than the $133k of the insurance policy.
  • Maryland introduced the testimony of the 911 dispatcher, who called Mills’ new home to alert him of the fire in his old home, and was told by an unidentified person that Mills was not there.
    • Maryland hoped that this would show that Mills was not home, implying that he was at his old house setting the fire.
    • Denton objected to the evidence on the grounds that it was unauthenticated and hearsay.
      • Denton argued that since the person the 911 dispatcher spoke to did not identify themselves, they could have been anybody (including even Mills himself).  It could have been a wrong number.  Therefore it should not be used to establish that Mills wasn’t home.
  • The Trial Court allowed the testimony into evidence.  Maryland won the lawsuit and Denton appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed the decision to allow the 911 dispatcher’s testimony.
    • The Appellate Court noted that under FRE 901, all evidence must be authenticated before being admitted.
      • Authenticated means evidence that is reliable enough to show that it is what its proponent purports it to be.
    • The Appellate Court found that the 911 dispatcher’s testimony that she dialed the correct number was prima facie evidence that she had reached the Mills’ household.  Therefore, the Trial Court was within their discretion by ruling the evidence to be authenticated.
      • Mills could still argue to the jury that the 911 dispatcher dialed the wrong phone number, and the jury is free to weigh the evidence as they see fit.  However, the evidence was authenticated enough to be admissible.