Admissibilty of Online Land Records
A New York City Housing Court has questioned the admissibility of a certified copy of an ACRIS document. LCD Holding Corp. v. Velez, 2013 NY Slip Op 51530(U) (Civil Ct., Kings Cty., August 21, 2013) was a summary eviction proceeding concerning a vacant lot in Brooklyn. While the judge ruled at the outset that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the complaint accordingly, he went on to opine at length about the admissibility of the petitioner’s evidence.
Petitioner’s counsel had presented an attorney-certified copy of an ACRIS deed. He asserted at trial that he had viewed the deed “on the ‘ACRIS’ database maintained by the New York City Department of Finance.” He then certified the copy as true and complete pursuant to CPLR §2105. The Court rejected the validity of the certification, stating that
“viewing a document on ACRIS is not akin to viewing the original document. … [D]espite common practice, the ACRIS version is not the original deed, but only a presumptive image of the original document [emphasis supplied]. Because the ACRIS deed is not the original document, petitioner cannot certify that he compared his copy to the original deed to satisfy the requirements of [CPLR §2105].”
The Court referred to a disclaimer found on the NYCDOF ACRIS website that "neither ACRISap nor ACRIS.com is a New York City Department of Finance approved service or website” as support for the idea that the image found on the ACRIS website is not the “original image.” The point of the disclaimer is that “ACRISap” and “ACRIS.com” are unofficial portals whose accuracy cannot be presumed. In Velez, the attorney maintained that he viewed the deed on the official DOF site.
No authority was cited for the Court’s position. The Court seems to be saying that the only “original” for purposes of §2105 is the actual document submitted for recording. Such a standard would present an insurmountable burden to certification in almost every case. Recording officers themselves can only certify a copy by comparing it to the recorded version, not the actual document. And, the State Technology Law makes clear that an electronically-stored recorded document does not alter the analysis. We believe this Court is mistaken, but the possibility that other courts might also adopt this position should not be discounted.