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Cemetery settles with state.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Families who used the services of a Eugene cemetery and funeral home may be due a refund after the state investigated complaints from consumers.

The state Department of Justice on Wednesday announced a settlement between the state and the Rest-Haven Memorial Association, which owns Rest-Haven Memorial Park and Rest-Haven Memorial Funeral Home on South Willamette Street, for an alleged "illegal tying" arrangement.

According to state Attorney General Hardy Myers, Rest-Haven and its owner, Tim Wiper of Eugene - who also owns the Willamette Pass Ski Area - waived the cemetery's "basic services fees" of either $725 or $750 if the buyer used Rest-Haven's mortuary services. That's a violation of state antitrust laws, the state said. Rest-Haven wanted to generate extra business for its mortuary in order to pay for rising costs, the state said.

`The tying arrangement impacted those with little power to do anything about it - those who were already committed to the cemetery by having purchased the `right to burial' and those whose family members were already buried in the facility,' Myers said in a press release. The state also contended the cemetary's "basic services fee" was not calculated to address real costs.

Many Oregon consumers plan ahead for mortuary and cemetery services by purchasing "right to burial" plans in order to spare their family from additional stress, Myers said. "Imagine a family's distress when an additional $750 (fee) for cemetery services is required but offered to be waived if the family will buy mortuary services from the other half of the business."

"They were trying to drum up money for the mortuary side," Justice Department spokeswoman Jan Margosian said.

Many Rest-Haven customers are probably unaware that they might be due a refund, she said. The department investigated after receiving a complaint and has received a total of about 20 complaints, she said. Those complaints are from people who feel they're owed a refund, those who thought the policy was wrong and those who chose to take their business elsewhere, Margosian said. One woman "took her husband's ashes and went somewhere else," she said.

Wiper on Wednesday denied that Rest-Haven has ever offered such a fee waiver. "That's extremely not true," he told The Register-Guard. He did say Rest-Haven has reached a settlement with the Justice Department. In the settlement, Rest-Haven does not admit any violation of the law.

"The settlement is for attorneys' fees (for the state) instead of us all continuing to battle," Wiper said. "There absolutely is no wrongdoing. There is no fault. They just saved face with attorneys' fees."

Under the agreement, Rest-Haven has paid the Justice Department $15,000 for restitution to consumers who paid a basic services fee between April 5, 1999, and Tuesday, according to the department.

Consumers need to file a complaint with the Justice Department within the next 45 days. The money will be divided equally among complainants up to $400 per fee paid, according to the justice department.

Any remaining money will be put into the department's consumer protection and education fund, along with $35,000 paid by Rest-Haven to the department for attorney and investigation costs.

"Since 1999 they knew they were going to charge this and they easily could have disclosed this," said Margosian, indicating that the fee-waiver policy had been in place since April 5, 1999. "We know Rest-Haven very well. We have dealt with them for years."

The department has investigated the cemetery and funeral home, mostly for failing to prepare maintenance reports for the Oregon Secretary of State's Office, going back to 1993, she said.

The agreement between Rest-Haven and the Justice Department requires that any basic services fee for future cemetery goods and services must be calculated independently of the mortuary basic services fee, according to Myers. That does not prohibit Rest-Haven from offering a package discount on the basic services fee for using both cemetery and mortuary goods and services.

Under the agreement, for the next year, Rest-Haven must mail the department a copy of each new price list for cemetery/mortuary goods and services. For the next five years, Rest-Haven must retain records of oral or written consumer complaints in regards to unexpected fees or charges for goods or services.

CEMETERY REFUND

If you paid a basic cemetery fee of $725 to $750 at Rest-Haven Memorial Park between April 5, 1999, and Tuesday, you might be entitled to a refund. You have 45 days to file a complaint with the state Department of Justice. For more information, call (877) 877-9392 or go online at www.doj.state.or.us.
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Title Annotation:Business; Rest-Haven admits no wrongdoing, but customers may be due a refund
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 16, 2006
Words:762
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