Starting with its 2014 fiscal year, the Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has initiated 334 complaints against Missouri funeral homes. That is an average of 11 complaints per month. During the four years that preceding 2014, the State Board filed only 77 complaints against funeral homes, or an average of 1.5 complaints per month. What happened in 2014 that prompted the State Board to begin filing so many complaints? Had the first round of financial examinations uncovered rampant preneed fraud within the industry? One rumor suggested that the Attorney General’s Office had rebuffed a State Board request to file a preneed disciplinary complaint with the Administrative Hearing Commission. Supposedly, the Attorney General declined the request because the Board had a reputation for lax enforcement, and that caused the Board to adopt a zero tolerance towards licensee compliance lapses.
In 2014, tensions were running high between the State Board and the Missouri Funeral Trust, and so we don’t doubt that the State Board approached the Attorney General’s Office regarding a disciplinary proceeding. The conflict was further inflamed when the Missouri Funeral Trust subsequently filed its own lawsuit against the State Board. The circumstances lend credibility to the rumor, but one aspect of the rumor fails the sniff test. The State Board did not have Chapter 436 enforcement powers until Senate Bill No. 1 was passed in 2009. So, how could the State Board have a reputation for lax preneed enforcement when it previously had no such powers? The State Board was only 4 years into the financial examination process, and most sellers’ exams were still open.
We cannot help but to wonder whether the Attorney General’s Office declined the State Board request on other grounds. The State Board has yet to pass regulations regarding critical requirements of Chapter 436, and perhaps the Attorney General’s Office raised that issue back in 2014. Rather than defer enforcement until rules could be formally adopted pursuant to Chapter 536, the State Board moved forward on a zero tolerance program that relied upon outside counsel to file discipline proceedings when licensees did not capitulate. Of the 334 complaints filed since 2014, how many would the Attorney General have rejected for the lack of a formal regulation or because the complaint represented an overreach of an existing regulation?