Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C. and its co-counsel the Law Offices of Robert S. Dowd, Jr., LLC recently filed a putative class action on behalf of a plaintiff who claims that StoneMor Partners, LP, a major owner and operator of cemeteries in NJ, improperly and illegally overcharges its customers a “Maintenance & Preservation Fee” (M&P Fee) for the interment of their loved ones. The complaint was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey (Middlesex County) on April 9, 2021.
The defendants, which include StoneMor Partners, LP, its general partner StoneMor Inc., and Beth Israel Cemetery Association of Woodbridge New Jersey, face allegations of violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the Truth-In-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act, as well as Breach of Contract and Unjust Enrichment. The plaintiff alleges that customers of the defendants are falsely told that the inflated charge is mandatory under New Jersey law, which it is not, for all interments and the placement of cremated remains.
Inflated Maintenance and Preservation Fee Charges
It is alleged that, in fact, the N.J. Cemetery Board’s statutes and regulations specifically state that the M & P Fee should be 3% of the charge for the interment, or $20, whichever is more. Stonemor and Beth Israel Cemetery tell consumers the required fee is 15% of the charge for the interment. In addition, defendants’ own price list as filed with the New Jersey Cemetery Board states the M&P Fee is already included as part of the additional fixed fee for the interment. Defendants charged the plaintiff the 15% on top of the cost of the fixed fee for the interment.
StoneMor, which owns and operates numerous cemeteries throughout NJ including Beth Israel Cemetery, further failed to make its price list available to the plaintiff, even though it was required to post this price list in a conspicuous location at its offices at the cemetery. Had this price list been made available it would have revealed that its price of $2,195.00 for interment service fees for an adult casket already included the M&P Fee required to be charged under New Jersey Cemetery Law.
Among other issues important to consumers, this case will determine whether the defendants’ conduct constitutes an unconscionable commercial practice or other violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act or a violation of the Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act, or both, entitling the customers of defendants to a judgment in the amount of triple their actual damages, as well as reimbursement of their attorney fees and costs.
NJ Law Requires Price List to Be Displayed
New Jersey Law requires all owners and operators of cemeteries to conspicuously post in their offices a comprehensive list that details the cost of all services provided. In this case, the defendant put vague language to the effect that fees for interment in regards to M&P funds would be charged in accordance to New Jersey Cemetery Law.
The courts will determine whether StoneMor’s conduct constitutes unconscionable commercial practices, including a violation of the Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act, and whether this conduct warrants compensatory damages. Compensation may be awarded to account for the inflated M&P fees paid, treble damages, and attorney fees.
Legal Recourse for Inflated Interment Charges
Consumers are entitled to be charged by cemetery operators only the M&P Fee mandated by law and only the prices listed on the cemetery’s posted price list. Many people were charged a 15% M&P statutory fee for the “transfer of a grave,” rather than the 3% fee, which is legally applicable to all interments.
KGG and Dowd Law are currently investigating these claims in New Jersey. Our legal services are offered on a contingency basis, meaning we get paid only if a settlement or judgment is secured.
To discuss your case with an experienced attorney, please call our offices today to arrange a private consultation.