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White v. Universal Fidelity, LP

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division Frankfort

February 16, 2018

DANIEL WHITE, Plaintiff,


          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Daniel White brings this action to determine the constitutionality of Kentucky Revised Statute 404.040. This statute codifies the antiquated common law “necessaries doctrine, ” creating legal liability in a husband for his wife's debts incurred before or after marriage. Kentucky has no similar statute creating liability in a wife for her husband's debts, nor does Kentucky have statutes creating liability for spouses of same sex couples. Mr. White alleges this statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He has presently sued Jewish Hospital, Universal Fidelity, LP, and Link Revenue Resources, LLC, for attempting to collect from him a debt owed by his wife. Today, this Court considers Universal Fidelity's Motion to Dismiss, Link Revenue's Motion to Dismiss, and Mr. White's Motion to Amend/Correct his Complaint. For the following reasons, all three motions are GRANTED.


         Mr. Daniel White is happily married to Mrs. Tammy White. [R. 1 at ¶9.] In August of 2014, Mrs. White received medical treatment at Jewish Hospital in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Id. at ¶11. Following that treatment, Jewish Hospital employed Universal Fidelity, a third-party debt collector, to send Mr. White a letter to collect the remaining expenses owed from Mrs. White's treatment. Id. at ¶13. Essentially, Jewish Hospital, Universal Fidelity, and Link Financial all attempted to collect a debt from Mr. White that Mr. White believes is solely owed by Mrs. White. Id. at ¶15-20. Universal Fidelity identified Mr. White as “Guarantor” of Mrs. White's debt. Id. at ¶15. Mr. White claims that Universal Fidelity has no basis for this characterization other than Kentucky Revised Statute 404.040, which requires a husband to be liable for “necessaries furnished to [his wife] after marriage.” Mr. White seeks both declaratory and monetary relief. He claims, first, that he is not liable for his wife's debt and that Universal Fidelity and Link Revenue Resources violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq.) by attempting to collect a debt from him that he did not owe. In addition, Mr. White seeks a declaration that KRS 404.040 is unconstitutional.

         Following the filing of this complaint, both Link Revenue Resources and Universal Fidelity filed Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim under Rule 12(b)(6). [R. 4; R. 8.] Jewish Hospital filed an Answer requesting dismissal for various reasons, including failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). [R. 6.] Mr. White responded to the motions of Link Revenue Resources and Universal Fidelity, but also filed a Motion for Leave to Amend/Correct Complaint. [R. 10.] Jewish Hospital, Link Revenue Resources, and Universal Fidelity all opposed this motion. [R. 14.]



         This Court first turns to Mr. White's Motion for Leave to Amend/Correct his Complaint. Amendments to pleadings are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, which provides that even if the party does not seek the amendment within the of-right period, the court may give leave to permit such an amendment and should “freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The United States Supreme Court has read this provision broadly, and the Sixth Circuit has recognized that “where the underlying facts would support, a motion for leave to amend should be granted, except in cases of undue delay, undue prejudice to the opposing party, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, or futility.” Duggins v. Steak'n Shake, Inc., 195 F.3d 828 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178 (1962)).

         Mr. White's proposed First Amended Complaint contains several additional assertions of fact. [R. 10-1.] He claims he had not agreed to pay the debt to Jewish Hospital and was concerned about the impact this debt collection might have on his credit report. Id. at ¶15-23; ¶26; ¶39. In addition, Mr. White lists the time and money he spent attempting to dispute this debt. Id. Mr. White also contests the assertion by Jewish Hospital that he agreed to serve as the guarantor of debt for Mrs. White's medical expenses. Id. at ¶29-30. However, Mr. White's legal claims and prayer for relief is largely the same in his Proposed First Amended Complaint as in his Complaint.[1] The only difference this Court can find is that the original Complaint included a prayer that this Court “Declare that Plaintiff does not owe the Jewish Hospital debt incurred by his wife” [R. 1 at 4, ¶4], but this is not included in the Proposed First Amended Complaint.

         Universal Fidelity, Link Revenue Resources, and Jewish Hospital all oppose Mr. White's request to file an amended complaint because they all claim that the amendment is futile. [R. 14 at 4.] A court has leave to deny an amendment if that amendment would be futile. Foman, 371 U.S. at 182. “A proposed amendment is futile if the amendment could not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Rose v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 417, 420 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Thiokol Corp. v. Dept. of Treasury, State of Michigan, Revenue Div., 987 F.2d 376, 382-83 (6th Cir. 1993)). Thus, this Court turns to whether Mr. White's Proposed First Amended Complaint would survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept[s] its allegations as true, and draw[s] all inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The Court, however, “need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.” Id. (quoting Gregory v. Shelby County, 220 F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000)). The Supreme Court explained that in order “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). See also Courier v. Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, 577 F.3d 625, 629 (6th Cir. 2009). In the Proposed First Amended Complaint, Mr. White attached several exhibits. The Court may consider these exhibits without converting this Motion to a motion for summary judgment because these exhibits were attached to the complaint. Amini v. Oberlin College, 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001).

         Mr. White essentially claims that Universal Fidelity and Link Revenue violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect a debt from him that he does not owe. Universal Fidelity, Link Revenue, and Jewish Hospital allegedly relied on KRS 404.040 to determine that Mr. White was responsible for the debts of Mrs. White. Mr. White urges this Court to find KRS 404.040 unconstitutional, and ...

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