Louisiana goes after monastery for selling coffins; monks sue

E-mail Print

UPDATE 7/23/2011---Chalk up another loss for the bier barons. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Lousiana ruled the state's ban on retail casket sales is unconstitutional. Judge Stanward R. Duval, Jr.'s opinion is particularly damning to the state's claim that the law, which allows only licensed funeral directors with full-service funeral homes to sell caskets, was essential for "public health and safety."

Clearly, [Louisiana’s Embalming and Funeral Directors Act] does not protect consumers from higher prices. Moreover, the fact that any Louisianian can purchase a casket on line without the “aid” of a funeral director results in the only persons being protected are the funeral directors of Louisiana and their coffers. The Act only applies to in-state sales. Other forms of distribution (such as delivery in Louisiana of containers purchased out-of-state, gift and home manufacture for personal use) are not prohibited.

 

....

Likewise, it is uncontested that there is no requirement for a person to be buried in a casket, container, or other enclosure for the burial of human remains. There are no requirements in the Act concerning the construction or design of caskets. “Because nothing prevents licensed funeral directors from selling shoddy caskets at high prices, the licensing requirement bears no rational relationship to increasing the quality of burial containers.” Craigmiles, 312 F.3d at 226. Likewise, there is no requirement for caskets to be sealed. Individuals may construct and use their own handmade casket for a funeral in Louisiana. Thus, the Act’s prohibition of non-funeral
directors engaging in retail sales of caskets has no rational basis in the reality of the law.

....

The Court finds no rational relationship between the Act and “public health and safety.” No evidence was presented to demonstrate that requiring the purchase of caskets from licensed funeral directors aids the public welfare. As previously noted, there is no requirement for a casket to be used in the burial of any individual in Louisiana, so there is no rational relationship between the Act and “health concerns” arising from a decomposing or contagious corpse. Again, these issues are not addressed in the Act. There simply is no rational relationship between health and safety of the public and the construction of and sale of a casket. . .

Read the whole opinion here.

Astonishingly, the state is planning to appeal the decision. It's hard to imagine an appeals court ruling in favor of the funeral cartel after such a solid smacki-down from the District Court.


 

8.11.2010—A sense of shame or proportion didn't stop the Lousiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors from targeting a monastery, but perhaps a lawsuit from the Institute for Justice will. After the state board tried to levy fines against the St. Joseph Abbey for building and selling coffins without having a funeral director's license, IJ has taken up the monks' cause.

Fox8 ran a story from the Associated Press:

The monks of St. Joseph Abbey in St. Tammany Parish sued Louisiana regulators Thursday, charging the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is attempting to maintain a casket cartel through regulation dominated by the funeral industry.

The regulators told the monks not to sell the caskets because
they are not licensed funeral directors.

The 36 monks of the 121-year-old abbey decided a few years ago
to sell caskets with simple white cloth interiors for $1,500 to
$2,000 to support the abbey, which does not receive funding from
the Roman Catholic Church.

About 50 to 60 of the caskets were sold, beginning in 2007,
before the funeral board, acting on a complaint filed by a funeral
home, subpoenaed the order in March and threatened fines, said
lawyer Jeff Rowes of the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for
Justice. The monks tried to get an exemption from the regulations
in 2008 and 2010, but legislators rejected the requests.

Rowes said there is no justification for a state "to regulate
the sale of wooden boxes."

Getting a funeral director's license is no small task. State law
requires at 30 semester hours of college and a one-year
apprenticeship during which the candidate must preside over at
least 25 funerals. A funeral home license requires embalming by a
licensed embalmer. The abbey does not intend to offer that service,
Rowes said.

Abbot Justin Brown said making and selling caskets is in keeping
with a 1,500-year tradition of self-support. "For centuries,
Benedictine monks have been entrepreneurs," he said.

The monks of St. Joseph Abbey for years farmed and harvested
wood, a business that sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina
in August 2005, Brown said. The caskets drew public attention at
funerals for monks and two Louisiana bishops, leading to requests
to purchase them. In 2007, the monks converted part of the abbey
into a woodworking shop. Three monks usually work on the caskets.

"All we want to do is sell these simple wood caskets to our
friends and the public," Brown said.

Lousiana—one of only three states that allow only licensed funeral directors to sell caskets—has a sordid history of protecting the entrenched funeral industry from competition at the expense of funeral consumers. See here for earlier posts on LA regulators working to protect the funeral industry from the public.

 

Last Updated ( Friday, 05 August 2011 13:40 )  
Comments (7)
1 Saturday, 14 August 2010 17:37
Kit Kittrell
I have occasionally phoned, posted correspondence; I even sent a packet of FCA brochures to Andrew Hayes, the consumer representative for the Louisiana Board (the other eight are Industry). He never responded past our initial contact , where he voiced his concern about the high cost of funerals and his desire to help save people some money. I once called him about refrigeration and, honestly, he thought I was talking about the A/C!Having become a member of the Houston org., I dare say I'm the only consumer advocate he has ever encountered and the man has never, once contacted me. I dare to suggest that the man is totally out of his element or he might pursue, in keeping with open meeting statues, live taping of Board meetings, or mandating an annual GPL compliance review with mandatory updates of alterations. Let the staff attorney reviewing said GPL's rather than trotting off to the Capital to lobby against casket retailing or consumer funeral insurance issues. I would suggest that in a state where caskets sales are limited to a cartel, that said cartel might be compelled to provide, rather than the handful of caskets mandated by statute, a full color catalog (yes, we've all seen them) of a vast variety of caskets of varying price and style available overnight from a warehouse in Alexandria (mid-state) which all licensees pay to maintain. Monopoly with a price.
2 Friday, 20 August 2010 13:53
Eaton Kittrell
Contacted the Board after reviewing their most recently posted minutes. They have issued subpoenas to staff at Angola state prison as relates to practicing funeral directing without a license. I read a moving feature article sometime back in the Advocate, our Baton Rouge paper, about prisoner hospice and aftercare by the inmates themselves. Caskets crafted in their woodworking shop, a horse-drawn hearse, and simple burial on prison property is what drew the interest of the Board. Gotta pay a FD in there somewhere. So it goes. K
3 Friday, 20 August 2010 14:07
Josh Slocum
Kit, really? That's just unbelievable. What is wrong with these guys?
4 Friday, 20 August 2010 15:52
Eaton Kittrell
Greed, in the absence of any moral compass. The demographics of the Boomer Curve within a political environment which embraces regulatory capture has a compelling allure. Our state is undergoing a ethical epiphany in some ways but change comes slowly. Our governor, Bobby Jindal, sponsored sunshine legislation in this vain for the state's elected officials but rejected efforts to include his office( the budget must be a secret process). I hope to keep stoking the fire of citizen ire created by the media storm re/ The Abbey-IJ suit. Many comments about tracking down the elected officials who perpetuate this situation and holding them responsible. Keeping up the Good Fight. K
5 Wednesday, 27 October 2010 21:40
John Volkmann
Its a dam shame. The state that I love, would do this to the Catholic Church. I am a Funeral Director now living in Alabama. I think what the Catholic church needs to do is open Catholic Funeral Homes within the Catholic Cemetery ..Louisiana you need to obey Church law ..Louisiana you do not rule over the Catholic Church. John D. Volkmann FD
6 Tuesday, 21 June 2011 10:39
Nate
I may not understand everything; But I do know how to compromise. How hard would it be for the Abbey to employ a FD just for thePete's sake. Shoot, I'd help them for free, but I'm not LA licensed. Come on; Any takers?
7 Tuesday, 21 June 2011 10:59
Josh Slocum
Trouble is, Nate, there's nothing to compromise about. There's no justifiable reason to require funeral directors to be in charge of selling caskets. None. It's pure protectionism.

Add your comment

Your name:
Comment: