Hearsay; business record exception; hearsay within business records; harmless error 

In Re A.J.H. and I.G.H., 2017 WL 1573229 (unreported), allocatur granted Aug. 1, 2017, appeal docket 38 MAP 2017

Background:

Trial court granted the petitions of the Berks County Children and Youth Services (“BCCYS”) and terminated mother’s parental rights.  On appeal, mother argued that trial court erred as a matter of law and abused its discretion by admitting the BCCYS summary packet which included one hundred sixty-eight (168) exhibits, because all exhibits were submitted for the truth of the matter asserted therein, contained medical/psychiatric opinions and diagnosis, and did not fall under any hearsay exception.  Mother also argued that exhibits were not appropriately authenticated to be admissible under the business records exception to the hearsay rule.

Superior Court, after affirming the trial court’s termination of parental rights on the merits based on the evidence, some of which was the alleged hearsay, acknowledged in summary fashion the hearsay rule and the business record exception, but failed to analyze whether evidence in question was hearsay and extent to which trial court relied on it if it was hearsay, and instead held that because Mother failed to identify how the admission of any of the alleged hearsay in the packet caused her harm, its admission constituted harmless error.

The Supreme Court’s grant of allocatur includes the following issues as phrased by Mother:

1.         Whether the Superior Court overlooked and misapprehended controlling precedent from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as well as its own precedent when the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to admit into evidence one hundred sixty-eight (168) Berks County Children and Youth Service’s exhibits that were not authenticated, submitted for the truth of the matter asserted therein, contained medical/psychiatric opinions and diagnosis and did not fall under any hearsay exception?

2.        Did the Superior Court misapply the law when it affirmed, on the grounds of harmless error, the trial court’s admission of the contents of the Berks County Children and Youth Service’s file?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker