Restland Funeral Homes, Inc. of Dallas and four of its subsidiary funeral homes will pay a $121,600 civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they failed to provide customers with itemized general price lists and other information required by the FTC's Funeral Rule. According to the FTC, this is the largest civil penalty in the history of the Funeral Rule enforcement. The Funeral Rule is designed to ensure that consumers receive price lists and know they can purchase only the goods and services they want or need. Under the terms of the settlement, in addition to paying the civil penalty, the defendants have agreed to participate in a Funeral Rule training program and to send an itemized written statement of funeral goods and services selected to each consumer who purchased a preneed plan between 1987 and 1989.
The FTC's Funeral Rule was promulgated in 1984 and revised in 1994. The rule requires funeral homes to give consumers a copy of an itemized general price list that they can use to comparison shop and to make certain disclosures about funeral goods and services. The rule also makes clear that consumers do not have to buy a package deal. It requires funeral homes to give consumers itemized lists of the goods and services they have selected so that they can be sure they are paying only for the items chosen or for items required by state law. A free FTC brochure for consumers, titled "Funerals: A Consumer Guide," provides additional information about consumers' rights when planning funerals. Copies are available at the address below.
In December 1991, the FTC filed its complaint in federal district court detailing the charges against Restland Funeral Homes, Inc., a subsidiary of Stewart Enterprises, Inc., of Metairie, Louisiana. The complaint also named: Laurel Land Funeral Home of Fort Worth, Inc.; Singing Hills Funeral Home, Inc. (based in Dallas); Bluebonnet Hills Funeral Home, Inc. (based in Colleyville, Texas); and Laurel Land Funeral Home Inc. of Dallas. The FTC alleged that the defendants violated the Funeral Rule by failing to provide customers with itemized general price lists, casket price lists and outer burial container price lists; itemized written statements of funeral goods and services selected; the required disclosures regarding charges and legal, crematory, or cemetery requirements; and the required disclosures regarding embalming when a fee for embalming was charged.
Under the settlement of the charges, the defendants agree to pay the $121,600 civil penalty within five days after the settlement is approved by the court. In addition, the defendants agree to have each employee who sells funeral goods and services participate, for a period of five years, in a court-ordered Funeral Rule training program administered by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) and to submit their price lists and other forms covered by the rule to NFDA for review.
The settlement also requires the defendants to send itemized written statements of funeral goods and services selected, as required by the rule, and a letter announcing the defendants' settlement with the FTC to each consumer who purchased a preneed plan for funeral goods and services between Jan. 1, 1987 and Dec. 19, 1989. Finally, the settlement contains various reporting and recordkeeping requirements to assist the FTC in monitoring the defendants’ compliance.
The FTC's Dallas Regional Office handled this investigation.
The Commission vote to authorize filing of the consent decree was 4-1, with Commissioner Mary L. Azcuenaga dissenting. In a separate statement, Commissioner Azcuenaga said that she "dissented from the Commission's decision to approve the settlement because it limits access to documents in a manner apparently inconsistent with Commission policy and applicable law, limits the Commission's exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and includes insufficient relief given the extent of the alleged unlawful practices and the size of the defendant and its operations."
The consent decree was filed on September 19, 1996, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in Dallas, by the Department of Justice at the FTC's request. The judge approved the consent decree on Sept. 19.
NOTE: A consent decree is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute admissions by the defendants of law violations. Consent decrees have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the FTC consumer brochure, the consent decree and Commissioner Azcuenaga's dissenting statement, as well as other documents in this case, are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov
Brenda A. Mack
Office of Public Affairs
Thomas Carter or Maridel S. Freshwater
Dallas Regional Office
100 North Central Expressway, Suite 500
Dallas, Texas 75201
214-767-5518 or 214-767-5514
(FTC Matter No. X92-0009)
(Civil Action No. 3:91CV2576-G)