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Monks 1: Bier Barons: 0

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Finally. The US Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal from the state of Louisiana means it's now the law: You don't have to have a funeral directors license to sell coffins in the Bayou state. It's a little bittersweet; we were used to watching the state's undertaker's regulatory board playing Don Quixote for years against a group of monks who wanted only to build and sell wood coffins. Guess it's back to General Hospital for us. 

From the Associated Press:

NEW ORLEANS —Benedictine monks have won the final round in their lawsuit to keep selling caskets from their monastery outside New Orleans. Their attorney, Darpana Sheth, calls it a great victory for St. Joseph Abbey and for entrepreneurs nationwide.
Sheth says she learned Tuesday that the U.S. Supreme Court won't hear the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors' appeal.

A district judge and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had found no reasonable grounds for a regulation that only state-licensed funeral directors may sell coffins in Louisiana.

The 5th Circuit was the third federal appeals court to rule against similar laws or regulations. The 10th Circuit ruled in favor of them.

The funeral board referred a request for comment to its attorney, who did not immediately return a call.


Sad trombone. 


Last Updated ( Friday, 22 November 2013 13:14 )

When the state protects the industry from the consumer

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—Gere Fulton, president, FCA of South Carolina

Last spring The State newspaper published an op-ed column that I wrote about the persecution of a local tradesman who was being threatened by two state government entities for building and selling wooden caskets. (Circling the Hearses, May 2, 2013) Mike White, a farrier by trade, had been issued Cease and Desist orders by both the Board of Funeral Service (BFS) and the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), and was being threatened with a fine of up to $10,000 by the latter if he didn't stop selling his $300 simple wooden caskets to families who wanted to bury their dead on farmland in Swansea. In a step that some might regard as extortion, the DCA informed him that he could avoid going to trial by immediate payment of $750. In essence it was "Pay now and this will go away...or you could hire a lawyer and take your chances at trial."


Embalming rooms no longer universally required in Minnesota

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The Minnesota District court sided with the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota and Verlin Stoll, owner of the low-cost Crescent Tide Funerals and Cremation, striking down the state's requirement that every funeral home or branch have a fully equipped embalming room. The requirement served no rational purpose, the court ruled, especially in situations where a funeral home sales branch would not have on-site body preparation. Owner Verlin Stoll argued successfully that the $50,000 to $80,000 cost to build an embalming room served no public protection purpose. Instead, it served to limit competition among funeral homes by weeding out low-overhead, moderate-priced businesses like Crescent Tide. 

The court decision noted,

Minnesota law requires every “funeral establishment” to build a preparation and embalming room, regardless of whether on-site preparation of human remains will be performed on site. Although Minnesota law mandates the construction of a preparation and embalming room by every funeral establishment, there is no requirement that the preparation and embalming room be used.  

Indeed, embalming is not required by law in Minnesota (no, not even for public viewing); other options such as dry ice and refrigeration are legal alternatives. 

Once again,  the team at the Institute for Justice escorted another antique, anti-consumer funeral regulation to a proper burial. Hats off to IJ and the volunteers at FCA of Minnesota!

Last Updated ( Friday, 22 November 2013 13:15 )

Hall of Shame: Klamath Tribute Center

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beckafoxbeckafoxCheryl Fox's 20-year-old daughter, Becka Fox, took her own life in April of 2013. One can hardly imagine a more horrible event in a family's life. The disorganized lack of professionalism on the part of the funeral home to whom Cheryl entrusted Becka is salt in a very raw wound. As you'll see from the email exchange below, Cheryl's requests of the funeral home are reasonable and she's been far more patient than most parents in her position would be. We hope that by publicizing Cheryl's story that the people at Klamath Tribute Center will be motivated to remedy the situation. 

In chronological order, here are the emails between Cheryl Fox, Tim Lancaster (funeral director at Klamath Tribute Center), and Klamath Tribute Center owner Bob Gordon. They detail numerous errors on Becka's death certificate which caused the family delays in getting important affairs settled, charges for services the family didn't order, and the failed delivery of keepsake thumbprints from Becka's thumb that the family ordered. 

Last Updated ( Friday, 22 November 2013 13:15 ) Read more...

Radio Curious: Death in the Private Sphere

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Ukiah, California attorney Barry Vogel hosts this radio series. Vogel recently won a case for a client who buried his wife on their private property. Mendocino County claimed the burial was illegal, but Vogel and his client prevailed. 

Barry interviewed me for this two-part program (be sure to listen to part one too, which features Lisa Carlson). Unlike most interviews, we got to talk about more than the nuts and bolts of funeral shopping. Instead we talked about how Americans—who famously describe ourselves as independent and self-sufficient—become curiously passive when state regulators and the commercial funeral industry intrude on their rights to take on family funeral care privately, without hiring a business. If cultural attitudes about death, privacy, and autonomy float your boat, this is the interview for you!

Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 September 2013 17:06 )

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