Charitable Immunity Case Outline

Three prong test to determine if Charitable Immunity Act is applicable:

1) the entity is a non-profit;

2) was organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes; and

3) was promoting such objectives and purposes at the time of the injury. 

 
Prong three is further broken down to determine a party is a beneficiary of the “works” of a charity, under the Charity Immunity Act:

(1) the institution pleading the immunity, at the time in question, was engaged in the performance of the charitable objectives it was organized to advance, and

(2) the injured party must have been a direct recipient of those good works.

Ryan v. Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 175 N.J. 333, 815 A.2d 419 (2003).

 

Courts have a broad interpretation of function although a church’s main purpose may be to provide a place of worship and spiritual guidance, [its] function is not so narrowly confined. It is not limited to sectarian teaching and worship. In [the] modern view, exercises designed to aid in the advancement of the spiritual, moral ethical and cultural life of the community in general are deemed within the purview of the religious society. 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.”  Loder v. St. Thomas Greek Orthodox Church, 295 N.J. Super. 297, 302, 685 A.2d 20, 23 (App. Div. 1996).

However, the Court limits function in Beicht v. American Polish Veterans, Inc., the renting of a space for a bridal shower was “unrelated” and the entity was not protected by the Charitable Immunities Act. When the organization makes its premises available for an activity unrelated to such an undertaking, it is not functioning within the parameters of its immunity.”  Beicht v. Am. Polish Veterans, Inc., 259 N.J. Super. 79, 81, 611 A.2d 168, 169 (Ch. Div. 1992). In Beicht v. Am. Polish Veterans, 259 N.J.Super. 79, 82 (Law Div.1992) (denying charitable immunity to a fraternal organization because “[f]raternal societies or those organizations whose purpose is to promote the welfare of their members are benevolent, but not charitable”).

In Loder, the event was a sponsored event and in Beicht, the event was non-affiliated and unrelated with the entity.

Was the event Felicia Cannon attended an affiliated event of St. Anthony’s? Was the event at St. Anthony’s a church sponsored event?

Other than being called a Christmas party were religious or charitable elements present?

Did invitees pray? Were blessings exchanged before consuming alcohol? If a youtube of this party was compared to a youtube of a party at a private club would there be any difference?

Does St. Anthony’s have 503(c)1 status? Federally funded? State funded?

If the event was NOT affiliated or sponsored the Act does not apply.

Even if the event was affiliated, immunity should not be granted to St. Anthony’s. This event lasted until about 1 am, when police ended the event due to fights; the behavior exhibited at the event was not conducive to the social good, advantageous to the church, or aiding in the advancement of the cultural life of the community. Therefore, the event should be considered outside the very broad and accommodating function the Court has set forth in case law rather than rewarding behavior clearly against the public policy of the Act.

If an organization falls under Charitable Immunity Act, three possible exemptions to immunity; 1) gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct; 2) employment law claims are not protected by immunity laws; and 3) charitable immunity does not apply in lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.

Illegal behavior and unlicensed alcohol does not bar protection under the Charitable Immunity Act.In Orzech v. Fairleigh Dickinson University, 411 N.J.Super. 198, 985 A.2d 189 (A.D.2009), student’s conduct in violating university’s alcohol policy by holding a party in dormitory in which alcohol was served to minors did not alter student’s status as a beneficiary of university, and thus university was entitled to charitable immunity in family’s wrongful death claim against university after student fell out of dormitory window while intoxicated and died.

Source of revenue, fees compared to donations, does not determine charitable status. Auerbach v. Jersey Wahoos Swim, 368 N.J.Super. 403.(App. Div. 2004). However, if non-profit is simply a conduit for governemnt funds such as a quasi-public sponsor of federally funded housing project, (Parker v. St. Stephen’s Urban Development Corp., Inc., 243 N.J.Super. 317 (A.D.1990))  was not a private charity entitled to charitable immunity status.
 
Posted by criminal law attorney, Jeffrey Hark

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