News: CJ Exclusives

Appeals Court Upholds Regulation

Lower court had ruled state regulation of casket sales unconstitutional

The N.C. Court of Appeals has overturned a lower-court ruling finding state regulations on pre-need (before death) casket sales to be unconstitutional.

The North Carolina Board of Mortuary Science filed suit against Crown Memorial Park, L.L.C, a cemetery that the agency contended was engaged in pre-need casket sales without a license. The case came before Superior Court Judge Richard D. Boner in 2002. At trial, Crown Memorial Park argued that existing state regulations should be declared unconstitutional, as limiting casket sales to licensed funeral establishments was not rationally related to the state’s interest in protecting its citizens and unreasonably deprived the defendant of the right to engage in business.

Boner agreed, and found “[t]here [was] no reasonable distinction between the pre-need sale of caskets by licensed funeral establishments and the pre-need sale of caskets by licensed cemeteries that are willing to be licensed for pre-need sales and to submit to regulation of such sales.” The agency appealed.

The appeals court came to a different conclusion than the lower court.

“Because of this inherent flux concerning when the beneficiary may die (and, therefore when the performance of the parties under the retail sales contracts may occur), we find the pre-need sale of funeral merchandise sufficiently distinct from other businesses to permit governmental regulation,” wrote Judge Ann Marie Calabria for the court. “Moreover, we recognize the State’s legitimate interest in protecting the investments of its citizens who purchase expensive funeral services and goods potentially years in advance of delivery. Accordingly, the State may take reasonable measures to effectuate the protection of that interest.”

The court also found that the regulations were rational, related to the aims they were to advance.

Crown Memorial Park also argued that the regulations could have been better designed. The Court of Appeals was, again, unpersuaded. “We note that, under the rational relation test, it is immaterial whether this Court or an individual could devise a more precise or perfect fit between the espoused goal and the means chosen to effectuate that goal… The two need only be reasonably related, and our holding makes clear that they are.”

The case is N.C. Bd. of Mortuary Science v. Crown Mem’l Park, L.L.C., (02-1562)

Michael Lowrey is associate editor of Carolina Journal.