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Lawsuit accuses archdiocese of squandering money from cemetery fund

Two Orange County residents are suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging that a Mission Hills cemetery has misused maintenance funds and left their family's gravesites in ruins.

Jodi Howard and William Howard, whose relatives are buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, filed the class-action suit March 21 after they had difficulty finding the grave markers of their loved ones.

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They allege breach of contract, negligence and fraud by concealment.

Along with what they claim is the generally poor state of the cemetery grounds, the plaintiffs said grave markers were either missing, damaged or covered in overgrown weeds during their repeated visits.

Both of William Howard's parents and his brother are buried at the site, as are the sister, the maternal grandfather and one great-grandparent of Jodi Howard. Jodi is William's daughter-in-law.

Jeffrey Spencer, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said the poor state of the site is not relegated to one area, as the Howards' relatives are buried in various locations.

"The class relied upon the defendant's agreement and duty to maintain their burial plots at the cemetery in … a dignified and respectful manner, and the complaint alleges that the archdiocese did not do that," Spencer said.

According to the lawsuit, arrangements with the archdiocese require that 15% of the amount paid for burials goes toward a cemetery maintenance fund to assure the care of gravesites.

Adrian Alarcon, a spokesperson with the archdiocese, said that despite its status as a religious ministry — state law exempts it from creating a financial reserve for an endowment care fund — the archdiocese voluntarily maintains a similar reserve.

"We are not aware of any of the damage alleged in the litigation," Alarcon said. "We want to assure our patrons that our cemeteries are committed to the steadfast care of the resting places of their loved ones."

The lawsuit seeks damages for emotional distress and the creation of a "constructive trust" that would replenish the cemetery maintenance fund for eventual restoration of the site.

Twitter: @JeffLanda

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