Legal Matters

Funereal family feud spills into court

by Walter Pierce

A well-known clan of morticians splits at the seams in a battle over control of the family funeral home empire.

Photo Illustration

Falcon Crest, meet Pelican Bayou. A family-owned chain of funeral homes that began in New Iberia almost a half century ago and has expanded to seven locations is in the midst of an acrimonious battle among the children and grandchildren of the company’s founders.

Half of the David Funeral Home family — Richard David, his son Lance David and Kelly David Perkins, Richard’s daughter — awaits a rehearing request with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which ruled recently in favor of Danny David Sr., who co-founded David Mortuary Inc. with his parents, Dennis and Cora Mae David, in 1969. At issue before the appeals court was the membership of the limited liability company that now operates seven funeral homes in New Iberia, Lafayette, Erath, Youngsville, Abbeville, Jeanerette and Loreauville. Danny David Sr. and Richard David are brothers. A third brother, Royal David, is on the Danny Sr. side of the litigation.

At the heart of the case was a pair of clandestine meetings held last summer during which Richard, Lance and Kelly removed Danny Sr., Danny Jr. and Royal as officers of the limited liability company. Danny Sr. et al held a meeting of their own to amend the Richard-Lance-Kelly amendments. The former sued but a trial court ruled in favor of Danny Sr., Danny Jr. and Royal.

Richard David, Kelly David Perkins and Lance David

While confusing because there are so many Davids involved in the lititagation, the case reads like a prime time soap opera without a “Who shot JR?” cliffhanger: Danny David Sr., a co-founder with his parents of the mortuary company, his son, Danny Jr. and brother, Royal David, are pitted against Richard, Lance and Kelly; it’s brothers versus brother, cousin against cousins.

Some background: in 2007 David Mortuary Inc. converted into an LLC. The sons of the founders — Danny Sr., Richard and Royal David — held just under a one-third stake each in the company; cousins Kelly and Danny Jr. held small shares as well.

On Feb. 11, 2014, a pair of company membership meetings were held. At the first one Richard, Kelly, Danny Sr. and Royal were present. At a second meeting that day, which Danny Sr. and Jr. contend they had no knowledge of, Richard, Kelly, Royal and Lance were present, according to the 3rd Circuit opinion.

“What occurred at this meeting is at the heart of this case. Richard, Kelly and Lance [father, son and daughter] take the position that Danny Sr. and Danny Jr. were removed as members of David Mortuary LLC but kept their ownership in the company. They also contend that Lance was admitted as a member of the company. Danny Sr., Danny Jr. and Royal disagree,” the 3rd Circuit opinion notes.

The 3rd Circuit opinion further notes that at the beginning of January 2015, brothers Royal and Danny David Sr. sent written notice of a special meeting to be held on Jan. 6, but in the meantime — on Jan. 4 — Richard David and his children, Lance and Kelly, held a meeting and kicked Royal out of the company, leaving only Richard, Lance and Kelly as officers of the LLC.

Danny Sr., Danny Jr. and Royal went ahead with the Jan. 6 meeting as planned and adopted “certain resolutions affecting the company,” according to the appeals court.

Richard, Kelly and Lance filed suit, asking the district court to “declare the Jan. 6, 2015 meeting to be null and void and enjoin the defendants from conducting any corporate activity.”

A trial was held in May and June of last year, which ended in a ruling in favor of Danny Sr., Danny Jr. and Royal David. The judge in the case, Vincent Borne of the 16th Judicial District in New Iberia, ruled that the defendants, Danny Sr. et al, were never removed or expelled as members of the LLC; that Danny Sr. was never removed as co-managing member of the company; and that the company’s articles of organization were properly amended by a vote of the majority of the members at the Jan. 6, 2015 meeting attended by Danny Sr., Danny Jr. and Royal David.

Richard, Kelly and Lance appealed to the 3rd Circuit, which ruled against them, and that’s where the case stands. But before the 3rd Circuit ruled, Richard, Kelly and Lance had the corporate filing with the Louisiana secretary of state’s office amended to reflect that they were the sole officers of David Mortuary LLC. The company’s website has also been scrubbed of any mention of Danny Sr., Danny Jr. and Royal. The appeals court ordered the secretary of state information to be changed back to the original membership, but that change hasn’t been reflected yet in the filing as the lawsuit remains in limbo while the 3rd Circuit decides whether to rehear the case.

Nicholas LaRocca Jr., the Morgan City attorney for Danny David Sr., accuses Richard, Kelly and Lance of needlessly dragging the case along by filing the rehearing application with 3rd Circuit, thus protracting what he views as the inevitable.

“That’s just the type of people they are — they just won’t give up,” LaRocca says. “I wouldn’t consider this to be an impasse; I would say that we’re at a point now where we have a judgment in our favor recognizing our ownership and our management control, but we can’t effectuate that judgment until it becomes a final judgment of the court, and it won’t become a final judgment until either 30 days after the denial of the rehearing or if they timely file a writ application and the [state] supreme court denies the writ application. At that point it will become a final judgment and we can be restored to the ownership, management control and possession of the assets of David’s Mortuary.

Jeff Ackerman, an attorney for Richard, Lance and Kelly, had little to say about the case other than to confirm that they’re awaiting a decision by the 3rd Circuit about whether the appeals court will rehear the case. Ackerman confirms that if the 3rd Circuit declines to rehear the case, they will file a writ to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

As a result, it could be months before this funeral home fight is resolved. In the meantime, LaRocca says, his clients are ready to get back to the business of burying the dead: “Absolutely. They’re definitely interested in doing that as soon as possible.”