By KYLA ASBURY
BECKLEY – Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is suing Tri-County Burial Association after he claims he received several consumer complaints.
H.E. Melton, Connie E. Lewis, Leonard T. Powell, William E. Bowles and Daniel R. Calfee, individually and as officers and members of the Board of Directors of Tri-County Burial Association were also named as defendants in the suit.
After receiving the complaints, the State commenced an investigation of the defendants' business practices, according to a complaint filed in Raleigh Circuit Court.
Morrisey claims the by-laws of the association stated that it was created to help people with burial expenses and members were accepted after an application was sent in and then approved by the Board of Directors.
The association solicited and sold memberships to West Virginia consumers and members were promised that funeral expenses would be paid, according to the suit. At the time of acceptance, the member would pay $26 to the association and when members would pass away, a card, known as a blue card, was sent to members requiring payment of $1 for each passing member's burial expense.
Morrisey claims the association did not send a card until 10 members had passed away and at least 10 times a year the blue card was sent to members for payment.
If payment was not received, the member would not be in good standing with the association and members were also required to pay $13 annually to remain in good standing with the association, according to the suit.
Morrisey claims in 1997 the association was divided into chapters, with only 2,000 members contained in each chapter.
After the division in to chapters, blue cards were only sent for people who passed away in the member's chapter and, as such, burial expenses paid out would total $2,000 for each member, according to the suit.
Morrisey claims members were not advised or instructed regarding the reduction in burial payments and as some time, the association stopped accepting new members and current members were still required to pay $13 annually and continued to pay the blue card requirements.
On May 1, 2014, the building in which Tri-County's office was contained was sold for $200,000 and on Sept. 26, the association mailed a letter to members that stated the Board of Directors was meeting to vote on dissolving the association, according to the suit.
Morrisey claims despite advising of the dissolution, the association continued to send out blue cards to collect burial fees.
The defendants' practices violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, according to the suit.
Morrisey is seeking an order temporarily and permanently enjoining and restraining the defendants from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices; an order temporarily freezing the assets of the association; an order requiring the defendants to provide the state with a complete list identifying each member of the association as of Sept. 1; an order finding the board members personally liable for West Virginia law violations; judgment in the amount of $2,000 to each current member and each consumer who filed a complaint; and other damages and civil penalties.
The attorney general is represented by Assistant Attorney General R. Stephen Jarrell.
The case is assigned to Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III.
Raleigh Circuit Court case number: 15-C-374