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Jury awards $1 million in cemetery dispute

PRATTVILLE (AP) — An Autauga County jury returned a $1 million judgment against a local cemetery accused of breach of contract when it reduced the size of a 16-plot parcel bought in 1976 for $1,595.

Court officials said the judgment against Tom and Carol Huntington, who became owners of Prattville Memory Gardens in 1993, was the largest returned in the county in recent memory. It came in a suit filed by Dr. W.E. "Gene" Patterson, a retired Prattville physician.

The verdict returned last week awarded Patterson $80,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Patterson, who plans to be buried in the plot, said Tuesday he was surprised when the foreman announced the judgment.

"I was very pleased with this well-deserved verdict of guilty for breach of contract and fraud," he told the Montgomery Advertiser.

Tom Huntington referred questions to his attorney, Shane Sears of Birmingham, who was in court and not immediately available for comment.

The suit focused on the "estate plot" that Patterson bought in 1976 from a former owner of the business, which was to include space for concrete walkways, a large family marker and landscaping, court records show.

After the Huntingtons redrew the map of the cemetery, the size of the plots was reduced, Parker said. The Huntingtons filed court documents arguing that they weren't liable for a contract made before they owned the cemetery and that the former owner should be held responsible.

Whit Moncrief, who has been circuit clerk for seven years and followed court developments for years before taking the office, said the size of the judgment was unusual for Autauga County.

"We've had a few $100,000 awards, but even those are very rare," he told the Advertiser. "In my time in this office, I can remember nothing that comes close to a $1 million award. I can't think of any case going back the last 10 or 15 years that touches this one."


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser,

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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