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May 07. 2012 10:27PM

Manchester funeral director sues board, claims anti-competitive bias

One of the largest funeral directors in the state has sued in federal court a New Hampshire board that oversees his industry, claiming it is made up of competitors who are taking anti-competitive actions against his business.

Arthur Phaneuf, president of the Cremation Society of New Hampshire, has asked a federal judge to take supervisory jurisdiction over the New Hampshire Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.

Phaneuf also seeks an injunction against an upcoming disciplinary hearing involving the Cremation Society. And although the suit seeks monetary relief, Phaneuf insists he does not want to collect dollar damages.

Phaneuf said four of the five people on the Funeral Directors Board are competitors of his company, which has four funeral homes in the state and markets its cremation services statewide.

In the filing, he claims the board targeted him for harassment and prosecution because his companies are the strongest competitors in New Hampshire. And he even claims that some of the laws covering funeral directors in New Hampshire are unnecessary.

“If they don't consider you a competitive threat, they'll leave you alone and let you do what you want,” Phaneuf said Monday. He said the company has never been disciplined, fined or lost its license since he has been president.

A telephone message left with the assistant New Hampshire attorney general assigned the case, James Spencer Culp, was not returned Monday. The chairman of the Funeral Directors Board, Susan A. Simonds, said: “at this point I cannot make any comments.”

Simonds works at Foley Funeral Home in Keene.

In the suit, Phaneuf said Simonds and other board members — Thomas G. Janosz of the Cain & Janosz Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Manchester, and Bryan S. Gould of the Ricker Funeral Home in Woodsville — have shown bias against him and his company.

In an example of the board's actions, Phaneuf points to a complaint the Funeral Directors Board is expected to hear against his company by Robert Holmes, whose wife died in February 2010.

Holmes claims that he dealt with an in-law of Phaneuf, Jeffrey A. Plasz, and not a licensed funeral director when he discussed arrangements. He also said the in-law did not give him an itemized statement of goods and services and did not tell him the urn he had selected for his wife's remains was not the eventual one used.

But Phaneuf claims Holmes twice met with a funeral director and that he received two statements from the company.

Furthermore, the lawyer that investigated the complaint — Board member Randy Gordon — never interviewed Phaneuf or anyone at the company, blaming it on scheduling problems, the suit claims.

Phaneuf said Gordon had more than a year to arrange an interview.

Phaneuf's lawyer asked District Court Judge Steven J. McAuliffe to block the hearing, which is scheduled for later this month. McAuliffe has refused, but Phaneuf lawyer Frank Mesmer has asked McAuliffe to reconsider.


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