Maryland Funeral Homes
Brown v. Hovatter
Putting Maryland's Funeral Home Cartel To Rest
|IJ Client Charles S. Brown||
All Charles S. Brown wants is the chance to offer consumers the best service a funeral home can at the best price. But the State of Maryland is standing in his way.
Brown owns Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown, Md., and runs it with his wife Pat and their son Eric. Charles wants to own the funeral home he built in order to provide additional revenue to care for the gravesites in his cemetery when the cemetery itself is full.
The State of Maryland arbitrarily restricts who can own a funeral home. In Maryland, only licensed funeral directors and a handful of politically favored corporations and individuals may own a funeral home. Becoming a licensed funeral director takes two years of study and thousands of dollars. Among the many requirements of a mortuary science degree is learning how to embalm corpses. As a result, consumers pay more than they otherwise would, and opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs are blocked. These are among the reasons why the Institute for Justice filed a federal lawsuit seeking to break up the government-imposed cartel.
Maryland’s law is a racket designed to protect the state’s funeral cartel from competition, and that’s not a valid use of government authority. Federal District Judge Richard D. Bennett agreed, declaring the law unconstitutional and describing it as “the most blatantly anti-competitive state funeral regulation in the nation.” But the Fourth Circuit reversed Judge Bennett on the grounds that the movement of investment capital and profits across state lines was not “interstate commerce” within the meaning of the Constitution. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court declined to review that obviously erroneous ruling even though it was in direct conflict with Supreme Court precedent and with case law in several other circuits. As a result, Charles Brown and his fellow plaintiffs will have to go back to the same state legislature that refused to change this exploitative, unjust law for more than 15 years, and hope that this time legislators will finally choose to put the interests of hard-working consumers and entrepreneurs ahead of the Maryland funeral cartel.