CELEBRITY UNDERTAKER ASKS COURT TO MUZZLE FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE

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UPDATE August 4, 2009 -

COURT TOSSES FUNERAL DIRECTOR LAWSUIT; UPHOLDS FREE SPEECH
FOR CONSUMER ADVOCATES


The US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan threw out prominent funeral director Thomas Lynch’s libel and defamation suit against Funeral Consumers Alliance and two other defendants. On July 31, Judge Robert H. Cleland granted summary judgment for the defendants, ruling that Lynch had no case for libel or defamation.

“We’re delighted the court has upheld FCA’s right to free speech,” said Joshua Slocum, Executive Director. “The Constitution protects Americans’ right to engage in vigorous public debate, and that includes criticizing the words and deeds of public figures like Mr. Lynch. Simply because the target of that criticism does not enjoy it does not make such critique illegal. FCA will continue commenting on matters of importance to funeral consumers, and that commentary may take the form of critiquing the writing or statements of prominent funeral directors. We expect this ruling will discourage any disgruntled funeral industry figures from attempting in the future to intimidate and silence consumer organizations through legal bullying.”

Click READ MORE for the rest of the story. . .




Lynch filed suit against Funeral Consumers Alliance, the FCA of Idaho, Funeral Ethics Organization, and FEO Executive Director Lisa Carlson, in September of 2008. He accused the defendants of defaming his reputation and libeling him because of various articles and documents the defendants published. In FCA’s case, Lynch claimed a PowerPoint presentation titled “Deconstructing Thomas Lynch”  — a piece that critiqued one of Lynch’s widely read syndicated articles on funerals — made libelous, false statements against him.

The Court disagreed:

None of the evidence presented by Plaintiffs exhibits a reckless disregard for the truth or knowledge that statements were false. In fact, many of the statements alleged to support a finding of malice appear, based on the record before the court, to be true, and certainly [Plaintiffs] have not produced evidence that shows them to be patently false.

Here's a .pdf copy of the court's ruling.


September 24, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UPDATE 1/21/2009 - Detroit's weekly paper covers the Lynch lawsuit.

South Burlington, VT. - In an attempt to stifle legitimate criticism from consumer advocates,  Michigan funeral director and author Thomas Lynch sued the oldest and largest national nonprofit funeral consumer advocacy organization in federal court September 12. Lynch's suit, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, accuses Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc., of "defamation," and causing "substantial economic injury" and "harm to [the] business reputation" of Lynch's funeral home businesses in Michigan. The document in question is a PowerPoint presentation titled "Deconstructing Thomas Lynch," available at www.funerals.org. The presentation quotes an article by Lynch and criticizes the article's presentation and viewpoint.

"To call this lawsuit ‘frivolous' would be too kind  -  it's outrageous," said FCA Executive Director Joshua Slocum. "Mr. Lynch appears unaware of the constitutional and common law rights citizens and journalists enjoy in this country. We don't expect him to enjoy FCA's critique, but his irritation does not cancel the rights of consumer advocates to publish fair comment on and criticism of his writings. Even worse, his attempt to extract money from a nonprofit charity  is reprehensible."

Lynch is widely known as the author of several books on American funerals and other topics. He was featured in the 2007 PBS Frontline documentary, The Undertaking. As a well-known commentator on funeral practices, Lynch has written and spoken widely about what he sees as the value of funerals -usually the more involved and costly type that includes viewing the body and associated ceremonies. FCA's critique of Lynch's article points out the inherent economic interest Lynch and any funeral director has in promoting this type of funeral. The presentation highlights this, and notes families have a wide array of meaningful choices to memorialize their dead that may not include the practices Lynch favors.


"Mr. Lynch is entitled to his point of view, and we are entitled to disagree with it," FCA's Slocum said. "He is a public figure who has offered insight into American funeral customs. But he is not a disinterested party. Consumer advocates are within their rights to point out that Mr. Lynch's favored funeral rituals happen to be among the most profitable for the conventional funeral home industry. Families planning funerals deserve to learn about all the available options, and about the commercial interests that may influence how a funeral home presents those."

"Funeral Consumers Alliance will not be intimidated or silenced by Mr. Lynch," Slocum continued. "We were formed as a national organization in 1963 to advocate for the rights of grieving families to choose funerals they find meaningful, dignified, and affordable - whatever those choices may be. We will fight this lawsuit vigorously, and we will continue our work on behalf of the American public, whether or not industry heavyweights approve of it."

Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity headquartered in Vermont. FCA is a federation of nearly 100 nonprofit funeral consumer information societies from Maine to Hawaii. Originally formed in 1963 as the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies, FCA and its member organizations were instrumental in the passage of the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule in 1984 - a funeral consumer's "bill of rights" guaranteeing grieving families the right to accurate information and freedom of choice in funeral arrangements. Visit us at www.funerals.org.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 November 2009 22:53 )  
Comments (19)
1 Thursday, 25 September 2008 06:59
Your counsel should move for immediate dismissal of Lynch's suit. The frivolousness of it is on a par with the that of the fat girl in NYC who got some shyster to sue McDonald's for causing her obesity. This should never even get to court - just thrown out RIGHT NOW!
2 Sunday, 05 October 2008 18:49
Just a quick note of support to you. I hope the court rules in your favor as quickly as possible.
3 Tuesday, 11 November 2008 08:37
Zack
I think in this case Mr. Lynch is absolutely right. The powerpoint is clearly libel clearly directing it toward Lynch and not the industry as a whole. I hope Lynch wins! The FTC and the "Funeral Rule" has been put in force for the protection of the consumer. By this Mr. Lynch would have had to provide a general price list to the families he has served giving them options to choose how much they spend. The consumer controls what he spends not Mr. Lynch. Just because your a non-profit organization doesn't make you immune of violating the laws of slander and libel which you have clearly done.
4 Saturday, 15 November 2008 11:11
Robert
I am an attorney member of the Funeral Consumer's Alliance and I encourage most of my clients to join. I do not intend to spend too much time discussing precedent, procedural and substantive law involved in this suit, since I have clients paying me to do that at my "desk job."
The legal papers are available for anyone to read on the PACER system (computerized docket) at the Federal District courts. Rest assured FCA members, this lawsuit is not going anywhere. Do not let it distract you from the FCA mission or goals. If I thought it had any chance of success, I would volunteer my time for the cause. I understand the FCA has retained counsel and I know the attorney has the competency to handle this expeditiously on his own.
5 Wednesday, 26 November 2008 12:58
Charles Cowling
Tom Lynch is a great man, a great poet and a great thinker and writer about funerals. It may interest you to know that he is revered in the UK. Your PP presentation is disgracefully disrespectful. Whether he has a case or not, the FCA has diminished itself in the eyes of the world by attacking him in this underhand way. Right or wrong, he is worth the whole pack of you -- and some.
6 Wednesday, 26 November 2008 13:39
Rupert Callender
Whether Mr Lynch's lawsuit has any validity or not, the FCA has done itself a huge disfavour in attacking him, and I speak as a "green" undertaker from the UK, who's sympathy usually lies with you. The power point is cheap and snide, reminiscent of a republican Presidential smear ad. Mr Lynch is humane, wise and an inspiration for many of us. Your twisting of his remarks about the need for the dead to be present at their own funeral is willful ignorance. You bring to mind Ms Mitford bemoaning barbaric fussing over the dead, while never showing any emotion over her dead child. The cost of everything but the value of nothing..
7 Wednesday, 26 November 2008 18:19
Josh Slocum
Thank you all very much indeed for commenting, especially the two gentlemen from the UK. Since tomorrow is the American celebration of Thanksgiving, I'd like to note two things for which I am thankful:

1. To live in a country where the law protects citizens' rights to fairly comment and critique the actions of public figures, including, most especially, the right to point out things one finds unsavory, even if said public figures and admirers don't like it.

2. To live under a legal system which, in marked contrast to that of the UK, finds such rights (and the related concepts of truth as an absolute defense, and free expression of commentary and opinion) far more important to preserve than assuaging the indignation of public figures or their admirers.

I wish you all the very best.


Josh Slocum
Funeral Consumers Alliance

P.S. to Mr. Callender - Your claim that your sympathies usually lie with FCA is belied by your willingness to make such a reactionary comment. Those whose sympathies are truly in accord with another party don't generally assume that other party has no basis for their actions. Sympathetic people usually think to themselves, "there might be more to this situation than I know, even it if it's not immediately apparent to me."
8 Thursday, 27 November 2008 04:37
Charles Cowling
It is the manner of your attack which demeans you. It is nasty, brutish and pusillanimous. It is also unfair. Tom is a high-minded man given to careful thought and utter sincerity of utterance. His deep respect for his fellow men and women is well documented. He is a man not to be sneered at.

You are a disputatious fellow, Mr Slocum: the ferocity of your indignation speaks more loudly than, and undermines, any case you have to make. I suspect you know perfectly well that freedom of expression is enshrined in UK law. Don't be silly.

I cannot return your good wishes, ironically or otherwise. I hope you will be forensically dismantled.
9 Thursday, 27 November 2008 12:45
james showers
As late as Monday, I would have been rooting for the FCA as a highly laudable organisation, whose aims and intentions I support 100%.

Having read the nasty, hysterical press release and hostile e-mail exchanges from their CEO, I am suddenly extremely wary.
There's something bullying about their tone, and their sleazy attack of Tom Lynch contrasts so vividly with Mr. Lynch's kind, warm, heartfelt sincerity. Can the FCA be so hungry for members that it has to resort to such cheap, shrill tactics?
Not only do I hope Tom Lynch wins his suit (with costs - except that they would come from the pockets of the punters who support the FCA), but I hope the FCA dismisses Mr Slocum for bad behaviour, and replaces him with someone I can trust.
With no passive aggressive 'best wishes', James Showers UK
10 Thursday, 27 November 2008 21:23
Lisa Carlson
Mr. Lynch is, indeed, a gifted writer who has won industry appreciation for his promotion of the one-of-everything funeral, the more profitable option to be sure. As a public figure, however, he has opened himself to commentary or criticism. Ten years ago his bias against cremation was quite apparent when he wrote --"We bury the treasure and burn the trash." He also claimed there was no need to donate bodies to a med school as the homeless supplied enough. Such is not the case, especially in his own state of Michigan. One has to wonder what the motivation and benefit is for any funeral director to sue three nonprofit organizations.
11 Wednesday, 10 December 2008 00:05
Jack Read
Mr Callender of the UK sounds like a 'good' old socialist as he adds to his defense of Lynch by castigating Republicans and their polictical ads--too bad his fine country has gone to h---l since I spent some time there in WW2---English people had the courage of their famous lion in those days but have bowed to the crybabies and gutless wonders they call 'leaders' today---pray to the Good Lord the USA will not follow the same path or the entire world is finished--We are the 'last great hope of the free world'
12 Thursday, 25 December 2008 19:04
mike smith
http://www.youtube.com/watch v=cb2QS3sLRog&feature=channel_page

pat lynch on the link above on youtube at funeralfuturist calls jessica mitford's, "the american way of death"....satirical and not real"...unlike their pbs documentary "the undertaking"...which was real. is that not slander towards the mitford family or jessica's estate?

at the the time of publication in 1963 here were some descriptions of this "satirical...not real" book:

"A BOMBSHELL OF A BOOK..."crowded with facts every American should know." - The New York Times

"AT LAST SOMEONE HAS SPOKEN OUT and shattered the sanctimonious silence which has been shielding America's multi-million dollar burial racketeers from public scrutiny."
- The Chicago Times

"THE BEST EVER WRITTEN ON THE SUBJECT." - Harry Golden

"A BRILLIANT CASE AGAINST THE WHOLE INDUSTRY."
- The New Yorker

"A DOCUMENT WHICH IS TO THE UNDERTAKING WHAT
'SILENT SPRING' WAS TO THE PESTICIDE BUSINESS"
- The San Francisco Chronicle

"A BRILLIANT BOOK....MUST READING FOR ALL OF US."
- Cosmopolitan

in my opinion, the lynches are a bunch of clowns for trying to sue a consumer watchdog group and are out of touch with reality for still trying to peddle $10,000.00 funerals and $2000.00 direct cremations in one of the most economic depressed states in america.
13 Thursday, 25 December 2008 19:15
mike smith
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cb2QS3sLRog
14 Saturday, 03 January 2009 06:26
Hans Hansmann
As someone who has home-birthed, home-schooled, and when my one son had cancer was totally prepared to bury my son on my own small farm, (estimated cost: $200.00), I find the support for Lynch nauseating. He's a businessman first and foremost. There is nothing to justify spending thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars on a funeral, nothing.
15 Sunday, 25 January 2009 19:02
J Augustine
The FCA seems to be a bunch of bullies. They attack anyone who may have a different belief than theirs.

Cast anyone who disagrees with you, into the light of disgrace. Shame on you. Spend your time helping people not trying to tear people down.
16 Sunday, 25 January 2009 23:39
Josh Slocum
Yes, we just attack anyone with a different belief. We're such awful, nasty, vitriolic bullies. How you can square that perception with the fact that it's Thomas Lynch - not us - who's trying to use the courts to silence us is beyond me.


Open your eyes, J. Augustine. We've spent 46 years since our founding helping everyday people make decisions about funerals they find dignified, and affordable. If you can't see that because you're all worked up over your favorite author-undertaker being criticized, then shame on you. Until you have a reasonable argument about why FCA should be sued in federal court for disagreeing with a public figure, take your melodrama somewhere else.
17 Friday, 27 March 2009 20:26
Bob Davis
AS someone who has known Mr. Slocum for a number of years I know of his honesty and efforts to truely help change the funeral industry for the better. His work has been outstanding. As a Funeral Director here in Texas, it is no easy job to fight the corruption brought from here to Washington. In the past 8 years the FTC has lost it's teeth as far as the funeral Rule goes. If you like Google "Timeline" to see what's really happened to the industry. The greed of this industry effects every person, not just a few.
Thank You Josh!!!

Bob Davis
Budget Casket and Davis Funeral Chapel
Ft. Worth, Tx
18 Friday, 09 October 2009 15:18
Daniel Creech
How do you support the FCA until they get rowdy with a funeral director?

I am so glad the judge was not related to the the funeral director in this case. A local judge here in Louisiana told a family, "my family was in the funeral business for 40 years and I will never rule against them." The first female senator in LOUISIANA was a woman who owns around 10 funeral homes and has her daughter on the louisiana funeral board right now.

Did Josh say it's a state law you have to purchase a vault?
Did Josh say we bury treasure but burn the trash?
Did Josh say he won't accept your insurance unless you purchase everything funeral related from him?
Did Josh say it is illegal to purchase caskets anywhere but the funeral home?
Did Josh void a school nurse's burial policy she paid $500 for when minimum wage was $1/hr and bill her $8000-$500=$7500

No, these are the things we want to stop. Funeral homes want to keep scaring people into overpaying.

I am currently being subpoenaed to the la funeral board for advertising and referring families to funeral homes. The funeral industry wants to make me stop informing consumers about their right of choice and how to save thousands by shopping around (yes, even a funeral). I want to take them to federal court myself, but I don't want them to fold. I want them to pay!

If you support consumer choice like the FCA, how can you be against deconstructing any funeral home? Are you guilty of robbing the elderly? Then you have nothing to worry about, right. If you are guilty, you have something to worry about. Funeral directors here say that I am a known felon. I have one speeding ticket, guess that's it. How did they find out.

The court ruled correctly. If FCA misquoted, mislead, or tried to tarnish a truly good person the court should have ruled against them. But I know of no influence the consumer group would have over that judge like kinship, money or political influence. I can not say how pleased the funeral consumer alliance was not stifled by a corrupt funeral, political or judicial system. Consumers deserve free speech and free trade.
19 Tuesday, 04 September 2012 02:02
EstelaLivingston28
Set your life time easier get the mortgage loans and everything you want.

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