Miami, Florida, August 4, 2006 – In a press conference today, attorneys Ervin A. Gonzalez and Neil Hirschfield announced a class action lawsuit against Graceland Memorial Park South for the improper handling, misplacement, and disturbance of thousands of graves. Gonzalez and Hirschfield, who settled the Menorah Gardens grave desecration case in Broward County three years ago for $100 Million, announced that the exact whereabouts of more 5,000 bodies buried at Graceland Memorial are unknown.
In 1986 Alicia Garcia purchased a burial plot for her sister, Eloisa Garcia, at Graceland Memorial Park South (Graceland). At the time, the Garcia family was unable to afford a headstone for Eloisa, but Alicia Garcia was assured that the location of her sister’s burial would be accurately recorded by the cemetery and that it would always be locatable. Graceland, however, located at 13900 SW 117th Avenue in Miami, operating under the name of Paradise Memorial Gardens, Inc., had significant record keeping, spacing and quality control problems that would prevent Eloisa’s remains from ever being located.
According to the lawsuit, Graceland has no accurate maps or records of the section of the cemetery where Eloisa is buried. In an attempt to locate Eloisa’s remains, cemetery staff conducted an extensive search in an area adjacent to where they believed she was located. They uncovered multiple graves with heavy equipment and probed various burials with metal rods. After desecrating multiple graves, Graceland staff removed the lid of the vault that they assumed contained Eloisa’s remains. The search and inspections were conducted without the permission or consent of any family member.
According to the State of Florida Department of Banking and Finance, Division of Finance, this is not the cemetery’s first occurrence. Findings from examinations of the cemetery between 1993 and 2001 cite numerous occurrences of inconsistent burial records and misidentification of graves. Although fined by the State, the problem was never corrected.
“Graceland Memorial Park South has admitted to burying individuals in the wrong location and in a manner that encroaches on other burial plots,” said Ervin A. Gonzalez, partner at Colson Hicks Eidson. “What’s most disturbing is the fact that the cemetery admits to uncovering and disturbing burials on a routine basis to verify the identity and whereabouts of those individuals.”
In a recent deposition in May 2006, Yvette McPhillips, current general manager of Graceland, testified that more than 5,000 burials in the “old section” of the cemetery were essentially non-locatable.
As a result Graceland has erected a single memorial in the “old section” with the names of more than 5,400 decedents who are buried in the general area and cannot be accurately located, creating a mass grave. The cemetery has no intention of remedying the situation without court intervention.
“The whole thing is inconceivable and wrong,” said Gonzalez. “The purpose of a cemetery is to provide a dignified resting place for loved ones – a place where family members can visit loved ones and find peace and closure. A mass grave with a name slapped on a memorial is far from dignified, peaceful or appropriate. Family members should know exactly where the graves are – exactly, not in the general vicinity.”
Class action allegations have been filed on behalf of Eloisa Garcia and Reyvis Garcia, her surviving son, as well as more than 5,400 members similarly situated. The Garcias and the class seek money damages for mental anguish, infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence, and an injunction requiring Graceland to locate the burials and take remedial action to ascertain the location of and disposition of the subject remains and to ensure their proper identification and perpetual care.
“Graceland Memorial Park South’s acts and omissions are outrageous and extreme and should be regarded as atrocious and intolerable in a civilized community,” said attorney Neal Hirschfield of the law firm Greenspoon Marder in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, co-counsel with Ervin A. Gonzalez. “We intend to expose these atrocities to ensure that they never happen again.”
In 2003 Gonzalez and Hirschfield settled a class action case against Houston based funeral chain Service Corporation International (SCI) for desecrating Jewish cemetery sites, misplacing bodies, overselling plots and removing bodies from their burial sites at two of its Broward and Palm Beach Menorah Gardens Cemeteries. The case settled for $100 Million.
Graceland Memorial Park South is owned by Osiris Holding of Florida, Inc., a subsidiary of Alderwoods Group, Inc., the second largest provider of funeral services in the world.