Funeral Home Entrepreneurs Have Their Day in Court

John Kramer
John Kramer · September 10, 2007

Arlington, Va.—At a 2:00pm hearing today, the Institute for Justice will ask the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to declare as unconstitutional a Maryland law that arbitrarily restricts funeral home ownership. The national, public interest law firm will argue on behalf of four entrepreneurs seeking to open the funeral home market in Maryland that the power of government is being used by an elitist funeral home cartel to keep out competitors and drive up prices.

“All our clients want is to exercise their right to earn an honest living by offering consumers the best service at the best price,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Clark Neily, who serves as lead counsel.

Filed on March 1, 2006, the suit challenges Maryland’s law that allows only licensed funeral directors and a handful of specially favored corporations and individuals to own a funeral home. Last October, the same federal court in Baltimore denied the state’s attempt to dismiss the suit.

The hearing will afford the Court an opportunity to question attorneys from the Institute for Justice and attorneys representing the Maryland State Board of Morticians about motions for final judgment that both sides filed in late spring.

In a case with far-reaching implications, Institute attorneys will argue that the U.S. Constitution does not allow government to violate economic liberty—the right of individuals to earn an honest living free from unreasonable regulations—simply to enrich industry insiders. The evidence conclusively shows that this law has no public benefits, significantly suppresses competition and drives up the average funeral cost by as much as $800.

“The Federal Trade Commission, the Maryland Department of Health and the nation’s leading funeral industry economist all agree that this law is a pointless restraint on trade that clobbers consumers,” added IJ Staff Attorney Jeff Rowes. “The only entity to support this outrageous law has been the industry lobbying group, the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association.”

The Institute represents four entrepreneurs: Charles Brown is the owner of Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown; Joe Jenkins is a third-generation licensed funeral director in Landover; Gail Manuel owns and operates Trinity Memorial Gardens Cemetery and Mausoleum in Waldorf; Brian Chisholm is a resident of Florida and a Maryland-licensed funeral director.

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought discriminatory government regulation. These cases include the nation’s leading legal battle to reestablish the American ideal of economic liberty when, on May 16, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down discriminatory state shipping laws that hampered small wineries as well as their consumers. IJ also secured the first federal appeals court victory for economic liberty since the New Deal.

IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor concluded, “Small businesses are the heart of the American economy and the American Dream. Yet across the nation, the power of government is being abused to deny entrepreneurs their right to earn an honest living. The Institute for Justice will not rest until this fundamental right—the right to economic liberty—is secure for all Americans.”

Media: download high-res photos from our case launch



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