Manatee Convalescent Center, Inc. v. McDonald

Decision Date31 December 1980
Docket NumberNo. 80-714,80-714
Citation392 So.2d 1356
PartiesMANATEE CONVALESCENT CENTER, INC., Appellant, v. Vera Marie McDONALD, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

B. J. Owens of Staab & Montgomery, Chartered, Bradenton, for appellant.

Daniel B. Schuh of Schuh & Schuh, St. Petersburg, for appellee.

BUCK, MORISON, Associate Judge.

This is an appeal from an order dismissing with prejudice a complaint which sought to collect from a wife the cost of her husband's hospitalization. The issue presented is clear and uncluttered. The solution is not. The issue is whether or not a wife is subject to an action by a facility which has provided medical or medically related services to her husband and for which the wife is not otherwise obligated either by contract or statute.

The common law, given vitality in this state in 1845 when the statutes of Great Britain were collected and reported to the First General Assembly of the Legislature of Florida, is the fountainhead of the rule that a husband is responsible for the necessaries of his spouse, and medical expenses fall clearly within that category of obligations. Correll v. Elkins, 195 So.2d 27 (Fla. 1st DCA 1967); Holiday Hospital Association v. Schwarz, 166 So.2d 493 (Fla. 2d DCA 1964). Historically, courts were never called upon to consider a converse application of the doctrine where the wife was sued by a third party creditor claiming to have extended necessaries for the husband's benefit. This was because at common law a married woman was deemed legally incapable of incurring any obligations independent of her husband.

The rigidity of the common law in dealing with interspousal rights and liabilities was broken by the Supreme Court of Florida in Gates v. Foley, 247 So.2d 40 (Fla.1971). There a wife was granted the right to claim loss of consortium against another causing personal injuries to the husband. In that opinion, Justice Adkins made the following cogent observations in finding that where the wife was being denied a substantive right due to some reason of the common law no longer apparent, the rule denying her the right may take flight with it:

The law is not static. It must keep pace with changes in our society, for the doctrine of stare decisis is not an iron mold which can never be changed.

It may be argued that any change in this rule should come from the legislature.... Legislative action could, of course, be taken, but we abdicate our own function, in a field peculiarly non-statutory, when we refuse to consider an old and unsatisfactory court-made rule.

247 So.2d at 43.

While the proposed equal rights amendment to the Florida Constitution urged by the Constitution Revision Commission a few years ago was rejected by the electorate, and the word "sex" does not appear in the second sentence of article I, section 2 of that constitution, the movement of the law has inexorably been toward equality of the sexes. This has been most notable in the area of the maintenance and support, traditionally seen as a duty only of the male partner to the marital contract. In 1971, almost a decade ago, the legislature saw fit to overhaul Chapter 61 by changing all references therein from "husband" and "wife" to "spouse" or "party." Section 61.08, Florida Statutes (1979), most significantly was amended to provide that the court could grant alimony to either party thus recognizing that in some instances the male partner may be unable to fund his necessaries, including hospitalization and medical expenses. So, as between the parties, the rights of the husband to have contributions from the wife for those items became coequal with those of the wife.

This court believes that by adopting the concept that the duty of support and maintenance is reciprocal and complementary, the Florida legislature has imposed in this state the same sex-neutral burden of support as the court found to exist in Pennsylvania after the passage of an equal rights amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Kurpiewski v. Kurpiewski, 254 Pa.Super. 489, 386 A.2d 55 (1978). That case was relied upon by the United States District Court in a 1979 case arising in Pennsylvania, United States v. O'Neill, 478 F.Supp. 852 (E.D.Pa. 1979), where the court found the wife liable for counsel fees for the husband's criminal defense because they were necessaries. The court stated:

We reach our conclusion in favor of the government, however, by applying the common law of Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, a husband has a legal duty to support his wife and children. When he neglects this duty, one who supplies necessaries for their support is entitled to recover their cost in an action under the common law, which raises an implied promise by the husband to repay. Jenkins v. Jenkins, 246 Pa.Super. 455, 371 A.2d 925 (1977).... Therefore a wife can be liable for the costs of necessaries provided to her husband so long as it is shown she is capable of bearing the financial burden.

478 F.Supp. at 854.

The court then proceeded to discuss whether or not legal fees could be deemed necessaries and concluded that they were, noting that "the costs of legal representation are just as important and...

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20 cases
  • Marshfield Clinic v. Discher
    • United States
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court
    • January 18, 1982
    ...This question could be left open pending a determination of the facts, but it is not. Cf. Manatee Convalescent Center, Inc. v. McDonald, 392 So.2d 1356, 1359, n. 1 (Fla.Ct.App.1980). The majority applies the gender based Stromsted rule and says the husband is always primarily liable for nec......
  • Condore v. Prince George's County, 6
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • February 19, 1981
    ...sexes, the Florida Court of Appeals has held that a wife is liable for the necessaries of her husband. Manatee Convalescent Center, Inc. v. McDonald, 392 So.2d 1356 (Fla.App.1980). 4 Were this Court to conclude, as did the Florida court, that the non-support remedy provided by the doctrine ......
  • Connor v. Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center, Inc.
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1995
    ...the question of whether the obligations under the doctrine of necessaries should run both ways was Manatee Convalescent Center, Inc. v. McDonald, 392 So.2d 1356 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980). In holding a wife liable for the necessaries of her husband, the court Changing times demand reexamination of ......
  • North Ottawa Community Hosp. v. Kieft
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • May 19, 1998
    ...unconstitutional. However, the discussion of the constitutional question was, at best, indirect: In Manatee Convalescent Center, Inc. v. McDonald, 392 So.2d 1356, 1357 (Fla.App., 1980), the Second District Court of Appeals stated in "The law is not static. It must keep pace with changes in ......
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