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Media Alerts - St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille - Fifth Circuit
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March 21, 2013
  St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille - Fifth Circuit
Headline: Fifth Circuit Invalidates Louisiana Regulations Granting Funeral Homes the Exclusive Right to Sell Caskets.

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Administrative Law

Issue Presented: Whether Louisiana's regulatory regime granting funeral homes an exclusive right to sell caskets survives rational-basis review under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Brief Summary: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Louisiana's statutes and regulations restricting casket sales were unconstitutional because they violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The regulations at issue prohibited the intrastate sale of caskets to the public except through licensed funeral homes. The court found that the regulations violated the Fourteenth Amendment because they did not meet the minimum standard of "bearing a rational relation to a constitutionally permissible objective." The state failed to establish that the regulations were rationally related to a legitimate state interest in consumer protection or public safety. The regulations merely protected the funeral industry from competition, which the court deemed an inadequate justification.

Significance: The Fifth Circuit held that Louisiana's restriction on casket sales was unconstitutional.

Extended Summary: St. Joseph Abbey, an Abbey of the Benedictine Order of the Catholic Church in Louisiana, relies on income from St. Joseph Woodworks, a business organized to sell caskets made by the monks of St. Joseph Abbey directly to the public. The Woodworks, however, was operating in contravention of Louisiana law, which requires that all intrastate casket sales to the public be made only by a state-licensed funeral director at a state-licensed funeral home. The Woodworks neither employed a state-licensed funeral director nor was it a state-licensed funeral home. In December of 2007, the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which enforces the relevant statutes and regulations, demanded that the Woodworks cease selling caskets to the public.

A few years later, the Abbey filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The Abbey sought to enjoin the Board from further enforcing the casket regulations because those regulations violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. After a bench trial, the district court found for the Abbey and enjoined the Board from further enforcing the regulations. The district court concluded that the regulations violated the Fourteenth Amendment because the Board failed to show a rational relationship between the regulations and any legitimate state interest. The Board then appealed.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court began its analysis by holding that the goal of protecting an industry from competition is an inadequate justification for regulation, even under the lenient rational-basis test that applies to economic legislation. The court also rejected the Board's arguments that the regulations were rationally related to the legitimate state interests of protecting consumers and public health. The court found that the regulations were not rationally related to protecting consumers because funeral directors are supposed to help customers select a casket regardless of where they buy it; further, there was no evidence that the regulations were necessary to protect against the risk of abuses by third-party casket sellers. The court also found that the regulations were not rationally related to protecting public health because of the dearth of related regulations.

For the full opinion, please see: http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/op...1/11-30756-CV1.wpd.pdf.

Panel: Circuit Judges Higginbotham, Haynes, and Higginson

Argument Date: 06/07/2012

Date of Issued Opinion: 03/20/2013

Docket Number: No. 11-30756

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Louis Holzer and Brandon Hindmarsh

Counsel: Scott G. Bullock, Institute for Justice, for Plaintiffs-Appellees St. Joseph Abbey & Mark Coudrain. Walter Rimmer Woodruff, Jr., Bopp Law Corporation, for Defendants-Appellants the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

Author of Opinion: Judge Higginbotham

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl

    Posted By: Aaron Bruhl @ 03/21/2013 02:36 PM     5th Circuit  

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