When a cemetery operator and the regulator get crossways with each other, the threat to close the cemetery is often countered with the question of whether the regulator is going to step in and perform the burials. And when the regulator sticks to his/her guns, the results are often similar to that seen in Dunkirk, Maryland.

One family has waited more than a month to bury a loved one. From the quote given a local news station, their wrath is clearly aimed at the court and the regulator:

We’re going to remember the amount of days that she sat decomposing in the funeral home because of the judge here and the cemetery oversight committee.

The story also provided the cemetery owner’s comments, which suggest the cemetery’s license was revoked over a petty paperwork dispute, and that the regulator’s actions have driven the cemetery into foreclosure.

Most cemetery operators will lend a sympathetic ear to this owner’s complaints. Many operators tend to regard regulators as intrusive, and incompetent with regard to the death care business. But, when you look beyond the news reports that would not seem to be the case in this dispute.

The Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight works in tandem with an Advisory Council of Cemetery Operations. The agency’s website explains:

The Advisory Council on Cemetery Operations is composed of 11 members selected by the Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Of the 11 members:

• Three shall be registered cemeterians representing the for-profit cemetery industry;
• One shall be a registered cemeterian representing a non-profit cemetery;
• One shall be a registered seller from a monument company;
• One shall be a representative from a religious cemetery; and
• Five shall be consumer members. 

The Advisory Council is required by Code to meet at least once per year to provide advice to the Secretary and the Director. However, the Council typically meets monthly to discuss various issues facing the death care industry. These meetings are open to the public and are held at the DLLR Offices located at 500 North Calvert Street, in Baltimore. You are invited and encouraged to attend and participate in discussions that affect the cemetery and burial goods professions.

Missouri once had an advisory committee for cemetery regulation, but operators lost interest. Prior to recent reform, the law had no teeth, and the industry had little incentive to participate. Kansas also toyed with the concept a few years ago, but also failed to get much input from the industry. But, the minutes posted to the website for the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight reflect active participation by industry representatives.

So, if the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight has some clue of what it’s doing, did it act in an intrusive manner?

The operator’s comments indicate disciplinary actions were taken in 2010, and the cemetery’s license was revoked a year ago. While the Office had brought suit in 2010, the matter was closed until 2011. When the court proceedings were reopened, the parties entered into a consent order which allowed the cemetery some room to continue operations. But within a few weeks, the Office went back to court seeking an order to close the operator down.

Other than this dispute, the Maryland court records reflect the Office of Cemetery Oversight having resorted to court action twice before. So, there are no court records to suggest the OCO has been intrusive on Maryland’s cemeteries.

Consequently, the family’s reaction to the situation seems misplaced. The foreclosure filings indicate the cemetery had significant debts. The OCO had sought at-need and preneed records from the cemetery, and cemetery was not responding. A compromise may have been offered, but failed. The regulator had few options but to pull the license, which precluded lot sales and interment services, and that proved the death blow to the company.

Unfortunately, the industry may see this scenario playing out more frequently than we care to acknowledge.