Judge Dumps Minnesota Funeral Home Red Tape as "Irrational Policy"

A bad policy is now pushing up daisies

MINNEAPOLIS — Requiring funeral homes to install expensive equipment it will never use is an “irrational policy that serves no legitimate governmental objective,” a Minnesota judge says.

On Wednesday, Judge John Guthmann ruled in favor of plaintiffs who were challenging an onerous state law requiring funeral homes to install equipment for embalming dead bodies, even when those funeral homes do not use the equipment. The requirement stifles competition and increases prices for consumers by requiring funeral homes to spend $30,000 on unnecessary equipment, the plaintiffs in the case argued.

In striking down the embalming room requirement, Guthmann said it “constitutes an irrational exercise of the state’s police power” and violates the state constitution.

The challenge was brought by Verlin Stoll, who owns and operates Crescent Tides funeral home in the Minneapolis suburbs.  He performs low-cost, no-frills funeral services and claimed the state law was harming his business model.

“The result is great for us and I am confident it will also open doors for entrepreneurs in other areas who are crushed by pointless requirements in their industries,” said Stoll in a statement.

Stoll’s funeral home provides funeral and burial services for $1,600, far less than the average cost of $4,000 for the Twin Cities.  He has embalming equipment — though he does not use it — at his first location, but he wanted to expand to a second location without having to spend $30,000 on more pointless equipment.

The case went to trial in March.

In court, the Minnesota Department of Health argued the requirement was necessary to protect public health.

But during the trial, experts provided by the department admitted that there was no benefit to having embalming equipment in a funeral home if it was never used.  There is no requirement in state law for corpses to be embalmed, and funeral homes are allowed to outsource embalming services to third parties.

Since Stoll outsources all of his embalming to third parties, there is no reason for him to install the expensive, and useless, equipment, Guthmann wrote in the ruling.

“This ruling affirms that the government can’t make you do useless things just to be in business,” said Katelynn McBride, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that represented Stoll in court.

In defending the law, the department also tried to argue that the embalming room requirement helped prevent fraud by ensuring only legitimate funeral homes entered the market, but Guthmann said that claim seemed “to have been condensed out of thin air with absolutely nothing to back it up.”

The state Department of Health declined to comment on Wednesday’s ruling. It has 60 days to file an appeal.

Odd and unnecessary laws for funeral homes have been under assault in several states in recent years.

Last year, a federal judge in Pennsylvania struck down 11 parts of the state funeral code — including a similar requirement for embalming rooms in all funeral homes — as a “protectionist regime” that served to stifled competition and unnecessarily increase prices for consumers.

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  • Caleb Turberville||

    Any state in the Union allow you to build your own damn box and have visitation in your own home? I really don't have much sympathy for funeral homes unless you're legally allowed to bypass it for other options.

  • Ted S.||

    Given a choice, I'd prefer to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the forest behind my house. Unfortunately, it's 1000 acres of stste land, and I have a feeling they'd have a conniption fit about scattering ashes in their precious state forest (which is of course partially mine as a taxpaying citizen).

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    It could be completely yours if it was allowed to be homesteaded, which it rightfully should.

    Scattering ashes should be no thing. Just walk in, dump pail, walk out. Park operators regularly dump hundreds of tons of gravel and mulch from foreign locations around the place, so what's the big deal with a bit of pure carbon flakes?

  • Frank_Carbonni||

    Because Fuck You, That's Why?

  • Ted S.||

    Any reason this was posted twice?

    Trying to drive up page views?

  • ||

    About those embalming rooms/equipment. Why did the government try to pass it? Cui bono?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    It serves as a barrier to entry, so it's clearly benefitting already-established funeral homes.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    How in the world is embalming going to help public health? Only a tiny fraction of deaths in the US these days happen because of a contagious disease, and even then basic burial practices should take care of it.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Embalming was never actually about public health.

    It was to make sure the deceased was really dead and would not "come back to life" after it was buried.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Fucking funeral homes, scum of the earth.

    "Just because we're bereaved doesn't make us saps! GOD DAMN IT."

  • Robert||

    I wonder how many states have constitutional provisions that operate as above? Vs. how many have constitutions that allow whatever gov't can do to help as few as a single person at the expense of everybody else in the state?

    I.e. are there any state constitutions that say something like, "The legislature shall have the power to enact beneficial laws."? And you can argue that "beneficial" doesn't mean it has to benefit most people, but just someone in the state, somewhere, no matter what the cost to everyone else and their cousin?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    The Equal Protection Clause forecloses that possibility, unless govt can show it has a rational basis for believing that the law serves a legitimate govt interest.

  • Jquip||

    What you mean is that the Rationalized Basis Test has replaced legal reasoning about the Equal Protection Clause.

  • Jquip||

    Eh. Business licenses are the definition of the government requiring you to do useless things to be in business.

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