Casket Salesmen Required to Have Embalming Expertise

The Tennessee Board of Funeral Directors ordered closed a casket business offering 30 to 50 percent discounts off competitors’ prices because its owner – a Baptist pastor – was not a licensed funeral director, as is mandated under Tennessee law.

Casket Salesmen Required to Have Embalming Expertise

After his mother-in-law’s funeral, Nathaniel Craigmiles saw the exact casket that had cost him $3,200 in Tennessee selling for only $800 in a New York City store.

Craigmiles, pastor of Marble Top Missionary Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, saw a good business opportunity. He opened his own casket store and set his prices 30 to 50 percent below what other Tennessee casket dealers were charging.

After the business was open one week, however, the Tennessee Board of Funeral Directors ordered Craigmiles to stop selling caskets. If he refused to stop, Craigmiles risked having his business shut down, the imposition of fines and, possibly, a jail sentence. That’s because Tennessee law states that anyone who sells a casket must also be a licensed funeral director. To accomplish this, one must go through two years of training (which costs thousands of dollars), embalm 25 bodies and pass a license exam.

Craigmiles filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, arguing that Tennessee’s regulation violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Chief Judge R. Allan Edgar agreed, saying consumers should have a choice when purchasing caskets and ruling that the requirement of a license to sell a casket was illegal. Edgar also said caskets sold by funeral directors are marked up between 250 and 400 percent, with some examples as high as a 600 percent markup.

The state of Tennessee appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio. That court found the only difference between caskets sold by individual retailers and the Tennessee Board of Funeral Directors was the cost. The court ruled unanimously in favor of Craigmiles, and he was allowed to re-open his business.

“The government’s good old boy network drove me into bankruptcy, but now I’ll finally be able to help my parishioners and others cut their funeral costs,” said Craigmiles.

Source: Institute for Justice

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