Friday, May 09, 2008

Cremation Society Settlement

On April 14, 2008, the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association and the Cremation Society of Pennsylvania, Inc. announced a settlement in an ongoing dispute regarding the rendering of cremation services by CSP in Pennsylvania.

The dispute traces back to complaints filed with regulators in 1999. In the absence of any regulatory action, litigation later was filed by private parties -- first by an individual funeral home operator, and then by PFDA, against CSP.

According to an article entitled "Scottdale funeral director seeks to shut down Cremation Society", by Paul Peirce, published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on July 22, 2004, the first litigation questioned CSP's legal license to market and perform cremation services.

A Harrisburg business has been sued by a Westmoreland County funeral director who contends the self-proclaimed "oldest and largest cremation provider in Pennsylvania" is actually an unlicensed funeral facility that has been operating illegally for more than 22 years.

Scottdale funeral director Robert B. Ferguson Jr. is asking Common Pleas Court Judge William J. Ober for an injunction to shut down the Cremation Society of Pennsylvania Inc. because it is not operated by a licensed funeral director as required under the state's Funeral Directors Law.

"Without question, the society has been working in the field of funeral directing, but it is not a licensed facility as required under state law. I feel this lawsuit is crucial to the integrity of all proper, legally licensed companies which are in the business of funeral directing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the Dauphin County company claims on its Web site that it has more than 28,000 pre-arranged cremation contracts statewide.

"We feel all 28,000 contracts are illegal because the Cremation Society of Pennsylvania is not a properly licensed business," Ferguson said. "What really gets me are its ads that state, 'Why call a funeral home when you can call us.'"

Ferguson said he opted to pursue legal action against the firm because the state board of funeral directors has failed to take a decisive action on a complaint he originally filed with the regulating agency in 1999. The state funeral directors' licensing board falls under the Department of State. * * *

The initial lawsuit was followed by a second one filed in August, 2004, by a member organization of some Pennsylvania funeral directors: "PFDA filed suit in August against the Cremation Society of Pennsylvania, the Veterans Cremation Society and Dale A. Auer, owner of the two companies". See: "PA Funeral Directors Association Assists Consumers to Guard against Fraud", posted August 31, 2004.

and CSP appear to have settled the dispute finally, specifically addressing the "pre-need" cremation packages sold by CSP, as described in the Press Release, dated April 14, 2008, issued by PFDA, entitled "The Cremation Society of Pennsylvania Agrees To Cease Marketing Of Pre-Need Cremation Services -- Legal Settlement Agreement Recently Reached".

The parties have agreed to publish a notice to members of the Cremation Society who have executed pre-need cremation contracts advising the members of the opportunity to negotiate a new pre-need cremation contract with a licensed funeral director if they choose to do so.

If a member does not choose to negotiate a new contract, the existing pre-need contract with the Cremation Society will be performed by Auer Memorial Home and Cremation Services, Inc.

In the event a new pre-need cremation contract is executed by a member, the Cremation Society of Pennsylvania will take the appropriate actions to change the terms of the pre-need cremation contract and will take all steps necessary to transfer all funds, plus interest to the selected funeral home.

The PFDA Press Release concluded with this advice: "If consumers have any questions, they can contact Kathleen K. Ryan, Esq. at the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association by calling 1-800-692-6068."

I viewed the "Cremation" webpage (updated 05/08/08) of Auer Memorial Home and Cremation Services, Inc., but did not find reference to this settlement. However, its "About Us" webpage notes the connection between CSP and Auer:

Auer Memorial Home and Cremation Service, Inc. has entered into a service agreement with the Cremation Society of Pennsylvania, the state's oldest and largest provider of direct cremation.

Currently, there are nearly 28,000 individuals pre-arranged with our organization.

Cremation Society of Pennsylvania, who performs most of the cremations for Auer Memorial Home and Cremation Service, Inc., utilizes a Ten Step Identification Process to guarantee the integrity of the cremated remains. * * *

Query: Given the announced settlement, isn't that last statement incorrect, as reversing the roles of CSP and Auer?

Update: 05/12/08:

In my original posting I had stated that, on July 12, 2005, the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors imposed regulatory sanctions in a proceeding against CSP. I was made aware this afternoon that CSP was never the subject of regulatory sanction over this issue. Thus, my statement was incorrect. Another cremation society with a similar name, but not CSP, was involved in such an action.

I revised the posting above by removal of that incorrect statement and of any references to regulatory action.