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(NOTE: The status of this decision is unpublished.)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-6676-03T26676-03T2
NIFFITTI SMITH as Guardian ad
Litem of the Infant, MALACHI PATOIR
and NIFFITTI SMITH, individually,
NEWARK PRESCHOOL COUNCIL, INC.,
ELISE SALTER, JENNIFER TILLMAN,
PROGRAM HEADSTART and TABERNACLE
Submitted October 26, 2005 - Decided
Before Judges Wefing and Graves.
On appeal from Superior Court of New
Jersey, Law Division, Essex County,
Jeffrey Simms & Associates, attorneys
for appellants (Michael J. Reimer, on
Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker,
attorneys for respondents (James C. Orr,
of counsel; James S. Rehberger and Michael J.
Slocum, on the brief).
Plaintiff appeals from a trial court order granting summary judgment to defendants Newark Pre-school Council, Inc. ("Council") and its employees Elise Salter, Jennifer Tillman and Damarra Gibson. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
Plaintiff Niffitti Smith is the mother of Malachi Patoir. She filed suit seeking damages for the injuries Malachi received when, while attending a preschool program operated by defendant Council at premises owned by defendant Tabernacle Baptist Church, he placed his hand into an electric fan that was operating without an appropriate safety guard. Malachi was four years old at the time of the accident, and his hand was severely injured.
Defendant Council is a not-for-profit corporation that was incorporated in 1965 under Title 15 of the New Jersey statutes. Its certificate of incorporation lists its corporate purposes, which include "initiat[ing] and develop[ing] pre-school education programs for children of the City of Newark" as well as "provid[ing] in-service training programs for administrative personnel, teachers, teacher-aides, teachers-in-training, and . . . develop[ing] . . . curriculum." The Council is exempt from taxation under 28 U.S.C.A. §501(c)(3).
Tabernacle Baptist Church owns a church building located at 675 South 20th Street in Newark. It rented two rooms in that building to the Council to be used as classrooms. The lease also granted the Council use of kitchen and bathroom space in conjunction with the pre-school program. In her complaint, plaintiff alleged defendant Council and its employees were negligent in permitting Malachi and a classmate to go to the bathroom without an adult accompanying them. She alleged defendant Tabernacle was negligent in having an electric fan on the premises that lacked an appropriate guard, knowing of the presence of young children.
After an exchange of discovery, defendant Council moved for summary judgment, contending it was entitled to charitable immunity under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7. The trial court granted that motion. Thereafter, plaintiff obtained a default judgment for $1,000,000 against Tabernacle Baptist Church. She then appealed the earlier grant of summary judgment.
Plaintiff's first contention on appeal is that the motion was prematurely granted because she required further discovery into the basis for the Council's claimed immunity. In support of that position, plaintiff cites Parker v. St. Stephen's Urban Dev. Corp., 243 N.J. Super. 317, 325 (App. Div. 1990), in which we noted the need for "an examination of the entity seeking to clothe itself in the veil of charitable immunity to discover its aims, its origins, and its method of operation in order to determine whether its dominant motive is charity or some other form of enterprise."
We do not accept plaintiff's apparent position that Parker stands for the proposition that such a detailed examination is called for in every instance in which a party claims immunity under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7. The Supreme Court rejected that position in Ryan v. Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 175 N.J. 333 (2003). Plaintiff in that case alleged she was injured while attending a meeting of the defendant Mothers' Center held on premises owned by the defendant Holy Trinity. Id. at 336. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, holding they were entitled to charitable immunity. Id. at 339. This court affirmed the judgment in favor of Holy Trinity and reversed the judgment in favor of Mothers' Center, for further discovery into the sources of the Center's operating income. Ibid. The Supreme Court, however, held there was no need for such further discovery. Id. at 349.
Justice Long, writing for the Court, noted that there are three prongs to the immunity statute, which confers immunity upon entities "organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes." Id. at 343 (quoting N.J.S.A. 2A:43A-7). She concluded that because the Mothers' Center was organized exclusively for educational purposes, there was no need to explore its funding sources.
Entities that can prove they are organized exclusively for educational or religious purposes automatically satisfy the second prong of the charitable immunity standard. Entities seeking the shelter of the Act by proving that they are "organized exclusively for charitable purposes" must engage in the traditional factual analysis of Parker, including a source of funds assessment.
[Id. at 346.]
In the course of her opinion, Justice Long also noted that the phrase "organized exclusively for educational purposes" is to be broadly construed. Id. at 347. She noted with approval our decision in Pomeroy v. Little League Baseball of Collingswood, 142 N.J. Super. 471 (App. Div. 1976), in which we held that defendant was entitled to charitable immunity in light of its exclusively educational nature. Ryan, 175 N.J. at 347. Such an approach is also illustrated by our recent decision in Auerbach v. Jersey Wahoos Swim Club, 368 N.J. Super. 403, 413 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 180 N.J. 458 (2004), in which we held that the defendant, a non-profit corporation organized to train swimmers at various competitive levels, was organized exclusively for educational purposes and entitled to invoke charitable immunity.
Here, the record is clear that the Council is organized exclusively for educational purposes. It is, in consequence, automatically entitled to invoke the protections afforded by the Charitable Immunity Act. No further discovery is warranted.
Plaintiff also contends that we should, in interpreting the Charitable Immunity Act, accord young Malachi's rights a greater weight than the Council's right to immunity. In support of its position, it relies upon Hardwicke v. Am. Boychoir Sch., 368 N.J. Super. 71, 97 (App. Div.), mtn for leave to appeal granted, 180 N.J. 446 (2004), in which this court concluded that allegations of sexual abuse could defeat an otherwise valid claim of immunity under the statute. We have no occasion to consider whether we concur with the analysis set forth in Hardwicke for we are satisfied it is inapplicable to this matter, which is premised on a claim of negligence, not intentional conduct. Id. at 95.
The trial court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant Council, and its order is affirmed.
December 12, 2005
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