Friday, May 27, 2016

Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine Leads To Dismissal of Consumer Fraud Complaint Against Cemetery

In Mammon v. SCI Funeral Services of Florida, Inc., (FL App., May 25, 2016), a Florida appellate court invoked the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss a consumer fraud complaint against a cemetery brought by a widow who claimed that the cemetery gave false assurances that her late husband would be buried in accordance with Jewish burial customs and traditions. A month after her husband was buried, the widow discovered that the cemetery allowed non-Jews to be buried in the same section of the cemetery, a practice which she alleged violated Jewish burial traditions. Defendants however cited theological debates among rabbis on whether there are exceptions to the ban. The court held that:
although the widow’s complaint is framed in counts alleging deceptive and fraudulent misrepresentations regarding “Jewish burial customs and traditions,” the disposition of those counts cannot be accomplished without first determining, as a matter of fact, what constitutes “Jewish burial customs and traditions.” *** That preliminary determination would violate the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.