Washington Report 022003

Date Published: 
Original Author: 
Robert M. Fells
Original Publication: 
ICCFA Magazine

Oklahoma Federal Court Upholds State Casket Law Restriction 

by Robert M. Fells, Esq., general counsel
A U.S. district court in Oklahoma held that the state law restricting casket sales solely to licensed funeral directors was constitutional. This decision is a departure from other rulings, most recently by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Craigmiles v. Giles, which held that such laws are unconstitutional. The Oklahoma decision, Powers v. Harris, held that while the state law may be "unwise" and "paternalistic," the restriction was rationally related to the state's interest in protecting the public and thus constitutional.
Specifically, the judge in Powers stated, "The legislature may determine, without interference from the Due Process Clause [of the U.S. Constitution], that protection of the consumer lies in the creation of a cartel-like scheme for the protection of an industry."
The federal appeals court decision in Craigmiles held that there was no rational basis for the state of Tennessee to impose a similar restriction in its law. While the judge in the Oklahoma decision acknowledged the findings by the appeals court in Tennessee, he criticized the higher court's decision by claiming that it took "a less-than-disciplined approach" in striking down the Tennessee law.
Attorneys for the casket retailers in Oklahoma have said they plan to appeal the lower court's decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.