Hanks files #036;1 million suit in cemetery dispute

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 24, 2002

When Lewis Hanks, a Providence Community resident, tried to bury his wife beside his son and his parents, he and funeral home personnel were stopped from breaking ground.

After having to break ground on a new cemetery, Hanks has moved his son’s grave beside his wife's grave, and has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the person he says is responsible for interfering with attempts to bury his wife at Providence Cemetery.

A lawsuit filed in Butler County Circuit Court on July 22, 2002, says that Patricia McNaughton, a resident of Casey Road in Georgiana, had &uot;at some time prior to the death of Anne Marie Hanks, laid claim to the remainder of the burial plots&uot; in Providence Cemetery.

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The cemetery is located on Starlington Road (County Road 15) in Butler County, across from the Providence United Methodist Church.

The suit further states that McNaughton &uot;has no deed or other indica of ownership that gives her title to any burial plots in the above described Providence Cemetery.&uot;

It also states that &uot;defendant Patricia McNaughton has a pattern and practice of interfering in the burials of other members of the public and community desiring to utilize Providence Cemetery.&uot;

In 1995, a similar situation occurred involving another community member whose family wished to bury his body at Providence Cemetery, according to Retha Hilliard, also a Providence Community resident.

&uot;When my grandfather, Robert H. Ainsworth, died in 1995, Patricia McNaughton went to the people from Dunklin-Herndon Funeral Home that were about to dig his grave in Providence Cemetery, and told them that they could not bury him there,&uot; said Hilliard. &uot;My family had to bury him in the Buckaloo Cemetery.&uot;

Charles Coghlan, manager of Dunklin-Herndon Funeral Home in Greenville, also said McNaughton interfered with attempts to bury Ainsworth at Providence Cemetery.

&uot;Patricia McNaughton approached us at the Providence Cemetery, and told us that Mr. Ainsworth could not be buried there,&uot; said Coghlan. &uot;So the family decided that if they were not welcome there, they did not want to bury Mr. Ainsworth there n they made other arrangements, and we placed him at Buckaloo Cemetery.&uot;

Count one of the suit, citing &uot;intentional infliction of emotional distress&uot; states &uot;the actions of defendant McNaughton were done intentionally,&uot; and that &uot;McNaughton knew or should have known that her actions would cause or were likely to cause emotional distress in the mind of plaintiff Hanks given that he was in a state of bereavement.&uot;

The suit alleges that after the death of Plaintiff's wife, Anne Marie Hanks, Defendant Patricia McNaughton interfered in Plaintiff’s attempts to have his wife buried in Providence Cemetery,&uot; and that &uot;as a result of Defendant's interference, Plaintiff was forced to bury his wife in an alternate cemetery and the remains of Plaintiff's wife were not interred beside her son and the plaintiff’s parents plot.&uot;

Cemetery records indicate that in 1993, Hanks’ son, Michael Hanks, then 35, was buried beside Pressley Hanks and the plot reserved for Iris Hanks, the parents of the plaintiff.

Pressley Hanks had been in the Providence Cemetery since his death in 1963. Iris Hanks died on Sept. 7, 2001, and was buried alongside her husband, Pressley.

Sources close to the plaintiff said that it was his wife, Annie’s dying wish to be buried beside her son Michael, and that when this was prevented, it prompted Hanks to seek other arrangements on a day that should otherwise have been left just for grieving.

Hanks has since moved his son’s remains to be beside Mrs. Hanks at Love’s Way Methodist Church, located approximately one mile north of Providence Cemetery, where according to friends, Hanks feels very welcomed.

Craig Bolton, a spokesman for Service Corporation International (SCI), which is located in Houston, Texas, and is the parent company for Johnson Funeral Home in Georgiana said that a dispute occurred at graveside.

&uot;Johnson Funeral Home, which is one of our companies, and is located in Butler County, was charged with directing the funeral of Anne Marie L. Hanks,&uot; said Bolton. &uot;It was clear on the day of the burial, that a dispute existed between Mr. Hanks and Mrs. McNaughton, and Mr. Hanks was forced to seek burial arrangements at another cemetery.&uot;

Butler County land records indicate the Providence Cemetery was created by deed on Aug. 13, 1953 by transfer from Missouri Burkett. It was also expanded on or about Jan. 11, 1960 by land grant also on record in Butler County.

Rev. Billy Joe Bass, pastor of Love's Way Church, and former pastor of Providence United Methodist Church, said that he believes the church has never been connected to the cemetery.

&uot;I was pastor at Providence UMC for 14 years, and as far as I know, the church has never been connected to the cemetery,&uot; Bass said. &uot;There are several members of the church that have family members buried in the Providence Cemetery, but that was of their own choice n it is simply a public cemetery n we never had control over the cemetery.&uot;

Bass said Love’s Way formed in September of 1996, and for more than a year they met in downtown Georgiana, until the new fellowship hall was opened where it stands today, in December of 1997.

&uot;Mr. Hanks approached one of the members of my congregation after he was prevented from burying his wife in Providence, and of course, our cemetery had the space, and is open to anyone who wishes to place their family members there. He has since moved his son to our cemetery as well,&uot; Bass said.

The suit states that &uot;at various times during the years, the Providence Cemetery has had a Board of Trustees or a Board of Directors, but currently there is no active board over the cemetery.&uot;

The suit states that &uot;McNaughton has laid claim to a large amount of grave sites&uot; in Providence Cemetery &uot;believed to be above ten (10), but not exceeding eighty-four (84).&uot;

It further states that the claim &uot;by Defendant is against the spirit of the original cemetery grant, and damages the Plaintiff and the public.&uot;

The suit, filed by Allen G. Woodard, of the Andaluisia, Ala., law firm of Woodard, Patel and Sledge &uot;demands a trial by jury&uot; and asks the court to &uot;make a declaration of the rights of the Defendant with respect to the number of grave sites she has claimed at Providence Cemetery.&uot;

Hanks and McNaughton declined to comment.