Monks from the St. Joseph Abbey of Covington, La. argued for their right to build and sell custom caskets without a state license before a federal judge in the Eastern District Federal Court for Louisiana.
The Institute for Justice in Virginia filed the lawsuit in August 2010, claiming the state’s licensing laws are “arbitrary, excessive, and anachronistic.”
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval oversaw a three-hour bench trial in which attorneys for the monks argued that state requirements for the construction and sale of coffins are unconstitutional.
Duval did not immediately issue a judgment. Plaintiff and defense counsel were instructed that briefs supporting their arguments are to be issued no later than June 24, followed by responses no later than July 1.
The monks sell their custom caskets for around $2,000 apiece and use the finances directly to help the monastery.
The lawsuit is a reply to a cease-and-desist letter the monks received from the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
St. Joseph Abbey responded by filing an injunction against the board.
The monks claim the licensing procedure violates their “right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Dec. 6, 2010 claiming the plaintiffs failed to state a claim in which relief could be granted.
Duval issued his ruling in favor of the monks on March 8.
“The Court sees no basis to create a per se rule of law that economic protectionism is a legitimate state interest,” Duval wrote.
Institute for Justice attorneys Scott Bullock, William Mellor and Jeff Rowes; and New Orleans attorney F. Evans Schmidt are representing St. Joseph Abbey.
Metairie attorneys Preston Hayes and Michael Rasch are representing the Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
Louisiana State Attorneys Charles Belsom Jr. and Uma Subramanian are representing the State of Louisiana.
Federal Case 2:10-cv-02717