Funeral and Cemetery Law class

Green-Wood Cemetery is Buzzing

Historically, Brooklyn's Green-Wood cemetery has been selected as the final resting place for many buzz-worthy people, such as composer Leonard Bernstein, newspaperman Horace Greeley, "Wizard of Oz" actor Frank Morgan and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. But, of late, Green-Wood has some new, lively residents, over 600,000 honeybees. Cemetery-Beekeepers4-1880x1219These bees are responsible for producing the locally acclaimed honey named, "The Sweet Hereafter," which is sold from a wheeled cart outside the cemetery's gothic gate. 

Up until 2010, New York City had a ban on beekeeping. But, one day in 2014, while sitting in Green-Wood's central chapel, Davin Larson, who worked with bees while growing up in the Midwest, came up with the idea to keep beehives onsite. Green-Wood and its sprawling 478 acres of greenery is one of the larger green areas in New York City, which seemed like an ideal location to keep bees within the limits of the city.  Larson proposed his idea to a cemetery volunteer and backyard beekeeper, Nicole Francis, who then sold the concept to the cemetery's public programming director. Larson was originally concerned that families who have relatives buried at the cemetery would object to the idea, but he says, "they've been nothing but supportive."

The bees not only produce lots of honey, this year alone the beekeepers harvested 200 pounds of honey, but also help to beautify the landscape by pollinating tons of flowering plants and trees. Larson did not want to interrupt the surrounding landscape when installing the hives, so with some innovation, he propped up the hives on excess, uncarved headstones that were previously stored 485Cemetery Beekeepersin the cemetery's workshop to make them appear almost as grave markers. But, maintaining the hives can be expensive, so supporters of the beekeeping are encouraged to make donations on the Green-Wood website to sponsor hives and efforts of Larson: $500 for one hive, or $250 for half a hive. This is the second year that Green-Wood has produced honey. The honey from this year's harvest is for sale the weekend of November 12-14 outside the main entrance of the cemetery. Overall, the community seems to enjoy the idea of having locally produced honey and regards the efforts of Larson as the "Bee's Knees."

Alexa Gaudioso

What's the Buzz Between the Tombstones?

The final resting place of celebrities who created a buzz when they were alive, is now the home to some 600,000 honeybees and a beekeeping operation that continue the buzz between the tombstones.  Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery allows beekeeper Davin Larson to run the beekeeping operation on the cemetery grounds near 500 acres of rolling hills.  Upon visiting the cemetery, Larson knew that the grounds were the perfect place to keep bees in the city; the cemetery is one of the larger green areas in the city.

Green-Wood Cemetery is also granting Larson to sell the churned out honey outside of the cemetery's Gothic main gate under the name "The Sweet Hereafter."  Larson was able to achieve this dream by proposing the idea to fellow beekeeper, and cemetery volunteer, Nicole Francis who sold the concept to the cemetery's public programming director.

The relationship is mutual between the cemetery and the beekeeping operation.  Today, the bees help pollinate the cemetery's tons of flowering plants and trees.  Along with keeping the grounds healthy, the cemetery has allowed individuals to sponsor hives to help defray the cost of maintaining the hives.  In order for the bees to build honeycombs, they feed on sugar water.  However, for the bees to obtain sugar water in the winter months, Larson had to buy 400 pounds of sugar this year to meet the bees needs to produce honeycombs.  Maintaining these hives is not cheap and if you wish to sponsor a hive, you may make a donation of $500 to sponsor a hive, or $250 for halve a hive. 

Green-Wood's beekeepers have harvested 200 pounds of honey already this year.  As business is booming the question becomes whether or not the public or relatives of those buried in the cemetery minded the bees company.  “I was concerned people who have relatives buried in Green-Wood would object, but they’ve been nothing but supportive,” Larson said.

Rivver Cox


Male-Dominated Funeral Industry On Its Last Leg


Throughout modern history, funeral directors have been overwhelmingly male. In the 1970s, almost 90% of funeral directors in the United States were men, as was the norm in many industries. However, this industry has recently made a dramatic shift. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 16.5% of its members were women. While this does not seem like a large majority, the number of women in mortuary study programs – the course of study required to be a funeral director – is rapidly growing. In 1971, only 5% of mortuary science students were women. In 1991, that number jumped to around 30%. Today, nearly 60% of all mortuary science students are women – a sign that the major demographic changes are on the horizon for the funeral industry.

Industry leaders attribute this development to a few things. First, Dr. Joseph Marsaglia – dean of students at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science – credits the changing societal attitudes of woman who work in traditional male-dominated fields. Historically, women were the typical caretakers of the dying and the dead. However, once undertaking became a profession, men took over the job. This was mainly because surgeons became the primary embalmers of dead bodies, and medicine has been another historically male-dominated industry. In more modern times, some people believed women were incapable of being funeral directors because of the “heavy lifting” that was required in order to move caskets or lift bodies. But frankly, that is just not true. According to Joseph Salandra, a funeral home owner from Pennsylvania, “[W]omen can do everything – dressing, embalming, lifting caskets, cosmetology, and, the most important thing, meeting with and comforting families.” Therefore, it is no surprise that women are on their way to dominating the industry.

Another reason the number of the women in the funeral industry has increased dramatically is because the number of funeral director positions has also increased. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has recently reported that the funeral industry is expected to grow approximately 12% in the next decade. Matt Buel – director of funeral science program at Arkansas State University – stated because “the death rate will continue to go up” and the number of future funeral directors is not rising to meet this demand, there are more vacant funeral industry positions than ever. “A lot of funeral directors literally die in their profession.”

This change also reflects the shrinking number of family-owned funeral homes. The Funeral Consumers Alliance that corporate funeral homes are dominating the industry, with the leader being Service Corporation, International owning around 12% of funeral homes in the country. This opens up a number of new positions for the increasing number of female mortuary studies students. Women rising in the ranks of a male dominated field is something very encouraging to see as a woman entering an industry with a similar male demographic. While glass ceilings may not be breaking, women are making impressive progress.

Kelsey Mellan

Clean Up Your Cemetery Act!

You would think there would be some accountability in death.

As most states do, South Carolina has a cemetery board. Established by the South Carolina Perpetual Care Cemetery Act, the Board has the power and duty to promulgate regulations of the state’s cemeteries, as per §48-8-20, with some exceptions (e.g., governmental cemeteries). The Act seems fairly rigid in its rules: no company may operate a cemetery without a license from the Board; the company must follow detailed guidelines in establishing a perpetual care trust fund; and the Board has the authority to take disciplinary against a licensee who violates any of the provisions.

In theory, the Board would hold Steve Kent, owner of the Barnwell County Memory Gardens and Bamberg County Memory Gardens, accountable for the reported overgrown and unkempt conditions of the gravesites in his cemeteries. In practice, it appears that the Board has been unable to enforce action against Kent ever since it revoked his cemetery licenses for not turning over financial records, which is required by law. Once the Board revokes a license, it is no longer responsible for monitoring the cemetery’s conditions. As one perceptive cemetery owner speculated, if her license is revoked, she can pretty much operate her cemetery in any way she sees fit and can throw out the rule book.

Well, as the Deputy Director of Professional & Occupational Licensing most likely was quick to note, there are other recourses to hold these cemetery violators accountable. The SC Perpetual Care Cemetery Board filed action against Steve Kent in the SC Administrative Law Court. After Kent willfully violated a Court Consent Order and a Court Contempt Order, the Court found that Kent remains in contempt for continuing to disobey its orders. The Court added $50,000 for the current finding of contempt to the previous $10,000 in sanctions. But in spite of all that, Kent has still not paid the fines and the cemetery is still a mess, although apparently it continues to operate.

So, what options are left for the despairing loved ones who have to trample overgrown weeds to pay respects to their departed? According to §6-1-35, the Preservation and protection of cemeteries Section of SC General Provisions of the Local Government, counties and municipalities are authorized to preserve and protect a cemetery that is not being maintained—but good luck getting that to be a priority. Then, there is always a tort action, but going back to the basic requirements of tort, is there a duty? Is there a special relationship between the families of the buried and the cemetery owner? What is the nature of the injury? Emotional distress? Or should a family member just trip and fall over the ill-maintained markers?

Lisa Roach

Funerals Present a Window of Opportunity for Theft

Business management author Tom Peters wrote, “If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.” Candice Nicole Hough took that advice to heart when she pried a window screen off the home of a Colorado widow who was away attending her husband’s funeral. While the widow grieved, Hough broke into the home and made off with $3,000 worth of jewelry and an assortment of credit cards and cash.

Police believe that the robbery was part of a larger scheme to use obituaries and death notices to target mourners attending funerals. District Attorney Dan Rubinstein asked the Mesa County judge to set a high cash bond, arguing that it is “hard to imagine more offensive behavior” than taking advantage of a funeral to rob a widow. Hough is being held on a $5,000 cash-only bond and faces several felony charges. She is due to appear in Mesa County court on November 15.

Hough was by no means the first burglar to find a window of opportunity in funerals. In 2008, a Kansas City criminal dubbed the “Funeral Day Burglar” was handed a 43-year prison sentence following his conviction for one count of first-degree burglary, four counts of second-degree burglary, and five counts of stealing. Like Hough, the Funeral Day Burglar used obituaries to single out homeowners who would be away at funeral services. Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said, “Four decades in prison is an appropriate sentence for this series of outrageous crimes.”

As far as robberies go, using obituaries to identify empty homes is fairly creative. But is there any way to close the window of opportunity and protect grieving homeowners from more sorrow? Probably not, given the ubiquitous use of obituaries and death notices to publish information about funeral services. Particulars like date, time, and location are as crucial to mourners as they are to burglars, and leaving these details out of obituaries threatens the result of poorly-attended services. Unless the public embarks on a collective departure away from the practice of publishing obituaries, it seems like the window will remain open for the foreseeable future.  

Emily Lagan

Activists Say Road Construction is Encroaching on Slave Cemetery in Virginia


Outside of Washington, D.C., construction on a new interchange is encroaching on a marked slave cemetery. Residents in Loudoun County, Virginia, are worried about the new construction  on the interchange between Belmont Ridge Road and Route 7. These residents have been restoring and protecting the cemetery as an integral part of Loudoun County's history. 

Pastor Michelle Thomas of the Loudoun Freedom Center is one of the cemetery's biggest advocates. The mission of the Center is to "eliminate injustice and engender hope, understanding, and reconciliation . . . as it relates to the lives & contributions of the enslaved . . . who may be buried throughout Loudoun County." Thomas and residents in the area discovered that the construction moved the cemetery's fence line, and some digging had occured. 

In the course of construction, trees that protect marked and unmarked graves were removed. These trees protect the cemetery from erosion and vandalism. Virginia Code §18.2-127 makes purposeful destruction of cemeteries and burial grounds a criminal act. It is even a felony to destroy or damage marked gravestones. These statutes do give the residents of Loudoun County and the Center a legal remedy for any damages to the cemetery, but would essentially require a neighborhood watch after the removal of the trees. 

Although a spokesman for the county assured residents that the cemetery will remain undisturbed, residents are still worried. The County promises to monitor the area for those trying to disturb the remains, but the nearby residents are remaining vigilent. These guardians of the slave cemetery wish to ensure that the dignity and respect they've worked so hard to restore remains intact.

Amelia Lowe

Recovering Damages for Emotional Distress in Abuse of Corpse

After just six minutes of deliberation a jury found a Pennsylvania man guilty of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. The man killed is stepdaughter, had sex with her corpse, and filmed it. 

The stepdaughter's husband is suing the man for infliction of severe emotional distress on the husband and children. The husband is attempting to recover the cost of his wife's funeral, compensation for her lost wages, retirement benefits and punitive damages. As well as, the family's mental health counseling.

Generally, courts in Pennsylvania and most jurisdictions apply the impact rule when deciding to award damages for emotional distress.  The “impact rule,” bars recovery for fright, nervous shock or mental or emotional distress unless it was accompanied by a physical injury on the complaining party. Kazatsky v. King David Memorial Park, Inc., 515 Pa. 183, 191 (1987). 

Pennsylvania Courts allow for an exception to the impact rule if the individual claiming distress was in the zone of danger. The "zone of danger rule" allows for a party to recover damages for emotional distress if the plaintiff was in personal danger and feared impact of harm created by the negligent of internal acts of the defendant. Niederman v. Brodsky, 436 Pa. 401 (1970).

However, the Kazatasky court adopted the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by outrageous conduct, which could allow for a family member to recover for distress if the defendant's conduct was sufficiently outrages. Kazatsky, 515 Pa. at 195. In order for the family member to recover for this tort the family member must show the defendant's conduct was "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." Id.

In Kazatasky the parents attempted to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress by outrageous conduct against a cemetery for failing to care for parent's children gravesites. Id. The court did not decided the case due to insufficient medical records but made it clear that if a plaintiff can pass the "outrageous" test the plantiff can recover for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by outrageous conduct. In the case of the murdered stepdaughter, the husband could recover for emotional distress if a court or jury views killing someone, having sex with their corpse, and filming it outrageous enough to go beyond all possible bounds of decency.   

Correll L. Kennedy

Fort Wayne (Indiana) to Have One Stop Shop for Catholic Funerals

The Catholic Cemetery Association in Fort Wayne, Indiana announced that a Catholic Cemetery is to be the new site for the Divine Mercy Funeral Home. The facility will have two visitation rooms, with personal family rooms as well as a crematorium and embalming facility. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese views the timing as ideal since Pope Francis has deemed this past year (Dec 8th, 2015-Nov. 20, 2016), a Holy year of Divine Mercy. Bishop Rhoades pointed out that upon this past year’s focus of Divine Mercy many Christians have studied and acted on the Corporal Works of Mercy. There are seven Corporal Works of Mercy: (1) feed the hungry (2) give drink to the thirsty (3) shelter the homeless (4) visit the sick (5) visit the imprisoned (6) bury the dead (7) give alms to the poor. These works are found in Jesus’s direct teachings in the Gospel of Matthew 25: 31-45 and in terms of death fall central to the funeral ritual of Catholics. The Bishop expressed excitement to have the Church’s involvement in the entire death and burial process.

In some ways, it is a wonder that more Catholic cemeteries have not expanded in this way before now. Many funeral homes adapt to the religious views of their patrons-- as one would expect. Funeral directors are professionals that learn and polish their skills in vital areas—but when a Catholic funeral is so intertwined and fundamental to those practicing it makes sense to have full service facilities. Is this the beginning of a trend? It could go either way, because this industry is highly regulated it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some legal trouble. One example is New Jersey’s new law that took effect this past April banning monument sales by religious cemeteries. The Archdiocese has filed suit to fight back since it does not seem just that the government can ban harmless commerce just to protect industry insiders. Is there a possibility that enough business will leave the private funeral homes to cause a problem in Fort Wayne? Maybe-- the facilities also include a crematorium a very interesting addition considering the Church’s preference for burial and recent decree requiring cremains to be kept on holy ground. While the demand for cremation continues to rise, it seems likely Catholics that do choose cremation will naturally want to have it done in the Catholic crematorium. However, religious cemeteries enjoy many exemptions under state laws and attract a very specific crowd. So, as with anything else, it comes down to the money. If enough Catholics begin relying on Catholic funeral homes and crematories the private institutions will feel the effects and that is when law makers will be asked to weigh in.

Brandy Nickoloff

Reef Balls: An "Environmental" Option for the "Hippie" Generation?

“An Eternal Reef combines a cremation urn, ash scattering, and burial at sea into one meaningful, permanent environmental tribute to life”, states the Eternal Reef’s website; one of several companies that manufacture and deliver reef balls containing human remains into the ocean. Whilst being buried at sea has never seemed like an enjoyable or desirable disposition option, these companies are making the idea seem more and more appealing. Eternal Reef describes a four-day process of “casting” the remains into the concrete reef ball, followed by a day of setting and preparing the ball, with the viewing held on day three and the placement and dedication on day four. Families and friends are highly encouraged to participate, by placing handprints and handwritten messages on the reef ball itself, and attending the dedication on a boat provided by the company (for a fee per person, of course). This industry bills itself as an environmentally-friendly option to help rebuild underwater ecosystems in coastal areas such as Florida and the Gulf. The Reef Ball Foundation is a nonprofit set up to promote and implement these artificial reefs, although they do not involve themselves in the human remains aspect of the industry. Their website shows pictures of large concrete structures with holes placed in the concrete to allow for fish and other animals to form homes within them.

Reef ball         

However, there have been debates about just how environmentally-beneficial these reef balls may be. A Hawaiian neighborhood board recently voted against supporting a reef ball project, due to statements by scientists from the University of Hawaii that there would be no benefit to the ecosystem. These reef balls may just be another way for us to feel superficially “good” about ourselves; we damaged the environment during our lifetime, but that will be okay because we will help it in death! The commercialization of philanthropy has been a growing business practice (“buy a pair of shoes from us and our company will donate a pair to a poor child”), but this is one of the first ways it has reached the death industry. This form of memorialization doesn’t come cheaply, either. The body must still be cremated first (which has serious negative environmental impacts in itself), then the reef balls can run from $3,000 to $7,500. The dedication ceremony involves serious travel expense, which the company can facilitate for an additional fee. If the environmental impacts do turn out to be as beneficial as the companies claim: fantastic. However, if they fall short, reef balls may just be another method for the death industry to play into the hands of consumers who want to be conscious, and are willing to spend a lot of money to do so.

Charley Connor

Life and Death in Outer Space


Astronomy World recently posed the following hypothetical, “could an astronaut’s corpse bring new life to another world?”  The answer to this question turns out to be yes; there are apparently several different ways in which the death of an astronaut in space could lead to the development of extra-planetary life.  

There are two proposed ways in which an astronaut, through dying in space, could bring life to other planets.  First, an astronaut could deliver microbes from earth onto another planet, and given certain conditions, those microbes could survive the journey and begin life anew on another planet.  Second, even if no microbes survived the trip to another planet, the landing of a human corpse on an alien planet could potentially spur the creation of totally new microorganisms. 

Astronaut Corpse as Microbe Delivery System. It may seem impossible for microorganisms to survive the harsh conditions of space, but scientists have already documented microorganisms surviving incredibly hostile conditions on earth.  As Gary King, a microbial biologist at Louisiana State University, stated, “We’ve pulled microbes out of permafrost, and there we’re talking about organisms surviving around one million years in suspended animation.  Especially if the trip is somewhere close, like to Mars, bacterial spores in the human body will survive for sure.”  That being said, space is still not an ideal environment for even the toughest of microbial lifeforms.  Factors that would limit microbes’ ability to survive space flight on the corpse of an astronaut include the corpse’s container, its storage environment, and its flight time.  Flight time would probably be the most important factor – the longer a microbe floats through space, the more ambient cosmic radiation it is absorbing.  While many microbes are far more resilient to radiation exposure than human beings, at a certain point, there is a level at which radiation exposure becomes far too great for any lifeform to withstand.

Astronaut Corpse as Spark of Life.  Therefore, an astronaut’s corpse could possibly reach an alien planet with no surviving microbes remaining.  But this is not necessarily the end of the story.  An astronaut corpse landing on an alien planet could still possibly serve as the “spark” to new life.  Given certain environmental conditions, an astronaut’s corpse could serve “‘as a sort of starter-pack of chemistry to bootstrap the [genesis] of new life.’”  Such a scenario is not likely, but is possible, says Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow.   The ideal situation, according to Cronin, would not be a single astronaut corpse falling to a planet, but instead “an entire doomed crew.”  More corpses would mean greater availability of certain organic molecules, considered to be the building blocks of life.

George Kennedy