Louisiana regulators have decided to appeal a ruling in favor of casket-making monks that found a state law unconstitutional in giving funeral directors exclusive rights to sell caskets. The law has been criticized as a case of a powerful lobby getting politicians to snuff out their competition. Louisiana legislators caved into demands for the protective measures, but Judge Stanwood R. Duval, of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans found that the legislation did not even satisfy the low rational basis test. The regulators are now appealing to the Fifth Circuit.
The monks of the St. Joseph Abbey of Covington have made simple wood caskets to the chagrin of the funeral home lobby. For full disclosure, we buried my father in a casket made by monks on the East Coast. As a lifetime and accomplished wood worker, the simple but elegant casket was much preferred over the garish and gaudy things sold by funeral directors. It was a beautifully hand-made wooden coffin.
Duval saw the law as little more than a monopoly secured from politicians yielding to a well-heeled lobby. He found that “there is no rational basis for the State of Louisiana to require persons who seek to enter into the retailing of caskets to undergo the training and expense necessary to comply with these rules.”
In St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, Duval noted
With the advent of the internet, consumers can now buy caskets from retailers across the country including Wal-Mart and online retailers such as Amazon.com. (T.T. at 67). This fact is salient in that Louisianians can indeed purchase from these out of state retailers who are not subject to the Act. Indeed, with the exception of an April 13, 2009 Cease and Desist Order issued to National Memorial Planning, the EFD Board has not issued any other Cease and Desist orders to out-of state casket retailers in the last ten years. (Doc. 73, Pretrial Order, Uncontested Material Fact M, at 12). Thus, it is clear that Louisiana consumers are able to buy caskets from anyone out of state—from individuals that are not licensed funeral directors and companies that are not state-licensed funeral establishments. Equally clear is that they do not enjoy this right with respect to in-state retailers. In addition, the cost of these out of state caskets can be substantially less than most caskets offered by licensed funeral directors.
Now, the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, indicated that his clients will appeal. Of course, any physical requirements for caskets are spelled out by regulation and can be further articulated in code. However, the regulators insist that you need professionals in dealing with people who are grieving. Yet in his stinging decision, Judge Duval noted that “the only persons being protected are the funeral directors of Louisiana and their coffers.”