Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Funeral Policy Restriction

By | November 19, 2012

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled the there was nothing improper about pre-need funeral services contracts written by Waller Funeral Home that forbid their transfer to another provider.

Coleman Funeral Home had challenged the prohibition, losing in Lafayette County Circuit Court in 2011. The Supreme Court ruled against Coleman but returned the case to Lafayette County for another trial on damages.

Both funeral homes are in Oxford.

Pre-need contracts allow the living to pay in advance for their own final arrangements. Mississippi started regulating pre-need contracts in 2002, becoming one of the last states to do so.

Coleman and the late Aubrey Parham, who previously had contracted with Waller for prepaid funeral services, sued Waller asking the trial court to find that the prepaid funeral services contracts issued by Waller to its customers were transferable.

Coleman said Waller’s policies were unclear, while Waller argued its policies specifically said the contract could not be transferred to another funeral home.

“There is no error on the part of the trial court in finding the contracts irrevocable and nontransferable,” Justice Jim Kitchens wrote in the Supreme Court decision.

In oral arguments before the court in September, Hale Freeland, the attorney for Coleman Funeral Home, said consumers should be able to transfer such prearranged funeral services between providers as they wish.

Freeland said the consumer’s right to transfer a pre-need contract is part of an industry standard that the jury was not allowed to consider.

“You cannot contract as to maintain a monopoly. There is no dispute that they have the majority of the market but you can’t cut out competition,” Freeland said of Waller.

Cal Mayo, representing Waller Funeral Home, said the contract was whatever the two parties agreed it would be.

“Unless it’s illegal … the parties are free to contract like they want. If they want to do something different (from the industry standard) they can do that,” Mayo said during the oral arguments.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. did not participate in the case. His uncle founded Waller Funeral Home in 1977.

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