Craigmiles v. Giles

Craigmiles v. Giles, 312 F.3d 220 (6th Cir. 2002), is a federal appellate case where the court affirmed the district court’s invalidation of licensing requirements for the sale of caskets in the state of Tennessee as a violation of the plaintiffsequal protection and due process rights. Applying rational basis scrutiny, the court found that the licensing requirement had no legitimate rational basis as applied to casket retailers. 

The plaintiffs brought suit against the Tennessee Funeral Directors and Embalmers Act (FDEA) on the grounds of violation of their equal protection rights, due process rights, and privileges and immunities. The plaintiffs were only in the business of selling caskets and other funeral supplies. The plaintiffs did not ever handle bodies or serve in any funeral directing capacity. The district court used rational basis review, given that there are no protected classes involved, overturning the FDEA on equal protection and due process grounds because the district found there to be no rational basis for the licensing requirement as it applied to only those who sell caskets. The court rejected the privileges and immunities argument citing its limited applicability.

The government appealed and the sixth circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court acknowledged that laws rarely are overturned under rational basis review, noting that a rational basis does not have to be the actual reason for the law's enactment. Nonetheless, the court rejected the government’s basis for the law’s applicability to casket retailers. The court found that the licensure of casket retailers did not protect public health and safety because the retailers never handled the bodies and the state of Tennessee has no requirements on the type of casket used in burial. The court rejected the argument that consumer protection aspects of the licensing requirement are also available through normal protections from fraudulent misrepresentations, and the court highlighted the Supreme Court’s skepticism of broad, circular grounds for regulation like this licensing when more direct options are available. 

The court rejected other proposed grounds for rational basis and focused on the anticompetitive reasons for the licensure. The court explained that the only evident reason for requiring casket retailers to acquire the lengthy and expensive license was to protect the industry from competition. The funeral service providers often charged double or higher for caskets than the retailers did. The FDEA was amended in 1972 to include licensure for casket retailers which has limited competition in the market. The court cited numerous prior cases finding that protection of a group in the market does not constitute a legitimate rational basis, and thus, the appellate court affirmed the repeal of licensing requirements for casket retailers.

[Last updated in September of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]