Summary Judgment 101: Movants, Make Sure Your Evidence Is In “Admissible Form”
February 08, 2019
Most litigators are familiar with the requirement that a summary motion be supported with “evidentiary proof in admissible form” establishing the merits of a cause of action or defense. Nevertheless, many practitioners make the common mistake of submitting evidence in support of a summary judgment motion that would not be admissible at trial, resulting in swift denial of the motion. In fact, the Appellate Division, Second Department recently reversed a decision by the Nassau County Commercial Division (Bucaria, J.), which granted summary judgment to the moving party, even though the evidence submitted in support of the motion was not in admissible form.
The plaintiff in GMP Fur Trade Fin., LLC v Brenner, 2019 NY Slip Op 00858 (2d Dept Feb. 6, 2019) commenced an action against defendant Dean Brenner (“Brenner”) and others seeking to recover damages for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, conversion and fraud. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability as against Brenner, alleging that he had misappropriated funds and goods in connection with his servicing of four finance agreements plaintiff had entered into with certain non-parties. Justice Bucaria granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability on the breach of fiduciary duty claim. The plaintiff thereafter moved for summary judgment on the issue of damages. Again, Justice Bucaria granted the plaintiff’s motion and entered judgment against Brenner in the amount of $1,755,630.79. Brenner appealed.
The Second Department reversed, finding that the evidence upon which plaintiff primarily relied was not in “admissible form.” The Court stated:
“Here, in moving for summary judgment on the issue of liability insofar as asserted against Brenner, the plaintiff relied primarily on an affidavit of its managing member, in which the managing member stated that he was told by certain nonparties that Brenner had misappropriated funds and goods. This hearsay evidence was insufficient to satisfy the plaintiff’s burden of establishing its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the breach of fiduciary duty cause of action insofar as asserted against Brenner.”
The Court also concluded that the plaintiff could not cure this defect by submitting unauthenticated, and therefore inadmissible, bank records for the first time on reply. It is abundantly clear, then, from the Second Department’s decision in GMP Fur Trade that inadmissible hearsay does not have any probative value when submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment, and should not be considered.
However, the rigidity of this rule should be contrasted with the principle that, under certain circumstances, a party opposing summary judgment may rely on evidence that is not in admissible form, but only if the opposing party provides a reasonable excuse for its failure to submit evidence in admissible form (see e.g. Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557  [“The rule with respect to defeating a motion for summary judgment, however, is more flexible, for the opposing party, as contrasted with the movant, may be permitted to demonstrate an acceptable excuse for his failure to meet the strict requirement of tender in admissible form”]). Indeed, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment may rely on hearsay, as long as it is not the only piece of evidence relied on by that party (Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. v Credit Suisse, 89 AD3d 561 [1st Dept 2011]).
Takeaway: The Second Department’s point was made clear in GMP Fur Trade, but it is worth repeating: counsel for the moving party should review each piece of evidence submitted in support of its summary judgment motion and ensure that it is admissible. Indeed, affidavits must be signed and properly notarized, deposition transcripts must be certified by a court reporter and signed by the deponent, a proper foundation must be laid for each record relied upon in the motion, especially business and medical records, and importantly, hearsay statements must be qualified for the court’s consideration under one of the many hearsay exceptions. By contrast, the “admissible form” requirement is more flexible with respect to an opposing party’s evidence, allowing an opposing party to rely on hearsay (as long as it is not the only piece of evidence relied upon by the opposing party), or other inadmissible evidence (if the opposing party offers a reasonable excuse for its failure to submit evidence in admissible form).
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