A Federal District Court has invalidated many of Pennsylvania's existing funeral regulations including one that bans food during services.
Pennsylvania's Funeral Director Law (the “FDL”) was enacted in 1952 with a stated purpose of providing "for the better protection of life and health of the citizens of this Commonwealth by requiring and regulating the examination, licensure and registration of persons and registration of corporations engaging in the care, preparation and disposition of the bodies of deceased persons . . . .” 63 PA. STAT. ANN. § 479.1 (1952).
The Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors (the “Board”) issues regulations to implement the FDL. In accordance with the FDL the Board is composed of nine members, five of whom are licensed funeral directors. 63 PA. STAT. ANN. § 479.16(a).
A lawsuit (Heffner v. Murphy) was brought in federal court by a number of licensed funeral directors who claimed that the FDL and its regulations have not undergone significant change since their initial implementation even though the funeral directing industry has experienced massive changes since that time, a result of which has been increased competition in the industry. They asserted that the rise in competition has not been warmly received by established funeral directors such as those serving on the Board.
Thus, the Plaintiffs contended that the Board’s current interpretation of the FDL and regulations, which in some instances completely contradicts its past interpretations, is driven by an anti-competitive attitude that is aimed towards appropriating an even larger market share, if not an absolute monopoly. The Plaintiffs asserted that many of the Board's interpretations violate both the federal and state constitutions in various ways.
In a massive 159 page opinion, Federal District Court Judge John E. Jones III invalidated a number of the regulations. The Judge stated that "the statutory scheme of the FDL and the Board’s interpretation of this clearly outdated law, evince the urgent need for the Board to finally clarify and modernize the FDL, a request Plaintiffs, funeral directors, and cremation service providers have been requesting for some time."
While finding that many of the regulations fail to pass constitutional muster the Court noted that they may lend themselves to being redrawn in a way that does. Thus, the Court stayed its mandate for 90 days to provide the Funeral Board with an appropriate period of time to consider and possibly rectify the issues identified in the Court's opinion. The Court set up a conference call to be held on August 8, 2012 to determine whether additional action by the court will be required.
Heffner v. Murphy (USDC Middle District of PA, May 8, 2012)
Ruling Throws out decades-old funeral regulations