Megan Hess, the former Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors and Crematory owner who is accused in civil suits of selling bodies and body parts without proper permission, is seeking a gag order with respect to the use of a minor’s name.
In “Espinoza et. al,” Hess and several other defendants are being sued by more than 60 parties over alleged “body brokering” constituting outrageous conduct, fraud, negligence, civil conspiracy, violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act and violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act. Not all parties are accused of all alleged violations.
In a Monday filing, Hess sought the dismissal of the claim made against a trust that, according to the complaint, is in a minor’s name.
Hess in her motion said no such trust exists, so the claims against it should be dismissed. She also requested a “gag order as to not further slander or defame the name of a … child. Defendant also requests a gag order to protect the minor child from media exposure and harassment,” the motion states.
Hess in a separate motion Monday also requested more time in which to respond to the complaint, seeking the same extension that was previously granted to other defendants, such as her parents, Alan and Shirley Koch.
Since Espinoza et. al was filed, some defendants have succeeded in having the complaints against them dismissed.
Most recently, on June 3, Burg Simpson, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, voluntarily dismissed Montrose County from the complaint, but left open the possibility of refiling.
Montrose County sought dismissal in an April motion that said there is “no nexus” between Hess’ business operations and the county commissioners, who do not regulate funeral homes, and who have no oversight over the county coroner, a fellow elected official. The coroner, Dr. Thomas Canfield is also named in the suit; he has also filed for dismissal.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys on June 6 further filed a response to Innoved Institute’s dismissal motion. Innoved is accused of purchasing “certain tissue” from Hess over the years; the company contends the evidence is insufficient to support plaintiffs’ claims and, further, the bulk of plaintiffs lack standing to bring a claim.
Innoved made only “sporadic” purchases from Hess and did not have a contract with her; had no interaction with any of the plaintiffs and there is no evidence that it knew what Hess was allegedly doing, its dismissal motion asserts.
The June 6 response says sufficient facts support the “plausible inference” that Innoved knew it was purchasing unlawfully obtained bodies and body parts. The company cannot claim to be protected by the Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, as that act applies only to anatomical gifts and “here, the bodies were not donated. Innoved had a duty to conduct its body broker business according to professional standards, legal mandates and common sense,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote.
Innoved in its dismissal motion also failed to meet applicable legal standards for challenging plaintiffs’ standing to bring suit, and all plaintiffs have alleged injuries against the company, Burg Simpson attorneys also wrote.
“As a result of the ongoing conspiracy that Innoved aided and abetted and participated in, the bodies and body parts of plaintiffs’ loved ones were sold for profit without their knowledge or consent,” the response states, calling for the court to reject Innoved’s dismissal motion.
The Espinoza et. al suit is one of four civil actions to be filed against Hess since the FBI served search warrants at Sunset Mesa and its associated business, Donor Services Inc., early last year.
The FBI has not publicly said what the nature of its investigation is, no charges have been filed, and Hess has denied wrongdoing. People who used Sunset Mesa to handle loved ones’ remains have since shared communication from the FBI indicating bodies or body parts were harvested and sold.
Separately, the state of Colorado alleged violations of the Mortuary Science Code, including returning incorrect cremains to the family of Gerald “Cactus” Hollenback and returning concrete mix to other families. Under a stipulated agreement last summer, Hess permanently surrendered her crematory and mortuary registrations, but did not admit any violations.
Hollenback’s widow and stepdaughter were first to file suit; their litigation was followed by that of Julee Glynn in one case, and Terri Thorsby and other parties in another.
Hess in April argued for the Hollenback suit to be dismissed. She said the accusations were baseless and detailed cremation practices that could explain why concrete may be found in ashes, as well as the possibility of limited co-mingling of cremains.
In response, plaintiffs’ attorney Aaron Acker said the dismissal motion set out a narrative of expert opinions and “hypotheticals” that ignored the law; no legal basis for dismissal was provided, he said.
On Monday, District Judge Mary Deganhart denied Hess’ motion as one that is “no more than a recitation by the defendant about her opinions regarding the case and is unverified.”
The Thorsby suit remains active, with a status report due later this month.
Glynn was granted summary judgment against Sunset Mesa and Hess over the handling of her late brother’s body, which according to court testimony was dismembered and sold against his pre-mortem wishes and without Glynn’s permission.
Glynn started out her suit also listing 20 “Johns Doe” defendants; this part of the action was split from the original suit and stayed. According to court filings since, there is now only one such defendant, identified as American Plastination.
A status report had been due May 31 but was not filed. Deganhart instructed the plaintiff’s attorneys to provide one by June 20.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.