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Schaffer v. Y.M.C.A. of Burlington County

A-677-03T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

CHARITABLE IMMUNITY—An organization otherwise eligible for charitable immunity does not lose that immunity merely because it charges for services.

An injured woman sued a non-profit organization after she slipped on the steps of the organization’s pool. Based on the Charitable Immunity Act, the lower court granted the organization’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the woman claimed that the organization had no immunity because it charged for its services. The Appellate Division held that an entity qualifies for charitable immunity if it was formed for non-profit purposes; was organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes; and was promoting such objectives and purposes at the time of the injury to the plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable work.

The Court determined that the first and third prongs were clearly met in this case because the entity was a non-profit organization and the injured party was a beneficiary of the organization’s objectives and purposes. Further, entities that can prove they are organized exclusively for educational or religious purposes automatically satisfy the second prong. No further financial analysis is required. Reviewing the record, the Court concluded that the organization’s stated purposes and programs served educational purposes. Its certificate of incorporation stated that its purpose was to offer anyone who participates in its programs “opportunities which will help them: develop self-confidence and self-respect ... and to develop the capacities for leadership.”

The woman claimed that the organization’s activities were commercial in nature, and thus charitable immunity didn’t apply. The Court disagreed, holding that a qualifying organization does not lose statutory immunity merely because it charges for its services. Immunity can only be lost if the organization makes a profit or collects fees for services totally unrelated to its organizational pursuits. In this case, there was no evidence that the organization either made a profit or collected fees for services unrelated to its immunized services. For that reason, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant the organization’s motion for summary judgment based on the Charitable Immunity Act.

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