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
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
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.