Like homeowner’s covenants, ownership of an interment right in a burial space comes subject to the cemetery’s published rules. Cemetery rules are used to regulate such issues as the planting of trees and shrubs, establishing uniform requirements for markers, the removal of decorations, and a transfer of the interment right. Consequently, it’s common for states to pass a law like Georgia’s Section 10-14-16 that subjects cemetery rules to a standard of reasonableness. That law was at the heart of a recent lawsuit that ended in a court order precluding a cemetery’s efforts to impose a “My way, or the highway” rule on lot owners.
Most cemeteries require the use of a vault to maintain the integrity of the casket and the uniformity of the burial spaces. As a consequence, the vault is an item that the funeral home and cemetery compete to sell. As the news article reports, most vaults are made out of concrete.
To gain the upper hand on his competition, the cemetery owner implemented a rule requiring lot owners to use a new type of vault made of a steel-polymer composition (that the cemetery had exclusive rights to sell). Putting aside a couple of ‘minor’ legal issues, this strategy should fail the reasonableness test if the newspaper’s reporting is accurate. The article attributes the following to cemetery owner:
….people who already bought burial plots and demanded concrete vaults could sell their plots and relocate to another cemetery.
Regardless of whether a lighter, stronger type of vault is a better choice, it is not reasonable to impose a new rule that forces existing lot owners to make a choice between purchasing that vault or selling their lots. Even if the cemetery’s attorney were to prevail on an appeal of the court’s order, the cemetery’s competitors have other legal challenges such as anti-tying violations or the impairment of contracts.