Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Judge rejects appeal of Shepherd license revocation

The path to saving the Thos. Shepherd & Son funeral home and cemetery business continued to narrow this week with a pair of decisive courtroom losses for the business’s attorney.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge William Coward rejected an appeal by Shepherd attorney Michael Edney of the order in December that shut down the funeral home, revoked the funeral director license of the late Thomas R. “Tom” Shepherd and revoked the crematory manager permit of his wife, Melody Shepherd.
In a sweeping win for the N.C. Board of Funeral Service, Coward dismissed Edney’s petition for judicial review of the revocation order, denied his motion to temporarily block the revocation pending appeal, ordered the business to:

  • “Cease and desist all copying, downloading and retaining of active pre-need contracts"
  • Turn over to the board all records of the contracts
  • Destroy all electronic and hard copies after the transfer is complete

“We’re pleased that the court give it careful and thoughtful consideration,” Catherine E. Lee, general counsel for the regulatory agency, said outside the Transylvania County Courthouse after the hearing concluded. “We’ll be getting the files back to make sure that consumers are protected. I think the consumers are the winners here.”
The Board of Funeral Service had its own copies of the preneed contracts because funeral homes are required to file with them with the agency. But Lee and the agency’s director say they need any supporting files or other documents the funeral home might have retained. Although Edney said in a hearing before Judge Coward on Feb. 14 that he intended to drop his appeal of the revocation and turn over the preneed contracts, that never happened. Instead, Edney renewed his effort to appeal the revocation order. On Tuesday he argued that the judge should honor the “constitutional property rights that we have in those contracts.”
The state board first offered the 550 preneed contracts to Jackson Funeral Service based solely on the fact that it was the closest funeral home to the Shepherd business on South Church Street. When owner Jay Jackson turned them down, the contracts went to Shuler Forest Lawn. (Under the law, consumers have the right to transfer preneed contracts themselves to whatever funeral business they choose.)
Edney told Judge Coward said that he has a letter of intent from another funeral home that wants to buy the funeral home. Edney said that he told the Board of Funeral Service on March 9 that “we had a potential buyer.”
Instead of granting him more time, “they go behind my back and go behind the court’s back and take the contracts and give them to someone else,” he said. The court should not allow the board “to continue to violate the rights and laws by assigning the contracts to the company that one of the board members sits on. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Edney argued that the revocation ought to be vacated because Tom Shepherd died on Dec. 31. Further, he argued that the hearing via Zoom last November took place with no attorney present representing Tom and Melody Shepherd and at a time Tom Shepherd “was on his death bed” and unable to participate.
The day after Coward’s ruling in favor of the funeral service board, Judge Marvin Pope dealt the Shepherd business another setback, impounding the 30-acre Shepherd Memorial Park and appointing a receiver to “manage, control and administer all property, business, finances and affairs of the cemetery.” The Shepherd corporation “shall not manage or administer the affairs of the cemetery,” Pope said in his order.