6th Circuit reverses and remands judgment in debt collection suit
On June 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant-appellee law firm, holding that it did not first exhaust all of its efforts to collect from the actual debtor. According to the opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was convicted of embezzlement and willful failure to pay taxes and was sent invoices for his legal fees by another law firm, which he did not pay. The law firm hired the defendant to collect on the debt. The defendant filed a lawsuit against the plaintiff and her husband, arguing under the Ohio’s Necessaries Statute that the husband was liable to third parties for necessaries, such as food, shelter, and clothing that were provided to his wife. An Ohio state court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and an interlocutory appeal by the defendant was denied. The plaintiff then filed suit against the defendant, alleging that defendant’s underlying suit violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect under the claim that she was liable for her spouse’s debt. The district court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion, which the plaintiff appealed.
On the appeal, the 6th Circuit found that the defendant did not follow the express commands of the Ohio Supreme Court's 2018 decision in Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, which held that spouses who are not debtors are liable only if the debtor does not have the assets to pay the debt themselves. The 6th Circuit found that the defendant did not satisfy those prerequisites to collect from the plaintiff when it filed a joint-liability suit against her and her husband. Thus, the collection efforts against the spouse who incurred the debt must be exhausted “before attempting to collect from a spouse.” The 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff.