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Palisades Collection, L.L.C. v. Graubard

A-1338-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

WIKIPEDIA — A court should not accept Wikipedia as a source whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned because anyone with a Wikipedia account can change any entry on the site and therefore the site is inherently unreliable.

A collection agency acquired a delinquent account as part of a portfolio of delinquent accounts. The allegedly delinquent party received notification from a law firm representing the collection agency. The individual disputed the validity of the claim claiming that, to his knowledge, he had never been granted credit by the original creditor named in the notification. The collection agency sued, alleging that it was the owner of the delinquent account. The individual filed an answer and counterclaim grounded on the Consumer Fraud Act and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

On the collection agency’s motion for summary judgment, the lower court dismissed the individual’s counterclaim. At trial, and over the objections made by the individual’s attorney, the lower court admitted a New York Times article and a page from Wikipedia into evidence. Each supported the collection agency’s contention that a bank had purchased the credit card operations of another bank and was then purchased by yet another bank. The lower court decided to take “judicial notice” that “banks are frequently purchased.” The collection agency then introduced a bill of sale purporting to show that it purchased the delinquent accounts from the bank and that the individual’s account was one of those transferred in this sale. The lower court awarded judgment in favor of the collection agency. The individual appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed, ruling that the collection agency’s standing to prosecute the claim was a central issue in dispute. In this context, the Court held that the doctrine of judicial notice cannot be invoked to permit the collection agency to meet its burden of proof on this issue because: (a) it deprived the defendant of its right to cross examination regarding contested material facts; and (b) it impermissibly settled the ultimate legal question in dispute. It also ruled that the lower court’s acceptance of Wikipedia as a source “whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned” was erroneous. In fact, it noted that anyone with a Wikipedia account could change any entry on the Wikipedia site and therefore the site is inherently unreliable. Without the inadmissible material, the Court found that the collection agency had not produced sufficient evidence to show it had the right to collect o the debt.

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