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TORTS — Charitable Immunity A-116/117 September Term 2001; Supreme Court; opinion by Long, J.; decided February 11, 2003. On certification to the Appellate Division. [Sat below: Judges Havey, Braithwaite and Weissbard in the Appellate Division; Judge O'Hagan in the Law Division.] DDS No. 31-1-2807 In 1997, Jaime C. Ryan filed a complaint against Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Mothers’ Center of Monmouth County, Laura Fadem, and a series of John Does, alleging that, due to defendants’ tortious conduct, she suffered injuries in Holy Trinity. All defendants denied the allegations, cross-claimed against each other, and moved for summary judgment. Charitable immunity was the pivotal issue. The facts established by the pleadings, discovery and other documents are basically uncontroverted. Ryan was injured on the morning of November 17, 1995, while attending a meeting of the Mothers’ Center, held in Holy Trinity’s parish house; she was seven months pregnant. The Mothers’ Center is a nonprofit group of parents and expectant mothers organized to exchange experiences and information regarding childbirth, child rearing, mothering and family relationships. A council of volunteers runs it. The organization is nonhierarchical, and decision-making is by consensus. In 1995 there were approximately 80 to 100 members. The programs are also open to nonmembers. Ryan was a member, attending a group that focused on early childhood development. The participants sat in a circle around the room on folding chairs. Ryan was seated near a supply closet. One of the two meeting facilitators was defendant Laura Fadem, who had brought her son with her; 45 minutes into the meeting, the boy wandered over to the supply closet and apparently tried to open its door, which appears not to have been properly hinged. When it was pulled, it detached and struck Ryan on the back of her head, causing her to fall to the floor. She alleges that, as a result, she suffered significant injuries, requiring surgery and long-term treatment. At the time of the accident, Holy Trinity had a policy of opening its doors to social outreach projects with community purposes and allowing them to use its facilities to conduct meetings. Those groups included the Boy Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, the Children’s Psychiatric Center, and a Monday night social club for mentally challenged people. Holy Trinity included notices of meetings in the church bulletin. Permission to use a room could be obtained from the church council for $15, apparently based on the church’s estimation of the cost of keeping the building open (although Holy Trinity asserted that no group was refused permission if it could not afford the fee). From July through December 1995, the Mothers’ Center used the facilities 31 times, paying Holy Trinity $465. On those facts, the trial court granted summary judgment to all defendants based on charitable immunity. Ryan appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the complaint against Holy Trinity and Laura Fadem individually, but reversed the dismissal against the Mothers’ Center and Fadem as its agent. Because the record is silent regarding the Mothers’ Center’s income (other than dues and fees), the Appellate Division, citing Bieker v. Community House of Moorestown, 169 N.J. 167, 178 (2001), and Parker v. St. Stephens’ Urban Dev. Corp., Inc., 243 N.J. Super. 317, 326 (App. Div. 1990), remanded for a determination of whether the Mothers’ Center received any part of its operating income from charitable contributions. The Mothers’ Center petitioned for certification. Held: The history of the Charitable Immunity Act has been recounted repeatedly and need not be repeated here, except to note that its original purpose was to avoid the diversion of charitable trust funds “to non-charitable purposes in order to live up to the reasonable expectations of the benefactors.” Parker, 243 N.J. Super. at 321. Over time, however, case law has recognized that the purposes underlying charitable immunity are broader than that, and include the encouragement of altruistic activity. See O’Connell v. State, 171 N.J. 484, 496 (2002); Restatement (Second) of Torts � 895E comment c (1979); 2 Harper & James on Torts, � 29.16 (1956). Distilling the language of N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to its essence, O’Connell held that an entity qualifies for charitable immunity “when it ‘(1) was formed for nonprofit purposes; (2) is organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes; and (3) was promoting such objectives and purposes at the time of the injury to plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works,’” 171 N.J. at 489, quoting Hamel v. State, 321 N.J. Super. 67, 72 (App. Div. 1999). N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-10 instructs that the act: . . . shall be deemed to be remedial and shall be liberally construed so as to afford immunity . . . in furtherance of the public policy for the protection of nonprofit corporations, societies and associations organized for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes. Ryan has conceded that the Mothers’ Center has nonprofit status and that, at the time of the accident, she was a beneficiary of its works. Several matters remain to be resolved. The first is the propriety of the Appellate Division’s conclusion that, although the Mothers’ Center was organized exclusively for educational purposes, it was nevertheless required to make a showing that its operating capital was derived from charitable contributions or trust-fund income to satisfy the second prong of the charitable-immunity standard. Quoting Parker, 243 N.J. Super. at 326, the court held that such a showing is necessary because the public policy foundation for the act is “the preservation of private charitable contributions for their designated purposes.” N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 provides that an entity seeking charitable status must be “organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes.” Although the overarching character of all three categories is eleemosynary, they are actually quite distinct. Both “educational” and “religious” are specific as to subject matter and have a limited and commonly understood meaning, but “charitable,” a generic catchall term, is a more complex notion that defies precise definition. The cornerstone of analysis is O’Connell, where the issue was whether Montclair State University was entitled to charitable immunity for a student’s injury on its premises. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Montclair on the ground that a public entity is not entitled to assert the defense of charitable immunity. The Supreme Court granted certification. Obviously, the public-entity aspect of that case was unique but, in ruling, the Court addressed generally the language of the statute and clarified that an entity satisfying the elements it plainly sets forth would be entitled, without further analysis, to immunity. 171 N.J. at 491. More particularly, it held that an entity organized exclusively for educational purposes automatically meets the second prong. Because Montclair was a nonprofit entity, organized exclusively for educational purposes, and because O’Connell, as a student, was plainly a beneficiary of its works, the ultimate conclusion was that nothing more had to be proved to justify the application of charitable immunity. Ryan maintains that there is a disconnect between O’Connell, on the one hand, and Bieker and Parker, on the other. Parker ruled that a community-housing corporation was not entitled to immunity because: it did not seek to provide housing through its own efforts, either by the dedication of church funds or through a program of charitable solicitation; its board members were unpaid not because of any benevolent instinct but as a quid pro quo for federal funding; and it was created, not to lessen the burden on government, but to obtain as much money from the government as possible and to run its program with that money. The court concluded that it was not an entity organized exclusively for charitable purposes but was the “quasi-public sponsor of a federally funded housing project.” Id. at 327. That fact-sensitive approach is in line with the treatment by Presbyterian Homes v. Division of Tax Appeals, 55 N.J. 275, 285 (1970), of “charitable purposes.” There, the bylaws of Presbyterian Homes did not obligate it to continue providing a home to seniors who could not pay its fees or who became ill. Moreover, although rental fees in themselves would not necessarily eliminate charitable status, there was a direct relationship between the size of the rent and the desirability of the unit. The Court invoked the reasoning in Methodist Old Peoples Home v. Korzen, 39 Ill.2d 149, 158 (Supr. Ct. 1968), that such circumstances lacked “the warmth and spontaneity indicative of charitable impulse.” 55 N.J. at 287. Bieker recently cited Presbyterian Homes and Parker approvingly, 169 N.J. at 178-79. The Moorestown Community House, a nonprofit corporation, operated and rented meeting rooms and athletic facilities to both charitable and for-profit entities. Although recognizing that receiving income from some limited noncharitable activity would not prevent an otherwise eligible entity from obtaining immunity, the Court held that the question of how much of the rental operation was devoted to for-profits had to be resolved to determine whether the community house was exclusively charitable. O’Connell did not distinguish Parker or Bieker, because they were not relevant to its analysis. O’Connell was concerned only with an entity “organized exclusively for educational purposes.” 171 N.J. at 491. That case interpreted the Charitable Immunity Act literally, and held that the second prong of the act was satisfied solely by the fact that education was Montclair’s exclusive purpose. The same analysis would apply to an entity “organized solely for religious purposes” because those terms “have plain meanings that are subject to literal reading.” Abdallah, 351 N.J. Super. at 284. In contrast, as Abdallah observed in assessing an entity that served as a combination employment agency and shelter workshop: [W]here a non-profit, non-religious, non-educational organization relies on the immunity based on its asserted charitable status, a traditional [ Parker] analysis continues to be mandated. And . . . that . . . must take into account the organization’s source of funds as a critical element of charitable status. Id. If the Mothers’ Center is organized exclusively for educational purposes, O’Connell governs and no further financial analysis is required to satisfy the second prong of the act. The few cases that have addressed the phrase “organized exclusively for educational purposes” have interpreted it broadly. Pomeroy v. Little League Baseball of Collingswood, 142 N.J. Super. 471, 473-74 (App. Div. 1976), quoted from Stoolman v. Camden County Council Boy Scouts, 77 N.J. Super. 129, 135 (Law Div. 1962), which quoted Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary‘s definition of education as “‘discipline of mind or character through study or instruction.’” The proof in Pomeroy was that the defendant’s exclusive purpose was “the education of young people in the ideals of good sportsmanship, honesty, loyalty, courage and reverence” so that they would become happy and productive citizens. 142 N.J. Super. at 474. That that was accomplished through the teaching and supervision of athletic skills did not vitiate the exclusively educational nature of that purpose. The same result was reached in Stoolman concerning the Boy Scouts. Pomeroy‘s broad interpretation of the education clause was cited with approval in Bieker. The Mothers’ Center fits the profile of an entity organized exclusively to provide educational opportunities, as declared in its bylaws and revealed in its operation. Indeed, it is more like a traditional education program than Little League or the Boy Scouts. Ryan argues that her participation in a “discussion” does not qualify as “educational.” Obviously, the Socratic method belies that statement. Moreover, case law indicates that the form that the education takes is not a touchstone for qualifying for immunity. In any event, the discussions fostered by the Mothers’ Center are not random but are focused and directed by trained facilitators. Although the subject may not be academic, it is serious and important. Further, lecturers also are provided at many meetings. To avoid the conclusion that the Mothers’ Center is organized exclusively for educational purposes, Ryan characterizes it as a fraternal organization. Kirby v. Columbian Institute, 101 N.J. Super. 205, 209 (Law Div. 1968), set out a bright-line rule that fraternal organizations are barred from charitable immunity. As Kirby suggests, they are organized, at least partially, to benefit their own members and thus cannot be exclusively charitable. See also Beicht v. American Polish Veterans, Inc., 259 N.J. Super. 79, 81 (Law Div. 1992). The Mothers’ Center does not fit Kirby‘s definition of a fraternal organization; it does not focus its educational activities on advancing the interests of its members. Although it maintains a membership roster, the only benefit it affords members is participation in its management. Membership in no way determines access to its educational programs. In sum, the Mothers’ Center passes muster as an entity “organized exclusively for educational purposes.” Thus, no further inquiry is required concerning the second prong of the act. That said, and Ryan having conceded the Mothers’ Center’s nonprofit status and that she was a beneficiary of its works, the Mothers’ Center and Fadem, as its agent, are entitled to summary judgment based on charitable immunity. No issue regarding the nonprofit status of Holy Trinity has been advanced by Ryan, who concedes the first prong, and also concedes that it is organized exclusively for religious purposes. What is at issue is whether it satisfies the third prong: at the time of the accident, was it engaged in its charitable works, and was Ryan a beneficiary of those works? The established test has two prongs. The first is that the institution pleading the immunity, at the time in question, “was engaged in the performance of the charitable objectives it was organized to advance.” Anasiewicz v. Sacred Heart Church, 74 N.J. Super. 532, 536 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 38 N.J. 305 (1962). The second is that the injured party must have been a direct recipient of those good works. DeVries v. Habitat for Humanity, 290 N.J. Super. 479, 487-88 (App. Div. 1996), aff’d o.b., 147 N.J. 619 (1997). In assessing whether a claimant is a beneficiary of the works of a religious institution, New Jersey’s courts have defined the term “works” liberally: The church function is not . . . limited to sectarian teaching and worship . . . . A social center is now commonly regarded as a proper adjunct of the local church — conducive to the public good as well as advantageous to the congregation. Bianchi v. South Park Presbyterian Church, 123 N.J.L. 325, 332-33 (E.&A. 1939). That principle was cited recently with approval in Bieker, 169 N.J. at 176. Bianchi is on all fours with this case. Even when a religious organization is not advancing its own religious tenets, or promoting religion at all, it can still be engaged in its “works.” Bixenman v. Christ Episcopal Church Parish House, 166 N.J. Super. 148, 150 (App. Div. 1979), held that the defendant was engaging in its “works” when it loaned its facilities to the Greek Orthodox church. See also Loder, 295 N.J. Super. at 297, where a patron at a church-sponsored cultural festival was injured on church property. The Appellate Division concluded that the activities bore a direct and substantial relationship to the church’s function. Loder was cited with approval in Bieker, 169 N.J. at 176. In this case, by supporting social outreach groups that enriched the life of the community at large, Holy Trinity fell well within the modern view, now 60 years old, that the good works of churches are not limited to parochial concerns. Thus, it was engaged in its good works at the time of Ryan’s accident. “Beneficiary” is to be interpreted broadly, as evidenced by the modifier “to whatever degree” in the statute. Those who are not beneficiaries must be “unconcerned in and unrelated to” the benefactions. Gray v. St. Cecilia’s School, 217 N.J. Super. 492, 495 (App. Div. 1987). Plainly, Ryan was a beneficiary of the works of Holy Trinity at the time of the accident, both as a member of the Mothers’ Center and as an attendee at a Mothers’ Center function on Holy Trinity’s premises. That was underscored in Bixenman, where the Appellate Division properly rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the Greek Orthodox church, not she, was the beneficiary of Christ Episcopal’s good works. Its analysis applies in this case. The Mothers’ Center receives benefits through its members. Ryan was a member and was physically on the premises of Holy Trinity for the purpose of receiving the benefits conferred by that church on the Mothers’ Center and the partakers of its programs. Ryan’s reliance on Meyer v. Fair Lawn Jewish Center, 71 N.J. Super. 313 (App. Div. 1961), aff’d, in part, rev’d on other grounds, 38 N.J. 549 (1962), is misplaced. In that case, the director of a corporation selling Israeli bonds at defendant Jewish Center was injured. The Appellate Division’s conclusion that he was not a beneficiary of the center’s works, because he was not a member of it and had no concern in or relation to its benefactions, was affirmed: his presence at the center was in the course of his employment, and not as a recipient of the center’s philanthropy or beneficence. Meyer is obviously irrelevant here. The Appellate Division correctly concluded that Holy Trinity is entitled to charitable immunity. To the extent that the Appellate Division’s judgment granted summary judgment to Holy Trinity and Fadem individually and held that the Mothers’ Center was organized exclusively for educational purposes, it is affirmed. To the extent that it remanded the case for a showing that the operating capital of the Mothers’ Center is derived from charitable contributions or trust income, it is reversed. Summary judgment in favor of the Mothers’ Center and Fadem as its agent is reinstated. Chief Justice Poritz and Justices Coleman, Verniero, LaVecchia, Zazzali and Albin join in Justice Long‘s opinion. — Digested by P.R. Chenoweth [The slip opinion is 34 pages long.] For appellant — Mauro C. Casci. For respondents — Harry V. Osborne II (Evans, Osborne & Kreizman). For cross-respondent — David M. Molnar (Anthony W. Guidice).

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