Justice Watch: Cemetery operators face class action appeals

, Daily Business Review

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Ervin Gonzalez

It's the antithesis of rest in peace.

More than a decade after Menorah Gardens cemeteries made headlines for digging up occupied graves, similar litigation lingers with families suing other South Florida cemeteries on claims of disturbed or lost graves.

Menorah Gardens in Palm Beach and Broward counties settled a class action lawsuit for $100 million in 2004.

Now families in two other lawsuits against cemeteries in Miami-Dade and Broward counties find themselves unable to clear the hurdle of class certification.

"I thought the problem after Menorah Gardens was exposed would be addressed, but I'm afraid it may be more prevalent than I thought," said attorney Ervin Gonzalez, a partner at Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables. He was a co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs class in the Menorah Gardens litigation and spearheaded a Miami-Dade Circuit Court lawsuit against Graceland Memorial Park South.

But his litigation and a separate action against a North Lauderdale cemetery have reached roadblocks on the class certification issue.

"The trend has been to not allow class actions, not just in the state of Florida but nationally," Gonzalez said. "It's becoming more difficult."

Appeals are pending in the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit as plaintiffs ask to reverse rulings that bar them from suing as a class.

A team from GrayRobinson in Miami led by partner Ted C. Craig scored dual victories earlier this year on the class question for two cemeteries.

The Third District Court of Appeal in Miami reversed a lower court ruling certifying a 5,400-member class action against Graceland. The lawsuit claimed the cemetery lost track of older graves due to mismanagement. It was estimated the cost of locating the remains would cost about $9 million.

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