Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Mattson Lumber Company, Inc.,
Donald G. Peterson, et al.,
File No. C8961010
Thomas R. Borden, Borden, Steinbauer & Krueger, P.A., 302 South Sixth Street, P.O. Box 411, Brainerd MN 56404 (for respondent Mattson Lumber)
Robert J. Wendling, Wendling & Assocs., 201 W. Burnsville Parkway #110,
Burnsville, MN 55337, and
Karen Cody-Hopkins, 9348 Colorado Rd., Bloomington, MN 55438 (for appellants)
Steven R. Qualley, Grammello & Sandelin, P.A., 308 First Street, P.O. Box 298, Pequot Lakes, MN 56472 (for respondent Irwin)
Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
This mechanic's lien action arises out of Art Irwin's interior remodeling of Donald and DeAnn Peterson's condominium at Breezy Point, Minnesota. Mattson Lumber Company, Inc. supplied the materials for the project, and sued the Petersons and Irwin when its bills were not paid. After a court trial, judgment was entered against the Petersons for the full amount ($3,860.80) of Irwin's debt to Mattson Lumber. On appeal from denial of their post-trial motions, the Petersons argue the trial court abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence, and in making its findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm.
We will reverse a trial court's evidentiary rulings or its decision on post-trial motions only for a clear abuse of discretion. See Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 138 (Minn. 1990) (evidentiary rulings); Jack Frost, Inc. v. Engineered Bldg. Components Co., 304 N.W.2d 346, 352 (Minn. 1981) (new trial motions). We will not set aside a trial court's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; Gjovik v. Strope, 401 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. 1987).
The Petersons argue the trial court abused its discretion in admitting certain documentary evidence because Irwin allegedly failed to meet the requirements of the business record hearsay exception. See Minn. R. Evid. 803(6) (stating records of regularly conducted business activity are not excluded by hearsay rule). We disagree. Evidence is admissible as "business records" if: (1) the evidence was kept in the regular course of business; (2) the memorandum, report, record, or data compilation was created in a regular business practice; and (3) a custodian or other qualified witness lays the foundation for the evidence. National Tea Co. v. Tyler Refrigeration Co., 339 N.W.2d 59, 61 (Minn. 1983). The record demonstrates: (1) the disputed document referenced amounts paid by Irwin for the remodeling project; (2) Irwin testified he normally prepared and maintained the document for his business; and (3) Irwin testified he prepared the document within one week of completing the project. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Irwin's evidence as business records. See Keller Elec. Co. v. Burg, 140 Minn. 360, 362, 168 N.W. 98, 98 (1918) (stating if books are intended to be a true record of business transactions and are made in usual course of business, at the same time as the transaction, "the court should be liberal in receiving them"); see also Theissen-Nonnemacher, Inc. v. Dutt, 393 N.W.2d 397, 400 (Minn. App. 1986) (stating "bills and summary listings may be acceptable evidence even without the inclusion of underlying support").
The Petersons also argue the trial court abused its discretion in admitting Irwin's business records because they do not satisfy the best-evidence rule. See Minn. R. Evid. 1002 (providing original writing is required to prove the content of that writing). However, that rule requires a document's contents be proven by the writing itself, if available, and "goes only to the competency of evidence, not to its relevance, materiality, or weight." Buffalo Ins. Co. v. United Parking Stations, Inc., 277 Minn. 134, 139, 152 N.W.2d 81, 84 (1967). To show Peterson the amount of money Irwin "had into that job," Irwin prepared the challenged document from information contained in his business ledger. On these facts, admission of the document does not violate the best-evidence rule, and we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion. Otter Tail Power Co. v. Village of Wheaton, 235 Minn. 123, 134, 49 N.W.2d 804, 811 (1951) (stating where best-evidence rule raised as objection to evidence, trial judge has wide discretion and will only be reversed upon showing of clear prejudicial error); cf. Theissen-Nonnemacher, Inc., 393 N.W.2d at 399 (holding, despite contractor's poor bookkeeping and accounting practices, there was no error in admitting evidence).
The Petersons finally argue the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are based on inadmissible evidence and are contrary to the testimony presented at trial. We disagree. First, we conclude the trial court properly admitted Irwin's documentary evidence under Minn. R. Evid. 803(6). And second, after a careful review of the record, we conclude the Petersons failed to demonstrate prejudicial error because there is ample testimonial evidence, even in the absence of the challenged documents, to support the trial court's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment. See, e.g., Uselman, 464 N.W.2d at 138 (stating the decision to grant a "new trial on grounds of improper evidentiary rulings rests on complaining party's ability to demonstrate prejudicial error"); Gjovik, 401 N.W.2d at 667 (stating reviewing court will not set aside trial court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous).