UPDATE August 4, 2009 –
FOR CONSUMER ADVOCATES
The US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan threw out prominent funeral director Thomas Lynch’s libel and defamation suit against Funeral Consumers Alliance and two other defendants. On July 31, Judge Robert H. Cleland granted summary judgment for the defendants, ruling that Lynch had no case for libel or defamation.
“We’re delighted the court has upheld FCA’s right to free speech,” said Joshua Slocum, Executive Director. “The Constitution protects Americans’ right to engage in vigorous public debate, and that includes criticizing the words and deeds of public figures like Mr. Lynch. Simply because the target of that criticism does not enjoy it does not make such critique illegal. FCA will continue commenting on matters of importance to funeral consumers, and that commentary may take the form of critiquing the writing or statements of prominent funeral directors. We expect this ruling will discourage any disgruntled funeral industry figures from attempting in the future to intimidate and silence consumer organizations through legal bullying.”
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Lynch filed suit against Funeral Consumers Alliance, the FCA of Idaho, Funeral Ethics Organization, and FEO Executive Director Lisa Carlson, in September of 2008. He accused the defendants of defaming his reputation and libeling him because of various articles and documents the defendants published. In FCA’s case, Lynch claimed a PowerPoint presentation titled “Deconstructing Thomas Lynch” — a piece that critiqued one of Lynch’s widely read syndicated articles on funerals — made libelous, false statements against him.
The Court disagreed:
None of the evidence presented by Plaintiffs exhibits a reckless disregard for the truth or knowledge that statements were false. In fact, many of the statements alleged to support a finding of malice appear, based on the record before the court, to be true, and certainly [Plaintiffs] have not produced evidence that shows them to be patently false.
September 24, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UPDATE 1/21/2009 – Detroit’s weekly paper covers the Lynch lawsuit.
South Burlington, VT. – In an attempt to stifle legitimate criticism from consumer advocates, Michigan funeral director and author Thomas Lynch sued the oldest and largest national nonprofit funeral consumer advocacy organization in federal court September 12. Lynch’s suit, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, accuses Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc., of “defamation,” and causing “substantial economic injury” and “harm to [the] business reputation” of Lynch’s funeral home businesses in Michigan. The document in question is a PowerPoint presentation titled “Deconstructing Thomas Lynch,” available at www.funerals.org. The presentation quotes an article by Lynch and criticizes the article’s presentation and viewpoint.
“To call this lawsuit ‘frivolous’ would be too kind – it’s outrageous,” said FCA Executive Director Joshua Slocum. “Mr. Lynch appears unaware of the constitutional and common law rights citizens and journalists enjoy in this country. We don’t expect him to enjoy FCA’s critique, but his irritation does not cancel the rights of consumer advocates to publish fair comment on and criticism of his writings. Even worse, his attempt to extract money from a nonprofit charity is reprehensible.”
Lynch is widely known as the author of several books on American funerals and other topics. He was featured in the 2007 PBS Frontline documentary, The Undertaking. As a well-known commentator on funeral practices, Lynch has written and spoken widely about what he sees as the value of funerals -usually the more involved and costly type that includes viewing the body and associated ceremonies. FCA’s critique of Lynch’s article points out the inherent economic interest Lynch and any funeral director has in promoting this type of funeral. The presentation highlights this, and notes families have a wide array of meaningful choices to memorialize their dead that may not include the practices Lynch favors.
“Mr. Lynch is entitled to his point of view, and we are entitled to disagree with it,” FCA’s Slocum said. “He is a public figure who has offered insight into American funeral customs. But he is not a disinterested party. Consumer advocates are within their rights to point out that Mr. Lynch’s favored funeral rituals happen to be among the most profitable for the conventional funeral home industry. Families planning funerals deserve to learn about all the available options, and about the commercial interests that may influence how a funeral home presents those.”
“Funeral Consumers Alliance will not be intimidated or silenced by Mr. Lynch,” Slocum continued. “We were formed as a national organization in 1963 to advocate for the rights of grieving families to choose funerals they find meaningful, dignified, and affordable – whatever those choices may be. We will fight this lawsuit vigorously, and we will continue our work on behalf of the American public, whether or not industry heavyweights approve of it.”
Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity headquartered in Vermont. FCA is a federation of nearly 100 nonprofit funeral consumer information societies from Maine to Hawaii. Originally formed in 1963 as the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies, FCA and its member organizations were instrumental in the passage of the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule in 1984 – a funeral consumer’s “bill of rights” guaranteeing grieving families the right to accurate information and freedom of choice in funeral arrangements. Visit us at www.funerals.org.