ELIZABETHTOWN — Majestic Funeral Home, Elizabethtown’s newest addition to the funeral business, has been forced by a temporary restraining order filed by H.M. Colvin Funeral Home in Lumberton to close its doors until a hearing on May 6.
The friction between Majestic Funeral Home owner Eric Matthews and Colvin Funeral Home owner Mitch Colvin is not new. In 2006, Matthews was employed by Colvin Funeral Home in Lumberton as manager and, prior to employment, signed a non-compete clause. In 2009, Matthews decided to set out on his own and, according to Matthews, talked with Colvin about the venture.
“I opened my business with the blessing of my boss,” said Matthews. “He told the staff that he supported me, and even came to my funeral home and talked to my mom and sister and told them how proud he was of me. He told me to give him x number of days, and I gave him more than he asked. He asked me to help train (my replacement), said that there was no problem, and that he would miss having me as an employee.”
The restraining order states, “In August 2009, while employed by Colvin, E. Matthews formed Matthews Funeral Home, with its principal office located in Wayne County, North Carolina. At that time, E. Matthews operated Matthew Funeral Home in Robeson County, which was in direct competition with Colvin and in violation of the Agreement.”
The order also states that Colvin terminated Matthews’ employment for violation of the agreement and instituted an action against Matthews in Cumberland County. The two parties settled prior to trial for $45,000, and Matthews was prohibited from engaging in direct competition with Colvin until June 30, 2013.
In 2011, the North Carolina Board of Funeral Services conducted an examination of contracts for the period Matthews was with Colvin. As a result of the investigation, Matthews was charged with obtaining property by false pretenses, convicted, and given a suspended sentence.
In 2013, the Mortuary Board ordered Matthews to surrender his funeral director license and funeral establishment permit. Matthews was also ordered to make restitution to Colvin in the amount of roughly $9,000.
“I accept responsibility for that,” said Matthews. “As manager, anything that happened there was on me. However, I made sure that all the money was paid with interest. When we stood in court, everybody understood that they received the services or money that they were owed.
“I’ve paid my dues,” he added.
However, in 2014, another overcharge was made known to Colvin for the period of Matthews’ employment, and Colvin reimbursed the client around $5,500 for what the restraining order calls Matthews’ “unlawful acts.” The order states that Matthews concealed this information from Colvin before the settlement in May of 2013.
The restraining order states that “as a result of the Defendant’s actions, Colvin has suffered damages and will continue to suffer immediate and irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law.”
Colvin’s motion for a temporary restraining order based on the above information was granted, ordering that the newly opened Majestic Funeral Home immediately cease to provide services within a 35 mile radius of where Colvin does business, including Bladen County.
“I thought that this was over,” said Matthews. “He filed a lawsuit against me in 2009, and I agreed not to compete with him until after June 2013. It’s now 2016. I honored what the judges told me to do. Now I’m just trying to open my business and do everything the right way.”
He added, “I don’t understand how you can legally settle a case and then wait three years and then try to bring it up again. I just want (Colvin) to leave me alone. All I want to do is to provide the kind of life for my family that he provided for his and live the American dream. I have a new business, and I haven’t hurt anyone, including him. I’m just trying to pick up the pieces and live my life.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Matthews went on to say, “As far as the money from 2014, I talked to him on the phone about that in 2014. If he had an issue with me, and it was a real concern, don’t you think he wouldn’t have gone through the rest of 2014, all of 2015, and the first part of 2016 without addressing it? Now, all of a sudden, when I open a business in a common territory, it’s such an issue? The real issue is that he just doesn’t want to compete with me. Period.”
Calls to Colvin’s businesses remained unreturned as of Monday morning. Colvin’s attorney declined to comment on the matter, but did provide the Bladen Journal with about 60 pages of legal documents.
A hearing is set for May 6 in Cumberland County.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.