Can the government make Minnesota entrepreneurs do useless things just to be in business? On October 9, the Second Judicial District answered with a resounding “no,” giving the Institute for Justice a major state constitutional victory. The court’s ruling struck down Minnesota’s embalming rooms law that required every funeral home in the state to have an embalming room—whether they needed it or not.
On December 10, 2013, that victory became final when the government declined to appeal the decision, paving the way for funeral-home entrepreneurs to build and expand their businesses without useless government interference.
The case began in January 2012 when 27-year-old funeral home entrepreneur Verlin Stoll teamed up with IJ to challenge Minnesota’s requirement that he waste $30,000 building an embalming room that he would never use as a condition of expanding his low-cost funeral businesses.
The case ultimately culminated in a two-day trial in March of this year where, in typical IJ fashion, we placed our client front and center. Verlin testified that his funeral home, Crescent Tide, offers the lowest funeral service prices in the state and that he would like to expand his low-cost model to a larger audience, particularly the underserved African-American community.
Verlin explained that being forced to build an embalming room in his second funeral home is irrational because he can do all of the embalming work at his first funeral home. For Verlin, who has carved a niche for himself by cutting costs, being required to spend $30,000 on an embalming room he would never use would force him to raise his prices.
In what proved to be a particularly effective strategy at trial, IJ also called the government’s expert, the state epidemiologist, as our own witness. He testified that there can be no health and safety concerns for embalming rooms that are never used, crushing the government’s argument that embalming rooms are necessary to protect the public.
In a victory for Minnesota entrepreneurs, the court ruled that it is unconstitutional for Minnesota to require Verlin to build an embalming room that will never be used for anything.
The court’s opinion stated that Minnesota’s embalming room law “constitutes an irrational exercise of the state’s police power.”
While Verlin is thrilled with his victory and looks forward to expanding his very busy funeral home, he is more excited about the consequences his victory will have for other hardworking Minnesota entrepreneurs. The first thing Verlin said after learning about the victory was that “it will also open doors for entrepreneurs in other areas who are crushed by pointless requirements in their industries.” Here, at IJ, we certainly agree with Verlin and look forward to pursuing future challenges to regulations that impose useless requirements on entrepreneurs.
Katelynn McBride is an IJ attorney.
Article updated December 13, 2013