A-Tisket, A-Tasket, No Certified Question for Monk Caskets

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 07, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It looks like the casket-making monks will have to win their case against the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors on constitutional grounds.

A tipster alerted us yesterday to an interesting tidbit from the Bayou State's top court: In January, the court declined to address a certified question from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the matter.

If you're new to this monk-casket judicial battle, we'll bring you up to speed on the controversy at hand, and what the certified question denial means.

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed a pine forest that the St. Joseph Abbey monks in Covington, La. used to support themselves, the monks began making and selling handmade caskets. The only downside to their new enterprise? They were breaking the law.

Under Louisiana's Embalming and Funeral Directors Act, it is illegal for anyone to conduct the business of funeral directing or to engage in the business of funeral directing without first getting licensed as a licensed funeral establishment. The "business of funeral directing" includes casket sales. When the monks started producing their caskets commercially in 2007, the Board sent them a cease-and-desist letter, threatening them with prison and thousands of dollars in fines, reports KATC.

The St. Joseph Abbey monks sued the funeral board. In 2011, District Judge Stanwood Duvall ruled that the license requirement violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Board appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit last year.

The appellate court seems receptive to the monks' arguments, but the federal judges still wanted a state court opinion in the matter. In October, the Fifth Circuit certified a question to the Louisiana Supreme Court, asking that court to decide if the Board can set the state rules of casket sales.

Last month, the court denied the certified question.

Not that the Supreme Court's reluctance to wade into the issue is bad news for the monks. The Fifth Circuit panel previously expressed "doubt that a rational relationship exists between public health and safety and restricting intrastate casket sales to funeral directors." So now, instead of striking the casket law on the Board's lack of authority, it seems the Fifth Circuit will strike it on constitutional grounds.

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