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Judges rule on issues stemming from cemetery case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on matters involving alleged looting of cemetery funds in two cases Monday, upholding the denial of class certification in one case and adopting a “plain legal prejudice” standard in the other case.

A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed against Memory Gardens Management Corp. regarding alleged misappropriation of millions of dollars in trust funds by the original owners of the corporation, the new owner — Ansure Mortuaries of Indiana, and other entities. William Fishback’s suit sought to recover damages for customers who had paid for perpetual care services; Angela Farno was later added as a plaintiff. She had pre-paid for space and services. Her complaint alleged 11 counts, including claims under Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Practices Act and violations of statutes governing cemetery trust accounts.

After the proposed class action was filed, the receiver appointed by the Indiana Securities Commissioner filed a complaint asserting similar claims. The class-action claims regarding the perpetual care services were dismissed, leaving Farno as the only named plaintiff. She filed a motion for class certification, which the trial court denied because it found that action was not superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy under Indiana Trial Rule 23(B)(3). The Court of Appeals took up the matter on interlocutory appeal.

After she filed a motion to stay the proceedings pending an appeal, another business agreed to acquire Ansure’s mortuary business and maintain the cemeteries. Farno sought to lift the stay so she could seek preliminary approval of a class-action settlement she had reached with some defendants, including Ansure and the receiver. Matthew Goldberg and his company, Indiana Investment, were the only non-settling defendants to object. Goldberg was alleged to have issued worthless debentures to the trust accounts in order to conceal the misappropriation of funds. The trial court granted preliminary approval to the class-action settlement. The Court of Appeals also accepted Goldberg’s appeal on interlocutory appeal.

In Angela K. Farno v. Ansure Mortuaries of Indiana, LLC, et al., No. 41A05-1002-PL-104, the appellate court affirmed the denial of Farno’s motion for class certification. Farno argued the trial court shouldn’t have considered the receiver’s action or an action brought by the Securities Commissioner in its superiority analysis under T.R. 23(B)(3). The judges cited Kamm v. California City Development Co., 509 F.2d 205 (9th Cir. 1975), as a case supporting that actions brought by third parties are superior to a class action to rule on issues between the class-action plaintiffs and defendants.

Citing Kamm, the judges found Farno and the receiver brought similar claims against many of the same defendants. In addition, Farno didn’t cite any authority for her suggestion that a trial court may not consider factors other than the four listed in T.R. 23(B)(3) when deciding the question of superiority.

“Farno’s stated purpose for requesting class certification was to ‘resolv[e] the customers’ claims to restore the pre-need trust funds and to ensure that customers’ pre-paid burial services and merchandise will be provided when they pass away,’” wrote Judge Terry Crone. “However, the Securities Commissioner’s Action, the Receiver’s Action, and the pending sale of the cemeteries were all geared toward restoring both the pre-need trust funds and the perpetual care trust funds, which would in turn ensure both that the customers’ pre-paid burial services and merchandise will be provided when they pass away and that their burial sites will be cared for in perpetuity. As such, these alternative methods were clearly better suited for ‘handling the total controversy’ in the words of the Federal Rules Advisory Committee.”

In Matthew Goldberg, et al. v. Angela K. Farno, et al., No. 41A01-1007-MF-348, the judges affirmed the trial court’s preliminary approval of the settlement agreement. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and other circuits have adopted the doctrine that a defendant must “prove plain legal prejudice in order to have standing to challenge a partial settlement to which it is not a party,” wrote Judge Crone. Indiana Trial Rule 41(a)(2) is substantially similar to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) regarding voluntary dismissals. The appellate court adopted the “plain legal prejudice” standard based on Federal Rule 41(a)(2) for determining whether a non-settling defendant has standing to challenge a partial settlement to which it is not a party, whether “in a class action or simply ordinary litigation.”

Goldberg failed to establish plain legal prejudice in this case. The class settlement didn’t interfere with his contractual rights, his ability to seek contribution or indemnification, nor did it strip him of a legal claim or cause of action, wrote Judge Crone. He has no standing to challenge the ruling.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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