Certifying a Class in a Cemetery Conundrum
At Graceland Memorial Park South Cemetery, at least three people could not locate their loved ones’ gravesites without the cemetery staff “probing” into burial sites. Alderwoods Group, Inc. v. Garcia, 119 So. 3d 497 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013) (Alderwoods v. Garcia). The three plaintiffs sought to certify a class defined by “all persons with family members buried before 1994 in the ‘old section’ of Graceland Memorial Park South Cemetery, who are unable to readily locate the gravesites of their family members due to inadequate record keeping and identifying markers.” The trial court certified the class action on claims for injunctive relief and liability related to the cemetery’s record keeping, pinning, marking and locating of gravesites.
In reversing the trial court, the Third District Court of Appeal pointed out that the manner sought to be utilized to determine whether a class existed would require the cemetery to provide the plaintiffs with the very injunctive relief they sought. Indeed, Plaintiffs sought “a permanent mandatory injunction requiring Alderwoods to fund a court-supervised program through which a panel of experts would survey, test, monitor and study the cemetery and disturbed remains to ascertain the location of and disposition of the subject remains and to insure their proper identification. This relief, however, is virtually the very process ordered by the trial court to establish and identify members of the class.” Id. at 503. By certifying the class, “the trial court in effect directed a verdict in favor” of the plaintiffs and imposed a “de facto punishment on Alderwoods, before any determination of liability.” Id. Since the prospective class members could not have otherwise located their loved ones’ actual gravesites, the cemetery would have helped the class build their case against it, while practically burying its own defenses.
Guest Contributor: Adriana Paris