Mathews v. St. Mary’s Church

A-3175-96T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1997) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: October 10, 1997

SIDEWALKS; LIABILITY—For the purpose of determining responsibility for clearing ice from a sidewalk, a church rectory constitutes residential, not commercial property. Consequently, the church is not responsible.

A pedestrian fell on an icy sidewalk in front of a church rectory and sued for damages. The church’s motion for summary judgment was granted on the ground that, since the church’s property was not commercial property, it was not responsible for clearing the sidewalks.

On appeal, the pedestrian claimed that commercial functions were performed on the church grounds, making the property’s use hybrid in nature, and therefore the question of liability was one for a jury. The Appellate Division stated that not every hybrid use presents an issue for a jury and cited precedent stating that a court should first determine whether commercial or residential use predominates, using such factors as the extent of income generated and the extent of non-owner occupancy. A jury is only necessary when there are factual disputes about these factors. In this case, the Appellate Court found no dispute, in part because two members of the clergy lived in the rectory. In support of its holding, the Court cited dicta from the New Jersey Supreme Court that, while religious organizations can be commercial landowners, “the sidewalk in front of a parsonage or rectory abuts residential property.” Brown v. St. Venantius, 111 N.J. 325 (1988).