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Teaneck, N.J. woman files lawsuit against Passaic County funeral home

A Teaneck woman is suing a Paterson funeral home because she says her mother’s ashes were lost there months after her funeral and personal belongings were never returned to her.

Aisha Smith filed a lawsuit in Passaic County Superior Court last week, alleging that Carnie P. Bragg Funeral Home failed to release the ashes of her mother, Valerie Wilson, for two months and that the funeral home said she had “irreplaceable items” cremated with her body.

Smith said her mother died on July 8, 2022, while on a trip to Baltimore, and funeral home Carnie P. Bragg contacted her within an hour to discuss funeral arrangements.

The lawsuit says Smith entered into a “Funeral Goods and Services Agreement” with the funeral home, funeral director Stephanie Conyers-Bland and funeral director Harris Holloway. Smith selected cremation services at Cedar Lawn and Crematory, and the total estimated costs were $8,196 with an adjustment of $1,196, for a total of $7,000. Smith said she and Conyers-Bland signed the agreement.

Holloway deferred comment to the funeral home’s attorney but said he was “sure the complaint is riddled with false statements.” The funeral home’s attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Funeral services were scheduled for July 15, 2022, with cremation the following day, and Smith paid the funeral home $7,000. According to the lawsuit, Smith went to the funeral home on July 14, 2022, to pick up her mother’s funeral clothes and jewelry, including family heirlooms. On the day of the funeral, Smith said she brought another necklace and bracelet and put them on her mother.

“Defendants encouraged (Smith) to contribute the deceased’s property and memorabilia in order to express the deceased’s personality and make the funeral service unique,” ​​the lawsuit states. “(Smith) entrusted Defendants with her mother’s jewelry and valuable personal property based on these representations, including family heirlooms and a number of irreplaceable items awarded to her for her civil rights activism and work with former President Barack Obama.”

Valerie Wilson’s Ashes

The lawsuit says Smith asked if she and her family could attend her mother’s cremation the next day. They were told they were not allowed, but that they would receive a call in about a week to pick up the ashes and personal effects.

Smith said she went to Carnie P. Bragg Funeral Home on July 22, 2022, to give staff thank-you notes and ask about her mother’s ashes and personal effects. The lawsuit says she was told the employee who handled it never showed up and was “promised” to call when she picked everything up, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, on July 29, 2022, she called the funeral home again after not hearing back and asked for the ashes and personal items. She was “again promised” she would answer the phone, but never did.

“(Smith) and her family had planned for the burial of her mother’s ashes at George Washington Memorial Park on August 12, 2022, her mother’s birthday, but was forced to cancel the event because Defendants failed to return her mother’s ashes or her personal property by that date and did not call as promised,” the lawsuit states. “This unexpected cancellation devastated (Smith), causing her severe emotional distress.”

The lawsuit alleges that in August 2022, Smith called or visited the funeral home every week to inquire about her mother’s ashes and personal effects, but “received nothing but excuses as to why the funeral home and its employees were not returning her mother’s ashes or personal effects.”

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The lawsuit said Smith was “agonized” over not being able to “gain closure” over her mother’s death. In a separate statement, Smith said Bragg’s neglect made her grieving process “significantly more difficult to go through.”

On Sept. 22, 2022, Smith went to a funeral home to “demand” the return of her ashes and personal belongings and refused to leave when asked to return later, the lawsuit says. According to the lawsuit, Smith had to wait 30 minutes before receiving a bag with a “visibly stained” box with a label saying it was her mother’s ashes. The lawsuit says the funeral home failed to return any of her mother’s belongings, including jewelry, and that an employee told her that “only a certain employee has access to the property” and would call Smith.

Smith said she got a call the next day and was told her mother’s jewelry and personal items had been cremated. The lawsuit says Smith was “shocked.” Smith’s attorney, Samuel Jackson, said the crematorium received the body without clothes or jewelry, and the funeral home “customarily” disposed of it.

The lawsuit says Smith has not yet held a burial ceremony for her mother’s ashes and is “unsure” if the ashes are her mother’s. Smith said she is “even more distraught” over her mother’s missing items and that they are worth more to her than their resale value.

The December 2022 lawsuit claims Smith received a $500 check without explanation from the funeral home and was “horrified” by their attempts to “compensate for their unprofessional conduct, interference with her right to closure, and inexcusable loss/refusal to return her mother’s estate.”

The lawsuit said Smith never cashed the check.

Jackson said funeral homes must be held accountable “when they fail to handle the remains and valuables of deceased loved ones with reasonable care, as the complaint alleges Bragg did in this case.”