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Zaitseva v. R & G Landscaping

A-4717-03T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

CHARITABLE IMMUNITY—An entity receiving its funding from governmental sources is not entitled to assert charitable immunity even though it may be fulfilling a charitable purpose.

A tenant sued a landscaping company claiming she was injured when she fell on an icy parking lot owned by her landlord. The company had contracted with the landlord to remove ice and snow from the property on an as needed basis. Thus, in order “to deflect any of its own alleged culpability, the company filed a third-party complaint against the landlord which denied its own negligence, alleged the landlord’s carelessness and negligence, and demanded contribution.

The lower court dismissed the third-party complaint against the landlord because it found that the landlord was a charitable organization with immunity from the landscaping company’s claims. After the company settled with the tenant, it appealed the lower court’s decision. The company essentially argued that since the landlord operated as a low-income and subsidized housing development, it was not acting as a charitable organization and was not entitled to the benefits of charitable immunity with respect to the tenant’s personal injury claim or its own claims for contribution or indemnification.

The Appellate Division held that a party cannot obtain a dismissal on its defense of charitable immunity when its own factual assertions do not support its application. Additionally, the Court held that the test for determining whether an organization is entitled to charitable immunity is whether the organization is exclusively organized “for charitable purposes.” At trial, the landlord argued that “it had raised funds from private donations and, thus was not the mere conduit of federal funding”—a status which would preclude it from being considered a charitable organization. In response, the Appellate Division found the alleged raising and expenditure of these minimal funds to be too inconsequential to cause the landlord to be considered a charitable organization.

Thus, the Court concluded that the landlord “was ‘expressly conceived, created and operated to serve purely as a conduit for federal funds,’” and, even though it may perform a charitable service, the landlord was not essentially supported through charitable contributions. The Court also found that the landlord was not a private charity which depended for its support on charitable contributions but rather was the quasi-public sponsor of a federally funded housing project. Therefore, the Court held that the landlord was not eligible to use the charitable immunity statute to fend off its potential liability to the landscaping company.

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