Klotz v. Celentano Stadtmauer and Wale LLP, No. 19-3703 (3d Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Klotz’s now-deceased husband received medical services from the Hospital and incurred a $1,580 debt; he left no estate. The Hospital retained CSW to collect the debt. CSW mailed collection letters to Klotz. Klotz claims she is not liable for the debt, arguing that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 U.S.C. 1691, preempts New Jersey’s common-law doctrine of necessaries (where a spouse is jointly liable for necessary expenses incurred by the other spouse) and sued CSW for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692e and 1692f. Preemption of the doctrine would allow Klotz to pursue her FDCPA case.
The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The ECOA does not preempt New Jersey’s doctrine of necessaries. One ECOA regulation provides that “a creditor shall not require the signature of an applicant’s spouse . . . on any credit instrument if the applicant qualifies under the creditor’s standards of creditworthiness for the amount and terms of the credit requested.” Rejecting an argument that the doctrine effectively treats her as a spousal co-signer in violation of the spousal-signature prohibition, the court reasoned that Klotz’s medical debt falls within an exemption for incidental credit and rejected an argument that CSW failed to follow the procedural requirements of the doctrine of necessaries.