Civil action. Motion for summary judgment.
Giuliano, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).
On February 8, 1957 the plaintiff, Jack Turer, who was a member of the "Progress Club" (an affiliate of the defendant) met with an accident. At that time, he was in the "building of worship" of the defendant, performing his duties as a scoutmaster of a troop of Boy Scouts sponsored by the aforementioned club. It is agreed that defendant is a charitable institution organized not for pecuniary profit. In his complaint, the plaintiff avers that his accidental injuries were sustained as a proximate result of the negligence of the defendant. In the answer, negligence is denied and the defense of charitable immunity is raised, along with other affirmative defenses. That immunity is the ground advanced in the defendant's instant motion for summary judgment.
Prior to the decisions in Collopy v. Newark Eye and Ear Infirmary , 27 N.J. 29 (1958); Benton v. Y.M.C.A. , 27 N.J. 67 (1958), and Dalton v. St. Luke's Catholic Church , 27 N.J. 22 (1958), non-profit charitable institutions were
immune from liability for negligent conduct which resulted in injury to those who were considered beneficiaries thereof. (See exhaustive listing and discussion of cases by Jacobs, J. in Collopy, supra). However, due to a shift in social values and impulses, the Supreme Court of New Jersey overturned this long-standing legal concept and rendered such institutions liable for their negligence. From the date of these decisions, April 28, 1958, onward, the defense of charitable immunity was unavailable.
On July 22, 1958 the legislative branch of our State Government set forth its interpretation of the preferential treatment of conflicting social forces. It created a modified version of the pre-existing common law in this area by its enactment of L. 1958, c. 131; N.J.S.A. 16:1-48 et seq. The modification adverted to above is not vital here. Under the admitted state of facts, the plaintiff would be denied recovery under both the common law prior to its sweeping reversal in Collopy, supra , etc., and under the act of July 22, 1958. The question here presented is whether the Legislature effectively adopted a retroactive measure which would deprive the plaintiff of relief upon his complaint, which was filed on July 7, 1958 -- between the two mile-posts, during the period the Supreme Court decisions were in effect.
The parts of the act which are pertinent to the present dispute are in the title thereof and in its concluding sentence. The title of the act reads:
"An Act concerning corporations, societies and associations organized exclusively for religious, charitable or hospital purposes; providing that they shall not be liable to respond in damages, in certain cases; and providing for the application and operation of the act and for its retroactive operation to January 1, 1956." (Emphasis supplied)
The final sentence of the act provides:
"6. This act shall take effect immediately and shall expire on June 30, 1959."