Jury finds Noblin wasn't negligent in handling cremains


It took jurors less than three hours to find a local funeral home director was not negligent in a case that involved a mix-up with the cremains of a Bosque Farms man.

Jurors cleared Robert Noblin of claims of negligence, breach of contract and unfair business practices Thursday following a four-day trial. Noblin, owner of Noblin Funeral Services in Belen, which was then Riverside Funeral Home of Belen, gave the wrong cremains to the family of Charles Hines Sr. in 2009.

According to the lawsuit, body parts of the man turned up at a Kansas City incineration center in April 2010, almost six months after the family was given a package that was said to contain his ashes.

The original lawsuit included Bio Care, a bankrupt company that once claimed to harvest human organs for medical research, and Terrace Grove Crematory were dismissed from the lawsuit last month.

Noblin was the last defendant named in the suit.

The family's lawsuit claimed Bio Care breached its contract with the family and mixed up the remains of Hines, which were later found at the incineration center.

Bio Care was protected from litigation since the company filed for bankruptcy.

Albuquerque police arrested Bio Care president, Paul Montano, on charges of felony fraud in March 2010, but later dropped the charges, explaining that they could not show that Montano had committed a crime.

Among the human heads, limbs, torsos and other body parts found in Kansas were the remains of Charles Hines Sr., of Bosque Farms, whose children, Charles Hines Jr. and Gayle Naile, filed the lawsuit against Bio Care, Montano, Terrace Grove Crematory Director's Choice and Noblin.

"I'm very happy (with the verdict)," Noblin said in an interview following the reading of the verdict. "We have always maintained a business of integrity. I think the verdict proves that."

Noblin said he was surprised by Bio Care's dealings with the public.

"We still feel for the families in regard to Bio Care," Noblin said.

Noblin's attorney, David Ray Rosales, argued that his client was a victim and that Noblin did not know he was giving the wrong remains to the Hines family.

He said his client was "a reasonably prudent funeral director" who trusted Bio Care to ensure the right remains were given to families of the decedents.

John Aragon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, tried to convince jurors that Noblin was at fault for not giving the family the right ashes.

He said Noblin had a contract with Charles Hines Jr. to deliver his father's ashes in time for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in 2010. He said it was Noblin's responsibility to make sure the ashes were his father's remains.

He said Noblin was 75 percent at fault and that the funeral director violated his own policy by not verifying the body was that of Hines prior to the cremation process.

He asked for $250,000 in punitive damages, each for Charles Hines Jr. and Gayle Naile, the deceased's children.

The attorney also asked the jury to rule that Noblin have to pay costs that included a new memorial ceremony, traveling costs to Missouri to retrieve the ashes and cremation costs for Hines.

Aragon said Hines Jr. fulfilled his end of the contract, but that Noblin did not ensure that the remains were that of the deceased.

Aragon showed the jury a package that apparently contained bone fragments of someone else, not Hines Sr.

He said there needed to be more communication between Noblin and Bio Care to prevent a mix-up.

"Mr. Noblin didn't check and he knew he was supposed to check," Aragon said.

Aragon told jurors they had the chance to make an example of Noblin and "send a message" to other funeral directors to ensure that mix-ups do not occur.

But Rosales said that there was no law that requires funeral directors to be certain of remains that are given back to family members, and that Bio Care was solely at fault.

"Mr. Noblin acted with dignity and respect toward family members," Rosales said.

(Albuquerque Journal staff writer Olivier Uyttebrouck contributed to this story.)

-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.