State Seeking to Shut Down Funeral Home Owner in Licensing Dispute

Basin businessman facing suit from board

The Wyoming State Board of Funeral Service Practitioners contends Clayton Draggoo and his businesses, including Atwood Family Funeral Directors in Greybull, are operating without a required license and permits. (Courtesy photo from the Big Horn County Assessor’s Office via MapServer)

By CJ Baker

Special to the Wyoming Truth

What began as some sloppy paperwork has escalated into a legal battle over whether a businessman can continue operating his funeral homes and crematory in the Big Horn Basin.

There appears to be little dispute that Clayton Draggoo has the qualifications to oversee the facilities in Greybull, Basin and Worland, as he’s done so for years. However, Draggoo has run into trouble over his attempt to renew his license with the Wyoming State Board of Funeral Service Practitioners last winter.

The board says Draggoo submitted incomplete applications and failed to respond to instructions to fix them. As a result, the board notified Draggoo in early March that his license as a funeral service practitioner had expired, along with the permits for Atwood Family Funeral Directors in Greybull and Basin and Antelope Butte Cremation in Greybull. Continuing to practice the profession or operate the facilities without a new license would violate state law, the board warned.

Draggoo didn’t respond to that letter, either, and continued doing business as usual at those locations and at Veile Mortuary in Worland. The board subsequently sued him in Big Horn County District Court in May. On Friday, they asked a judge to issue a preliminary injunction and block Draggoo from serving as a funeral service practitioner unless he’s licensed again.

Big Horn County has only one funeral establishment serving its more than 11,000 residents. (Courtesy image from the Wyoming State Board of Funeral Service Practitioners)

“Mr. Clayton Draggoo has been benefiting from an unlawful funeral service practice. He has received, transported and disposed of dead human bodies without a license issued by the Wyoming Board of Funeral Service Practitioners,” Assistant Wyoming Attorney General Catherine Reeves argued on the board’s behalf. “All the while, this unlicensed practice has posed a significant risk to the public health and safety in the communities of Basin, Greybull and Worland, Wyoming. It is for that threat that we are here this morning.”

Draggoo’s attorney saw the case very differently.

“Why are we even here?” Bill Hibbler asked at one point.

While he understands the risks posed by unlicensed people holding themselves out as professionals, Hibbler said that doesn’t apply to his client. Testimony and records in the case indicate complaints have previously been filed and some remain pending against Draggoo. But the board’s suit has cited no concerns about his performance, only his lapsed license.

“Mr. Draggoo is not some rogue funeral practitioner running around out there, disposing of dead human bodies and spreading infectious diseases. There’s never been evidence of that in his entire practice,” Hibbler said. Instead, he said Draggoo has been licensed in Wyoming for nearly a decade (with prior experience in Washington and California), is eligible and qualified to be a practitioner and has “done everything he’s supposed to.”

After the board filed suit, Draggoo submitted an application for a new license and is now awaiting a decision from the board.

“There’s absolutely nothing left for Mr. Draggoo to do, except [wait] for the board to tell him, ‘Hey, Mr. Draggoo, you’re eligible, you’re qualified [and] we know you’re both eligible and qualified because you’ve been practicing since 2014,’” Hibbler argued.

Impact of an injunction

The attorney also told presiding District Court Judge Bill Simpson that issuing a preliminary injunction would “annihilate” Draggoo’s profession, cut off all his income and eliminate the only funeral home in Big Horn County while leaving just one in Worland.

“The public would be harmed if in fact he was shut down,” Hibbler said.

Simpson expressed concern about the potential ramifications of a preliminary injunction, saying they “are always problematic.”

When funeral service practitioner Clayton Draggoo submitted his renewal application in January, he didn’t fill out a required section about his continuing education. (Image captured from Big Horn County District Court records)

“The court does struggle with them,” Simpson added later, “because the remedy and the relief sought can be so severe in terms of its imposition and impact upon those to whom it is applied.”

Board Executive Director Chelsea Cortez downplayed the potential impact.

She said Draggoo could simply hire another currently licensed practitioner to temporarily oversee his facilities. The state could approve such a change within 24 hours and with minimal paperwork and cost, Cortez said; Hibbler said it’s an option his client continues to explore.

While the board isn’t set to meet until October, Draggoo could expedite the process by requesting a special meeting to consider his new license, Cortez said.

She also said the Big Horn Basin isn’t at risk of losing service.

“There are enough funeral homes and crematories in the area to take over if these businesses were closed,” Cortez said.

Incomplete application

The entire battle stems from paperwork Draggoo submitted in January. Practitioners are required to undergo at least eight hours of continuing education each year and to list those courses and activities on their renewal application. However, Draggoo left that section blank.

On Feb. 2 and again on Feb. 16, Cortez emailed Draggoo and told him to complete the forms. The messages were sent after the Feb. 1 application deadline, but within the 30-day grace period for renewals. Draggoo said he didn’t receive the board’s communications until March, after his license had lapsed.

The military veteran indicated in an affidavit that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused the issues with his paperwork. He said he actually underwent eight hours of continuing education last year, but couldn’t remember the name of the company that provided it.

“He left that section of the renewal application blank intending upon supplementing it with accurate information once he went back through the records, instead of lying on the renewal application and simply providing information that would never be confirmed by the board,” Hibbler wrote in a filing. Even when Draggoo received March’s notice that his license had lapsed, “he still had not found the continuing education evidence and simply was at a loss how to resolve the matter,” Hibbler wrote.

He also faulted the board’s handling of the matter, asserting Draggoo’s due process rights were violated.

Simpson expects to rule today on the preliminary injunction. His decision won’t end the case, as the board is ultimately seeking to obtain a permanent injunction. That process will take some more time to unfold, but “I’m very hopeful that it [the case] can be resolved well before that,” Hibbler said.

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