When the parent company of Eden Memorial Park in Los Angeles settled a class-action lawsuit (pdf)—pressed by horrified relatives of people buried there—for $80.5 million last year, Service Corporation International (SCI) did not admit any of the alleged facts or wrongdoing.
The company may get a chance to deny it all again. More than 60 people have filed a new civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court making essentially the same grotesque claims as the first lawsuit, but covering a different time frame and people who didn’t participate in the first suit.
The original lawsuit was brought on behalf of nine plaintiffs and 25,000 people, and alleged that between 1985, when Texas-based SCI purchased the cemetery, and 2009, when the suit was filed, the owners systematically smashed concrete casings protecting coffins with backhoes and despoiled graves while reconfiguring the grounds to accommodate more paying customers. In the process, bones were gathered and reburied or stuck in the cemetery dump.
Eden Memorial, in the San Fernando Valley’s suburban Mission Hills, is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the country. Around 40,000 people are buried on 72 acres, including a lot of Hollywood’s lesser lights, like Harvey Lembeck of the Phil Silvers Show, and a few stars: Lenny Bruce and Groucho Marx.
The lawsuit alleged that Eden Memorial knowingly broke around 1,500 vaults during the 24-year period.
The judge told SCI not to touch the cemetery dump until investigators could check out reports of bones and broken concrete, according to the Jewish Journal. But that didn’t happen and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohrer wasn’t pleased.
In November 2010, he ruled that a jury could hear evidence from the plaintiffs that SCI tampered with evidence, they did it on purpose and the now-missing evidence might have been damaging to their case. But the case bounced around in the courts for years. The state Supreme Court refused to overturn Judge Mohrer’s approval of class-action status for the plaintiffs in July 2012.
In December 2013, as they prepared for court, Superior Court Judge Marc Marmaro ruled that lawyers for SCI could not ask prospective jurors if they were Jewish. But the judge said they could inquire if a juror felt their religious beliefs might prejudice them in the case. And he reserved the right to change his mind later.
Plaintiffs had estimated they valued damages at $500 million and their lawyers were preparing to present evidence that groundskeepers had been instructed by management to secretly smash the graves. Their lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said when the trial began in February 2014 that the practices were still going on.