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Wikipedia Articles Not Subject to Judicial Notice:

So holds an unpublished opinion from the New Jersey Superior Court's Appellate Division:

The common law doctrine of judicial notice is codified in N.J.R.E. 201. Subsection (b)(3) describes the rationale of the rule.

The purpose of judicial notice is to save time and promote judicial economy by precluding the necessity of proving facts that cannot seriously be disputed and are either generally or universally known. Judicial notice cannot be used "to circumvent the rule against hearsay and thereby deprive a party of the right of cross-examination on a contested material issue of fact." Because judicial notice may not be used to deprive a party of cross-examination regarding a contested fact, the doctrine also cannot be used to take notice of the ultimate legal issue in dispute.

... Wikipedia bills itself as the "online encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Anyone with an internet connection can create a Wikipedia account and change any entry in Wikipedia. In fact, Wikipedia warns readers that "[t]he content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields." Thus, it is entirely possible for a party in litigation to alter a Wikipedia article, print the article, and thereafter offer it in court in support of any given position. Such a malleable source of information is inherently unreliable, and clearly not one "whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned."

The material that the trial court erroneously judicially noticed was a page "offered ... to establish that Bank One Corporation was purchased by J.P. Morgan & Company in 2004. Against this backdrop, counsel represented to the trial judge that J.P. Morgan sold the accounts, (including defendant's account) to his client Palisades Acquisition." This was relevant to whether the plaintiff actually had a right to sue over the failure to pay on that account.

Thanks to Victor Steinbok for the pointer.

MCM (mail):
But how did the appellate court know that the Wikipedia warning

[t]he content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields[,]


was not added by the defendant to debunk Wikipedia!

In all seriousness, though, I don't think "wikipedia articles not subject to judicial notice" is really the main holding on this [b]unpublished[/b] opinion. Rather:

[quote]In this context, the doctrine of
judicial notice cannot be invoked to permit plaintiff to meet
its burden of proof on this issue because: (1) it deprives
defendant his right to cross examination regarding contested
material facts; and (2) it impermissibly settles the ultimate
legal question in dispute, to wit, plaintiff's standing to
prosecute this claim.[/quote]

The point about wikipedia not being reliable is almost an afterthought.
4.22.2009 7:47pm
Bored Lawyer:
In the context of the case, judicial notice clearly would not be sufficient to establish the fact the litigant wanted to establish. This has nothing to do with the quirks of Wikpedia.

Generally, judicial notice allows the COurt to take notice that a certain statement was made. E.g. a newspaper contained a particular article on a particular day. (Which could be relevant for, say, a defamation claim, or a claim that someone believed something because he saw it in the paper.) Same thing for an encyclopedia entry.

That does NOT mean, necessarily, that the one can take judicial notice of the truth of the newspaper or encyclopedia article. That would be hearsay. Newspapers and encyclopedias are not that reliable that one can assume that their contents are true.

Wikpedia compounds the problem because the content itself is changeable. So you could not even take judicial notice of the contents of the entry.
4.22.2009 8:03pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Also I would note that big name encyclopedias often have articles written from slanted points of view. I would hope that World Book or Encyclopedia Britanica would be subject to the same rules.
4.22.2009 8:04pm
TerrencePhilip:
MCM, I believe the 2-point quote from the opinion you cite is just the typical kind of precatory claptrap that clutters opinions, rather than a central part of any "reasoning" employed by the court. I think the real problem here was the judicial notice based on the Wikipedia article to "prove" that JP Morgan bought Bank One in 2004 (and the court raised, then ditched, the issue of whether the NYT article recounting corporate history would have been enough to "prove" that a Bank One unit had previously bought Chevy Chase's credit cards operation).

I have never handled a collections case, but I would tend to think that if the plaintiff here had produced a news article such as from the NYT or the financial press, that would persuade a court to take judicial notice that JP Morgan bought Bank One in 2004.

Interestingly, this link is a collection of court cases with Wikipedia cites. The very first case rejects an attempt to cite Wikipedia to prove a corporate merger, but does take judicial notice of corporate history based in part on a business journal article available online. (That is, if no one has edited it by the time you read this!)

This seems like a fair approach.
4.22.2009 8:06pm
Josh Zelinsky (mail) (www):
MCM, the site notice that contains the disclaimer is not editable by anyone but only admins so you can be sure that the site notice disclaimer is more or less accurate,
4.22.2009 8:06pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Such a malleable source of information is inherently unreliable, and clearly not one "whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned."
That's silly. It doesn't matter whether or not the source can be reasonably questioned, it matters whether the particular thing that is the subject of the judicial notice can be reasonably questioned.
4.22.2009 8:25pm
trad and anon (mail):
Wikipedia's accuracy can reasonably be questioned?
4.22.2009 8:32pm
Steve:
What a strange opinion. Sure, Wikipedia is unreliable, but there are plenty of other sources that could have been offered for the proposition that Bank One was purchased by J.P. Morgan, and no appellate court is going to waste its time remanding a case just to make the plaintiff produce a newspaper article rather than a Wikipedia page. After all, I'm pretty sure an appellate court can take judicial notice as well.

What's really missing here is proof that the defendant's account was conveyed from the original issuer of his Visa card to J.P. Morgan. Sure, the issuer was bought by Bank One, and Bank One was bought by J.P. Morgan, but there needs to be evidence that defendant's account - or the entire class of accounts to which his account belonged - was sold as part of those deals. Surely in the pertinent transaction documents there is something that addressed this point, but it was not admitted into evidence. Why the court neglected to illuminate that deficiency, instead resting its holding on the unreliability of Wikipedia, is beyond me.
4.22.2009 8:38pm
John (mail):
If you have to cite materials whose substance you need to prove your points, then it is impossible to say the points "are either generally or universally known," for, if they were, you wouldn't need Wikipedia to establish them.
4.22.2009 8:40pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):

Anyone with an internet connection can create a Wikipedia account and change any entry in Wikipedia.

Non sequitur: You don't even need an account to change an entry!
4.22.2009 9:42pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
Actually, I think some Wikipedia pages are locked from editing, even if you have an account, because they are just too often vandalized. (And, unfortunately, sometimes biased people get power over those locked pages to push a certain viewpoint.)

Also, it is possible to check how recently a page was updated. For example, the other side could look back at the page's history to see if it was recently modified, or if it's said the same thing for years and years.

There might even be an estoppel argument if a business allowed its Wikipedia page to bear incorrect information about the business, given how people rely on Wikipedia. To make this argument, you would probably have to show a motive for the business to leave incorrect info up.

My final point is that it's a shame the judges had nothing nice to say about Wikipedia. Even if it is unsuitable for supporting judicial notice, it's an excellent resource and is generally trustworthy.
4.22.2009 9:59pm
AJK:

Even if it is unsuitable for supporting judicial notice, it's an excellent resource and is generally trustworthy.


I'm certainly glad that Wikipedia exists, but I have trouble imagining a use for it in legal proceedings.
4.22.2009 11:17pm
Intersted Party:
AJK

I'm certainly glad that Wikipedia exists, but I have trouble imagining a use for it in legal proceedings.


How many other encyclopedias keep track of anyone who pushes an entry in a particular direction?

The ability to change it so easily is sure to raise an eyebrow, but how many other encyclopedias allow you to support their entries with a history of its changes?


I'll give you the closest example I can think of...
When trying to prove Cal. Penal Code section 626.10 (Possession of Weapons on School Grounds), that a "box-cutter" is a razor with an unguarded blade under 626.10, it would be helpful to know if everyone has the same definition of a "box-cutter."

When I say "box-cutter" most people (around here) think utility knife. I along with an increasingly select group of gents think box cutters when someone says "box-cutter," and not utility knives.

Wikipedia could help demonstrate when and why confusing box-cutters with utility knives became common place, after 9/11 it would seem, but that there is in fact a difference between the two, especially concerning its use as a weapon.

It is a slight distinction, but wikipedia could both show the progression of the belief, and react quickly when there was confusion. Something a regular dictionary or encyclopedia could not do.

Besides...the internet isnt anonymous.
4.23.2009 2:07am
David Newton:
The malleability of Wikipedia entries is actually irrelevant if features built into the site are used properly.

It is perfectly possible to link to a particular version of a Wikipedia article, and that version of the article will not vary over time. However that does not change the fact that Wikipedia can and does have some very unreliable articles within it. However given the biases that many news organisations have displayed the same can be said for them!
4.23.2009 3:03am
caligulazhang (mail):
We provide include: North America (NAFTA), South American countries, the EU 27 countries, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Russia and other 248 countries and regions in a variety of Customs bill of lading data, import and export trade (Statistics) data. http://www.customs-data.com.cn
Competitive Intelligence Global Trade System (GT) data contains a large number of buyers and sellers information such as number of transactions prices, both absolute quality so far on any channel (for example, B2B, event, etc.) suppliers and buyers to study the information and products in the the positioning of the global market to provide authoritative and accurate data and reports!
http://www.customs-data.com.cn/CHRISTIANSTED-VI/
4.23.2009 3:34am
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
Wikipedia is generally fairly reliable on non-controversial subjects but is extremely unreliable on controversial subjects. The control-freak Wikipedia administrators are notorious for using arcane Wikipedia rules to censor edits by "lawyering you to death" if you try to make an edit that the Wikipedia administrators consider to be politically incorrect.

Wikipedia is so unreliable that students are often prohibited from citing it as a source. At least one school district has blocked Wikipedia on all of the district's computers.

My blog has three post-label groups of articles about Wikipedia's problems. The reason why there are three groups is that I am limited to a maximum of 20 articles per post label. The three groups of articles all have the basic title "Wikipedia." The post labels are listed alphabetically in the sidebar of my blog's homepage at --
http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/
4.23.2009 4:25am
D.A.:
This was unpublished because webpages should always be hearsay. Wikipedia is just the worst example since it can be edited by anyone.
4.23.2009 11:37am
MCM (mail):
MCM, the site notice that contains the disclaimer is not editable by anyone but only admins so you can be sure that the site notice disclaimer is more or less accurate


I was joking. Hence the following paragraph beginning with "in all seriousness".

MCM, I believe the 2-point quote from the opinion you cite is just the typical kind of precatory claptrap that clutters opinions, rather than a central part of any "reasoning" employed by the court.


I disagree. Did you read the opinion to see the context of the quote?
4.23.2009 12:44pm

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