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Media Alerts - Heffner v. Murphy - Third Circuit
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February 22, 2014
  Heffner v. Murphy - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Upholds Various Provisions of the Funeral Directors Law as Constitutional

Area of Law: Constitutional Law

Issue(s) Presented: Whether certain provisions of the Funeral Directors Law are unconstitutional?

Brief Summary:
Pennsylvania Board of Funeral Directors ("Board") appealed the grant of summary judgment by the District Court based on its conclusion that several provisions of the Funeral Directors Law (FDL) are unconstitutional. The suit was originally brought by people involved in Pennsylvania's "death care industry," e.g. owners and operators of funeral homes, alleging that certain provisions of the FDL were unconstitutional. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's determination that certain provisions of the FDL were unconstitutional, because it believed the District Court based its decision on the determination that the provisions were antiquated.

Significance (if any): The FDL, which regulates the funeral home industry, is constitutional and will remain in effect.

Extended Summary (if applicable):
Pennsylvania Board of Funeral Directors ("Board") appealed the grant of summary judgment by the District Court based on its conclusion that several provisions of the Funeral Director Law (FDL) are unconstitutional. The suit was originally brought by people involved in Pennsylvania's "death care industry," e.g. owners and operators of funeral homes, alleging that certain provisions of the FDL were unconstitutional. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's determination that certain provisions of the FDL were unconstitutional, because it believes the District Court based its decision on the determination that the provisions were antiquated.

The FDL was enacted in 1952 to provide for better protection of life and health of the citizens of Pennsylvania by requiring regulation, licensure, and registration of persons and corporations engaging in care, preparation, and disposition of deceased persons. The Board enforces the FDL. In May 2008, the Plaintiffs initiated this suit against the Board, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 for alleged violations of their rights under the U.S. Constitution (specifically, the Commerce Clause, Contract Clause, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause). The District Court largely agreed that the provisions were unconstitutional, and struck down provisions that: (1) permit warrantless inspections of funeral establishments by the Board; (2) limit the number of establishments in which a funeral director may possess an ownership interest; (3) restrict the capacity of unlicensed individuals and certain entities to hold ownership interests in a funeral establishment; (4) restrict the number of funeral establishments in which a funeral director may practice his/her profession; (5) require every funeral establishment to have a licensed full-time supervisor; (6) require funeral establishments to have a "preparation room;" (7) prohibit the service of food in a funeral establishment; (8) prohibit the use of trade names by funeral homes; (9) govern the trusting of monies advanced pursuant to pre-need contracts for merchandise; and (10) prohibit the payment of commissions to agents or employees.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's determination that these provisions violated the Constitution, concluding that the District Court wrongly granted summary judgment to the Plaintiffs. In determining that the FDL did not violate the Fourth Amendment, the Court considered the Board's reliance on the "well recognized exception" to the warrant requirement that applies to highly regulated industries. The Court relied on the fact that death is not restricted to normal business hours or workdays, which gives compelling reasoning for this industry to be so regulated. Furthermore, the Court determined that the FDL adequately limited government official's actions with respect to these warrantless searches, and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Next, the Court undertook its Commerce Clause analysis, and stated that the potential for consumer abuse and fraud in any scheme that allows merchants to accept payment for goods and services that will not be tendered until some future date is painfully obvious. Thus, the Court easily departed with the District Court's conclusion that the trust requirement of the FDL results in a constitutional deprivation. Finally, the Court considered the Plaintiffs' contention that the Board's interpretation of the FDL's trust provisions violates the Constitution's Contract Clause by impairing pre-need contracts between the Plaintiffs and their customers. The Court found that the Plaintiffs' Contract Clause arguments fail as a matter of law for two obvious reasons. First, the Plaintiffs have not even shown that there was a change in state law. Second, even if the Plaintiffs could show that the Board's proposed regulation had the force of law, the Board's reinterpretation of the FDL would not implicate the Contract Clause. Thus, the Third Circuit reversed the District Court's determination that various provisions of the FLD were unconstitutional.
The full opinion is available at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/123591p.pdf

Panel (if known): McKee, Chief Judge, Ambro and Greenberg, Circuit Judges

Argument (if known): June 11, 2013

Date of Issued Opinion: February 19, 2014

Docket Number: 12-3591

Decided: February 19, 2014

Case Alert Author: Alexandra Perry

Counsel (if known):
James K. Kutz (argued)
Jason G. Benion
Post & Schell, P.C.
17 North Second Street, 12th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101

Counsel for Appellees

Kathleen G. Kane, Attorney General
John G. Knorr, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General (argued)
Maryanne M. Lewis, Senior Deputy Attorney General
Office of Attorney General
15th Floor, Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Counsel for Appellants

Author of Opinion: McKee, Chief Judge

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 02/22/2014 10:24 AM     3rd Circuit  

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