The claims made against HopeWest by more than 30 people who are suing Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors over the alleged mishandling and sale of human remains are not plausible, HopeWest’s attorneys say in an Aug. 1 motion for dismissal.
HopeWest, a hospice and palliative care association, is named in the multi-party case filed June 30 on behalf of several more families who used Sunset Mesa for their loved ones’ final arrangements.
Sunset Mesa’s owner Megan Hess is accused in the suit, and in other civil actions, of harvesting and selling body parts without the permission or knowledge of next of kin.
Hess denies the allegations.
The June 30 complaint, captioned “Abachiche et. al,” is the second multi-party action to be brought in the matter by the Front Range firm Burg Simpson. (The July 3 Montrose Daily Press called the case by the name of its lead plaintiff, Wabel.) The case makes similar allegations to an earlier case, Espinoza et. al, also filed by Burg Simpson.
So far, one defendant in the June 30 action has been dismissed, Retriever Freight Services, which also was dismissed from the Espinoza case. Retriever Freight was dismissed from Abachiche et. al July 24, according to court records.
HopeWest says that although the complaint pertains to allegations involving 29 decedents, it only connects eight to HopeWest.
Further, the complaint fails to support assertions of outrageous conduct, unjust enrichment, negligence, aiding and abetting, civil conspiracy, or its Colorado Organized Crime Control Act claim, HopeWest attorney Jamey Jamison argued in the dismissal motion.
The plaintiffs, Jamison said, “fail to assert any allegations of reckless or outrageous behavior on the part of HopeWest.” Aside from making statements that HopeWest recommended Sunset Mesa as a funeral home to two of the plaintiffs, no allegations support a reasonable inference that the hospice knew about the allegedly illegal activities at the funeral home, the motion also says.
Similarly, the complaint fails to set for facts that could prove HopeWest actually received a financial benefit for directing business to Sunset Mesa, Jamison said, in attacking the claim for unjust enrichment.
The negligence claims also fail, the motion says.
The plaintiffs in their filing said HopeWest was in breach of its duties for not performing a reasonable inquiry into Sunset Mesa’s operation, even though it knew or should have known about the potential for abuse and improper and illegal conduct concerning the sale of bodies and body parts.
HopeWest had no duty to so inquire, though, Jamison said, and even if the hospice had recommended the funeral home, there are no factual allegations showing it knew anything about potential illegal activity there.
Jamison reiterated that argument concerning the aiding and abetting claim.
“The complaint asserts no facts from which it can plausibly be concluded that HopeWest actually knew about Hess’ alleged unlawful or inappropriate conduct, or that it encouraged her to commit a crime,” the attorney wrote.
Similarly, there are no facts alleged showing HopeWest conspired with any co-defendant, therefore, the civil conspiracy claim is unsupported, the dismissal motion says.
A civil violation under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act requires proof of specific activities. Jamison said with respect to HopeWest, the Abachiche et. al complaint does not meet those requirements and is “devoid of facts.”
Other responses in the case are pending.
The Sunset Mesa defendants are seeking a continuance of 60 days in which to file a response, but the plaintiffs’ attorneys are opposed to that lengthy of a delay.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer.