Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff announces the filing of a lawsuit against Indiana attorney W. Christian Meyer. The lawsuit, which has been filed in the United States District Court for the Norther District of Indiana, alleges that Attorney Meyer filed a debt collection lawsuit on behalf of his client, Unity Surgical Center, LLC, against the wife of man who received medical treatment at the Unity Surgical Center. The Complaint alleges that this was a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) because the wife was not liable for her husband’s debt. The debt collection lawsuit remains pending at this time. The consumer/plaintiff in the FDCPA lawsuit is seeking an award of actual damages, statutory damages, costs and attorney fees.
The consumer’s lawsuit highlights two issues worth noting here. First, attorneys, if they do sufficient debt collection work, are covered by the FDCPA. If they sue the wrong person, as is alleged here, the attorney can be held liable under the FDCPA. Second, a husband or wife is generally NOT liable for the debts of their spouse. There is an ancient doctrine that is an exception to this called the Doctrine of Necessaries. The doctrine is a holdover from the time when women were unable to legally enter into a contract. The doctrine arose to allow women to obtain the necessities of life on their husband’s credit, making the husband liable. Last year, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted, in the case of Hickory Creek at Connersville v. Estate of Combs, 992 N.E.2d 209 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013) that the doctrine continues to survive, albeit now in a gender neutral form. However, the Court of Appeals clarified that a creditor must first obtain a judgment against the contractually-liable spouse and unsuccessfully attempt to collect on that judgment BEFORE making a claim (in other words suing, or otherwise attempting to collect) against the non-contractually-liable spouse.
The takeaway from this is that if a debt collector is attempting to collect a debt from you that was incurred by your husband or wife, in many (if not most) instances that debt collector will be violating the FDCPA.