Condore v. Prince George's County

Decision Date19 February 1981
Docket NumberNo. 6,6
Citation289 Md. 516,425 A.2d 1011
PartiesMaureen S. CONDORE v. PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Thomas Patrick O'Reilly, Riverdale (O'Reilly & Serio, Riverdale, on the brief), for appellant.

Robert B. Ostrom, County Atty. and Michael Bereston, Associate Co. Atty., Upper Marlboro (Carl Harris, Deputy Co. Atty., Upper Marlboro, on the brief), for appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C. J., and SMITH, DIGGES, ELDRIDGE, COLE, DAVIDSON and RODOWSKY, JJ.

MURPHY, Chief Judge.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), Article 46 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, provides:

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied because of sex."

The primary issue in this case is whether the ERA modifies the common law of Maryland by imposing upon a wife a legal obligation to pay for medical services rendered to her husband. The Circuit Court for Prince George's County (Blackwell, J.) held that the appellant, Maureen Condore, was liable to pay the hospital bill incurred by her deceased husband, Louis, in the appellee county hospital. The court concluded that the ERA mandated this result, without regard to whether the appellant contracted with the hospital to pay for services rendered to her husband. The wife appealed. We granted certiorari prior to decision by the Court of Special Appeals to consider the significant constitutional issue raised in the case.

I

On November 4, 1976, Louis Condore was admitted to the Prince George's County General Hospital. He signed a hospital admission form agreeing to be responsible to for all charges incurred from his admission until his discharge. 1 Louis died in the hospital on December 11, 1976, after incurring a substantial hospital bill for services rendered to him. Louis' hospital insurer paid the entire amount of the hospital bill except for $3,435 for services recorded on the bill under the heading "Date of Service" as having been rendered on December 12 and 13 after Louis' death.

The County sued Mrs. Condore in assumpsit upon the common counts for the unpaid amount. The County moved for summary judgment, attaching the hospital bill as an exhibit, together with an affidavit of Louis' physician attesting to the medical necessity for the services rendered. Also attached to the motion were two affidavits from the hospital's Manager of Special Accounts stating, on personal knowledge, that he kept books of special accounts in the regular course of the hospital's business and that it was the regular course of the hospital's business to keep such accounts; that in accordance with its regular practice the hospital maintained an account for services rendered to Louis Condore; that the Condore account appended to the summary judgment motion was true and correct, the entries having been made at the time or shortly after the time that the services were provided; and

"that the dates that appear under date of service on plaintiff's billing statements, after December 11, 1976, the date of patient's death, in fact, represent the dates that the service was posted and these services were, in fact, rendered but were not posted until after the patient was deceased."

The appellant filed a motion opposing summary judgment, asserting that she had never agreed to be responsible for her husband's hospital bill and was therefore not indebted to the hospital.

At the hearing on the hospital's summary judgment motion, the appellant argued that the motion should be denied because there was a material dispute of fact concerning the correctness of the bill, namely, that the hospital bill showed on its face that the disputed services were rendered after the date of her husband's death. The court, referring to the affidavit of the hospital's Manager of Special Accounts, said that the evidence before it, under oath, was that the services were incurred before Louis' death, although posted to his account on dates subsequent to his death. As to the amount of the bill owing to the hospital, and whether the services had been rendered prior to Louis' death, the court concluded that there was no genuine dispute between the parties as to any material fact.

The court next considered the parties' arguments as to whether, as a matter of law, the appellant was legally responsible for her husband's hospital bill. The County's position was that the ERA modified the common law duty of the husband to be responsible for his wife's necessaries by imposing a corresponding legal obligation on the wife to pay for her husband's necessaries. The County did not rely upon the provisions of Maryland Code (1957, 1980 Repl. Vol.), Art. 45, § 21, which specify that the husband is liable for necessaries supplied to his wife. Although it suggested that § 21 may be unconstitutional under the ERA for failure to impose a similar support obligation on the wife, the County maintained that the statute was not involved in the case, since it relied solely upon the ERA-modified common law to recover from the wife. The appellant argued that the ERA imposed no duty upon her to pay for her husband's necessaries. She suggested that Art. 45, § 21 may be unconstitutional, in which event there would be no legal obligation on the part of either spouse to pay for the necessaries of the other. However, the appellant insisted that the statute was not involved in the case and that the court should not rule on its constitutionality.

The court held that the ERA expanded the "equal rights concept" to require acceptance by women of "the burdens as well as the benefits of such expansion." In granting summary judgment for the County, the court said:

"(I)n Maryland at the present time the wife is as responsible for her husband's necessities, such as medical expenses, as would the husband be responsible for the wife's necessities ... without the benefit of any amendment in the code provisions (Art. 45, § 21)."

Appellant subsequently filed a motion for rehearing and for summary judgment in her favor, raising the same issues previously adjudicated by the court, but adding that no factual basis was contained in the affidavit of the hospital's Manager of Special Accounts demonstrating that he in fact had personal knowledge of if and when the disputed services were rendered. The court denied the motion.

Before us, the appellant urges that the lower court was wrong when, in granting summary judgment for the County, it determined that there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact concerning the amount properly owed to the hospital for services rendered to appellant's husband. Whether the court erred on this point need not be here considered for we hold, as a matter of law, that the appellant is not legally obligated in this case to pay her husband's hospital bill.

II

Under the common law of Maryland, prior to the adoption of the ERA, the husband had a legal duty to supply his wife with necessaries suitable to their station in life, but the wife had no corresponding obligation to support her husband, or supply him with necessaries, even if she had the financial means to do so. Ewell v. State, 207 Md. 288, 114 A.2d 66 (1955); Coastal Tank Lines, Inc. v. Canoles, 207 Md. 37, 113 A.2d 82 (1955); Stonesifer v. Shriver, 100 Md. 24, 59 A. 139 (1904). This well-settled principle was an outgrowth of the early common law which placed married women under various legal disabilities, e. g., (1) the legal existence of the wife was deemed merged in that of the husband and they were regarded as one person, Criminal Inj. Comp. Bd. v. Remson, 282 Md. 168, 384 A.2d 58 (1978); Sezzin v. Stark, 187 Md. 241, 49 A.2d 742 (1946); Joyce v. Joyce, 10 Md.App. 516, 276 A.2d 692 (1970); (2) upon marriage, the wife's personal property became vested in the husband and was subject to the claims of his creditors, Rowe v. Dept. of Mental Hygiene, 247 Md. 542, 233 A.2d 769 (1967); Clark v. Wootton, 63 Md. 113 (1885); Bayne v. State, Use of Edelen, 62 Md. 100 (1884); and (3) the husband was entitled to the wife's services and she was legally incapable of making contracts in her own name, Coastal Tank, supra; Sezzin, supra; Furstenburg v. Furstenburg, 152 Md. 247, 136 A.2d 534 (1927). The husband's common law duty to supply his wife with necessaries included medical care; the wife's right to obtain such care stemmed from the marital relation itself and the husband's obligations incident to it. Rowe, supra; Kerner v. Eastern Hospital, 210 Md. 375, 123 A.2d 333 (1956); Ewell, supra; Anderson v. Carter, 175 Md. 540, 2 A.2d 677 (1938); McFerren v. Goldsmith-Stern Co., 137 Md. 573, 113 A. 107 (1921); Stonsifer, supra.

Because of the common law doctrine subjecting the property of the wife to the claims of the husband's creditors, the Maryland Constitution of 1851, Art. 3, § 38 directed the General Assembly to pass laws to protect the property of the wife from the debts of the husband. Consistent with this constitutional mandate, the legislature enacted various statutes to afford married women the right to a separate estate and to protect it from the husband's creditors. See Maryland Code (1860, 1861-1867 Supp.), Art. 45, §§ 1 and 2. In the present Maryland Constitution that of 1867 the following provision was included in Art. III, § 43:

"The property of the wife shall be protected from the debts of her husband."

To place married women on a more equal footing with their husbands, a number of "Married Women's Acts" were subsequently enacted by the legislature, primarily ch. 267 of the Acts of 1892 and ch. 457 of the Acts of 1898. These statutes are not codified as Maryland Code (1957, 1980 Repl. Vol.), Art. 45, §§ 1-21. Section 1, in implementation of Art. III, § 43 of the Constitution of Maryland, protects the property of a married woman, however acquired, including property acquired "by her own skill, labor or personal exertions" from the debts of the husband. Section 4 provides that married women shall hold their property "for their...

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