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Cemeteries Right to Exclusively Install Memorials Upheld by Federal District Court in Alabama?

Posted by Atty. Harvey I. Lapin on October 1, 2014

  There have been numerous court decisions over the years since the author became involved in the industry dealing with the rights of a cemetery to have its employees exclusively install memorials and monuments on the cemetery’s property purchased by space owners from the cemetery or third parties. Recently the U.S. District for the Northern District of Alabama in the case of Clark Memorials of Alabama, Inc. v. SCI Alabama Funeral Services LLC d/b/a Elwood Cemetery and Mausoleum, 991 F. Supp. 2d 1151 (Jan., 2014) considered a challenge to a cemetery’s policy.

  Clark Memorials brought the action alleging that the Cemetery’s exclusive memorial and monument installation policy constituted illegal monopolizing or attempting to monopolize in violation of the federal Sherman Act and state law. Clark also alleged that the Cemetery interfered with its contractual relationships and interfered with its prospective economic advantages. Clark additionally alleged violations of the state’s laws. The Cemetery moved to dismiss the case.

  The Court explained the process used by Clark Memorials to sell and install monuments and memorials. The Court also described the Cemetery’s operation, SCI’s ownership of nine cemeteries in Alabama and the implementation of the policy that consumers would be charged an installation fee if they purchase a monument or memorial from an independent third party.

  The Court then discussed the Standard for Review and the requirements for asserting a monopolizing or attempted monopolization claim. The Court noted the starting point for both claims was to determine the relevant market and then to see if a defendant had or could acquire a sufficient market share to satisfy the claims. Other factors to consider were that the conduct of a defendant tying the sale of a product on a condition that another product or service be purchased and a unilateral refusal to deal with the complaining party.

  The Court in its extensive opinion reviewed the facts as alleged by Clark and the applicable laws. It determined that Clark had not alleged the necessary facts required to support its claim under the federal laws. The Court also held that that the state claims did not have to be considered because the federal claims had been dismissed.

  The Court granted the motion to dismiss holding that:

(1)   Clark failed to established the Cemetery’s policy requiring that all memorials on burial spaces be installed by cemetery staff was an illegal tying arrangement, and

(2)   Clark failed to establish that the Cemetery was essential to competing in the installation or sale of memorials in the geographic market.

(3)   Clark failed to establish the Cemetery had established a monopoly or attempted to establish a monopoly.

  While this is an interesting opinion, it is not known if it will be of precedent value in the future.


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