Class-action lawsuit about Galilee cemetery goes to trial

Families put fresh flowers at grave sites for the first time in at least 16 months. 2015 photo by Tyrone Randall.

Galilee Memorial Gardens in Bartlett is back in the spotlight again, as a class-action trial opened this week against the cemetery and the funeral homes that used it. Opening statements were Tuesday but not yet available at press time.

The Bartlett cemetery hit the news in 2014 when owner Jemar Lambert was arrested on allegations that the business mishandled corpses (including stacking coffins in the same grave plot because of the scarcity of space in the cemetery), as well as having inaccurate financial and burial records. The story grew when news broke that Lambert illegally buried some bodies on adjacent land he didn’t own. In 2015 he pleaded guilty and received 10 years’ probation.

Galilee Memorial Gardens is currently in receivership with the Department of Commerce and Insurance through the Chancery Court of Davidson County.

The families of about 1,200 dead people are facing off against more than a dozen Memphis-area funeral homes they say sent bodies to Galilee for years after registration expired for the cemetery. The lawsuit alleges that their loved ones’ remains would not have been mishandled if a licensed funeral director had supervised burials.

They are seeking damages that may range into the millions if a jury agrees with the family’s arguments.

Court filings show that the funeral homes deny allegations against them and say they are not liable for the cemetery’s actions.