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SEIDERMAN v. AMERICAN INST. FOR MENTAL STUDIES

July 14, 1987

Fred Seiderman, an incompetent by his guardian, Richard Seiderman, and Richard Seiderman, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
American Institute for Mental Studies, a New Jersey corporation, also known as American Institute-The Training School at Vineland, a New Jersey corporation; Elwyn Institutes, a Pennsylvania corporation; Louis Coslop, individually, and doing business as Coslop Home Improvements; Robert Krentel; Earl Wilkie; H. Wesley Baxter; Jackie Steiner; John Vitena; Edward M. Hartman; Debbie Snyder; Stephanie Blackwell; Anita Spatz; Laurence Foster; Sharon Omrod and Leon Price, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERRY

 Plaintiff Richard Seiderman has brought this action individually and as the guardian of plaintiff Fred Seiderman, an incompetent, against defendants American Institute for Mental Studies (AIMS) and Elwyn Institute (Elwyn) to recover for injuries allegedly sustained on June 4, 1984, when Fred Seiderman fell from a second story window while residing at an institution managed and controlled by the defendants. According to the complaint, at all times relevant to the events complained of plaintiff Fred Seiderman was a mentally handicapped patient and resident of AIMS, which is located in Vineland, New Jersey. Elwyn managed the institution pursuant to a management agreement entered into between the defendants in January of 1981.

 In the first count of their complaint, plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that the defendants negligently failed to train their counsellors and employees in the proper procedures for caring for the mentally handicapped, that they negligently failed properly to supervise the plaintiff, and that they negligently failed to provide a safe and secure environment for the plaintiff. In the third count *fn1" of the complaint, plaintiffs allege that the defendants' conduct was grossly negligent, wanton, and in willful disregard of the safety of the plaintiff, and therefore seek recovery of punitive damages.

 Presently before this court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Defendants AIMS and Elwyn have moved for summary judgment on the ground that they are immune from liability under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7, which provides:

 
No nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes shall . . . be liable to respond in damages to any person who shall suffer damage from the negligence of any agent or servant of such corporation, society or association, where such person is a beneficiary, to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation, society or association; provided, however, that such immunity from liability shall not extend to any person who shall suffer damage from the negligence of such corporation, society, or association or of its agents or servants where such person is one unconcerned in and unrelated to and outside of the benefactions of such corporation, society or association; but nothing herein contained shall be deemed to exempt the said agent or servant individually from their liability for any such negligence.

 Defendants contend that they are charitable institutions within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7. In support of their motion, they have submitted the affidavit of John R. Donaphon, the Vice President of Finance for Elwyn and the Assistant Treasurer of AIMS. He states that AIMS and Elwyn are nonprofit corporations incorporated under the laws of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, respectively, and that they operate long-term care facilities for mentally and physically disabled children and adults. Defendants have also provided recent correspondence from the United States Internal Revenue Service confirming that both AIMS and Elwyn have tax-exempt status. (Exhibit C to Donaphon affidavit.)

 As a federal court sitting in diversity, this court must apply the choice of law rules of the forum state. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 85 L. Ed. 1477, 61 S. Ct. 1020 (1941). New Jersey courts have adopted the governmental interest analysis approach for resolving conflict of law problems. Mellk v. Sarahson, 49 N.J. 226, 229 A.2d 625 (1967). Under this approach,

 
the court determines first the governmental policies evidenced by the laws of each related jurisdiction and second the factual contacts between the parties and each related jurisdiction. A state is deemed interested only where application of its laws to the facts will foster that state's policy.

 Henry v. Richardson-Merrell, Inc., 508 F.2d 28, 32 (3d Cir. 1975). The contacts that are considered in determining which state's law should apply include:

 
(a) the place where the injury occurred;
 
(b) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred;
 
(c) the domicil, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties; and
 
(d) the place where the relationship, if any, between the parties is centered.

 Wuerffel v. Westinghouse Corporation, 148 N.J. Super. 327, 334, 372 A.2d 659 (Law Div. 1977), quoting Restatement, Conflict ...


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