Funeral Home Owner Blocked From Practicing Profession

Judge issues preliminary injunction against Basin businessman

Antelope Butte Cremation, pictured in 2017, is one of three funeral-related businesses owned by Clayton Draggoo. A judge has barred him from operating the facilities until he obtains a new license. (Courtesy photo from the Big Horn Assessor’s Office via MapServer)

By CJ Baker

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A judge has ordered the owner of a crematory and two funeral homes in northwest Wyoming to stop operating his facilities until he obtains a new state license. However, last week’s injunction against Clayton Draggoo doesn’t necessarily mean his Big Horn Basin businesses will have to close, as he could hire another practitioner to temporarily oversee them.

Draggoo owns Atwood Family Funeral Directors in Basin and Greybull, Veile Mortuary in Worland and Antelope Butte Cremation in Greybull. He’d been a licensed practitioner in Wyoming from 2015 until March, when his license expired; the Wyoming State Board of Funeral Service Practitioners said Draggoo submitted an incomplete renewal application and didn’t respond to requests to update it.

The board warned Draggoo on March 8 that he needed to stop working as a funeral service practitioner because his license was no longer valid, but he continued operating his businesses. The board filed suit in Big Horn County District Court in May, asking a judge to order Draggoo to stop practicing without a license.

Although expressing some concern about the potential impacts to Draggoo and the communities he serves, District Court Judge Bill Simpson issued a preliminary injunction on Aug. 15. Simpson said the law was on the board’s side.

Joint service troops unveil the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in 2008, as a tribute to those killed on September 11, 2001. Clayton Draggoo, who served as a mortuary affairs specialist for the U.S. Army, helped recover the victims’ remains in the wake of the terrorist attack. (Courtesy photo from Petty Officer 1st Class Molly Burgess/U.S. Navy)

“The Legislature has established that persons offering funeral services in the state of Wyoming must be licensed and educated, stating that harm to the public exists when a person performs funeral services without a license,” he said.

As Draggoo’s attorney Bill Hibbler put it, the ruling means the Basin businessman “should not practice in any way shape or form” for the time being.

Forms and complaints

The trouble stemmed from a two-page renewal application Draggoo submitted in January.

An email in the court file shows the board’s executive director, Chelsea Cortez, flagged Draggoo’s response to a question that asked if he’d faced any complaints in the past two years. Draggoo checked “no,” but Cortez said complaints were filed in 2020, 2021 and 2022, describing some as “current/ongoing.” Under state law, the allegations are kept confidential unless the board finds they have merit and issues public discipline.

Board records show Draggoo, who was born in 1979, has never been publicly disciplined. In one court filing, he included a sampling of appreciative comments he’s received from customers.

Ultimately, the complaints appear to have had nothing to do with Draggoo’s application being rejected. The board instead faulted him for leaving a section blank about his continuing education.

After the suit was filed, Draggoo reported that he had completed the mandatory eight hours of training last year, and he later took another 18 hours of classes. Draggoo attributed his incomplete paperwork and unresponsiveness to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he suffered while serving in the U.S. Army; his time as a mortuary affairs specialist included multiple deployments overseas and work recovering the remains of those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon.

Simpson made a point of praising Draggoo’s “distinguished” service and said he was sympathetic to the veteran’s situation and disability.

“… it is mitigation in the court’s eyes, and I applaud his service to this country, and what he’s done under the most trying of circumstances,” Simpson said. “But I am still bound by, in this particular situation, the finite provisions of the law and the factual circumstances.”

The renewal application that funeral service practitioner Clayton Draggoo submitted in January didn’t mention recent complaints against him or any continuing education he received in 2022. (Image captured from Big Horn County District Court records)

Next steps unclear

Hibbler had made several arguments opposing a preliminary injunction, questioning the point of the case. Given that Draggoo was licensed for the past eight years, he contended the board already knows his client is eligible and qualified.

Assistant Wyoming Attorney General Catherine Reeves countered that the license expired, and “what the law does not say is that if you’re licensed before, or if you’ve been practicing before, that you can continue to do that.”

Although she didn’t raise any specific concerns about Draggoo’s performance, she argued that “it’s not too difficult to imagine what could come from unlicensed practice in this area.” For instance, Reeves cited the potential for someone to spread disease or inflict emotional distress on loved ones of the deceased.

Meanwhile, Hibbler argued an injunction would “annihilate” Draggoo and cause him “tremendous harm.” He also mentioned potential harm to the public, as Draggoo operates the only funeral home in Big Horn County, one of two in Washakie County and one of a handful of crematories in the region.

The injunction does not mean the businesses have to close, however: Cortez said Draggoo could quickly put another licensed practitioner in charge. Hibbler has said his client was exploring that option, but declined to comment further on Friday.

After Simpson issued the injunction, Hibbler asked what his client should do if he had a funeral service already pending; the judge said he’d defer to Draggoo and the board to find a solution.

“It is a very difficult situation,” Simpson said. “And I wish I had a better answer to it.”

It’s unclear when the board might consider Draggoo’s application for a new license. Cortez testified that he’ll need to resolve the open complaints and likely sit for an oral exam before the five-member board — which, she said, “might cause some heartburn for everybody.”

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