Cemetery accused of selling too many graves

Posted: May 18, 2014

Gravestone dealer Yakov Natanzon went to Shalom Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia, in April to place a stone on the grave of Emil Khrizman.

But Natanzon found the spot for Khrizman's marker occupied by flowers and a photograph of Ella Kukava, according to a lawsuit, filed Monday in Common Pleas Court, alleging that Shalom Memorial's managers have a policy of selling more burial plots than the cemetery can hold.

Because of this "overselling" of plots, individual graves "touch, nearly touch, or actually overlap with each other," according to the lawsuit, filed by DeNittis Osefchen P.C. and Bochetto & Lentz P.C., and seeking class-action status.

A representative for the Houston-based owner of Shalom Memorial, Service Corp. International, declined to comment.

"It is our company's policy not to share any details on pending litigation," Jessica McDunn said.

The proposed lead plaintiff is Maya Devinskaya, a 73-year-old widow who lives in Philadelphia. Devinskaya's daughter, Kukava, died last June, a month after Khrizman, whose grave overlaps with Kukava's.

After the gravestone dealer discovered the problem, cemetery management told Devinskaya that Kukava would have to be disinterred and moved, which was devastating news, because Jewish law generally forbids disinterment, the lawsuit says.

The suit seeks unspecified financial damages and an order that the company stop selling more graves than the cemetery can hold. It also asks for an audit of existing grave boundaries and court monitoring of operations.

Joseph Osefchen, an attorney involved in the lawsuit, said Friday that there are many others with experiences similar to Devinskaya's, including several who were found this week.


hbrubaker@phillynews.com

215-854-4651 @InqBrubaker

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