Oklahoma Caskets - Release: 2-13-2002

Federal Trade Commission Says Oklahoma Casket Monopoly Out of Step with Federal Regulations

Similar Monopolies Harm Consumers & Entrepreneurs in Nine Other States

PRESS RELEASE: February 13, 2002
CONTACT: (703) 682-9320

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
[Economic Liberty]    

Washington, D.C.—The Institute for Justice applauded the Federal Trade Commission for filing a brief last week in support of entrepreneurs challenging an Oklahoma law that bars them from selling caskets to Oklahoma consumers simply because the entrepreneurs are not licensed funeral directors. The FTC—which previously has issued regulations to protect the rights of consumers purchasing funeral merchandise—filed the brief to clarify that these regulations are not intended to stifle competition. But, the brief says, Oklahoma’s law does just that by limiting the casket market to licensed funeral directors.

The Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, represents Kim Powers and Dennis Bridges, owners of Memorial Concepts Online, in the federal lawsuit.

“Oklahoma is trying to cloak its anti-competitive casket licensing scheme in the mantle of the FTC’s funeral regulations, but the FTC’s brief completely undermines the State’s position,” said Clark Neily, Institute for Justice senior attorney. “As the FTC itself argues, competition and choices are good for consumers; being forced to do business with a state-mandated cartel is not.”

Memorial Concepts Online (www.memorialconceptsonline.com) provides high-quality caskets to consumers across the nation at a discount price. But the company cannot legally sell caskets to residents of Powers’ home state of Oklahoma, which, like nine other states, bans anyone other than licensed funeral directors from selling caskets and other funeral merchandise. The law effectively keeps competition to a minimum and drives up prices for Oklahoma consumers.

“Rather than promote consumer choice, [Oklahoma’s Funeral Services Licensing Act] forces consumers to purchase caskets from funeral directors,” says the FTC’s brief. “Whatever ends the FSLA can be said to be advocating, it is not advancing the ends of the FTC’s Funeral Rule.”

“Consumers making decisions during difficult times should not be at the mercy of a state-sponsored monopoly of funeral directors that marks up its caskets by as much as 600 percent,” Neily added. “Oklahoma’s protectionist scheme not only violates Kim and Dennis’s constitutional right to earn an honest living, it results in an unconscionable exploitation of consumers.”

Both IJ and the State of Oklahoma recently filed motions for summary judgment, urging the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma to resolve the case before trial. If the court does not grant those motions, the case is scheduled for trial in early November.

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