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BROUNSTEIN v. AMERICAN CAT FANCIERS ASSOC.

December 1, 1993

IRENE B. BROUNSTEIN, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN CAT FANCIERS ASSOC., et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HAROLD A. ACKERMAN

 ACKERMAN, District Judge:

 This case involves a dispute between an association of cat lovers and one of the association's former cat show judges. Before me now is the motion of the defendant association for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is denied.

 I. Standard for Summary Judgment

 Summary judgment may be granted only if the pleadings, supporting papers, affidavits, and admissions on file, when viewed with all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Todaro v. Bowman, 872 F.2d 43, 46 (3d Cir. 1989); Chipollini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d Cir.), cert. dism'd, 483 U.S. 1052 (1987). Put differently, "summary judgment may be granted if the movant shows that there exists no genuine issues of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party." Miller v. Indiana Hospital, 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 870, 102 L. Ed. 2d 147, 109 S. Ct. 178 (1988). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could possibly hold in the nonmovant's favor with regard to that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). A fact is material if it influences the outcome under the governing law. Id. at 248.

 Within the framework set out above, the moving party essentially bears two burdens. First, there is the burden of production, of making a prima facie showing that it is entitled to summary judgment. This may be done either by demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of fact and that as a matter of law, the moving party must prevail, or by demonstrating that the nonmoving party has not shown facts relating to an essential element of the issue for which it bears the burden. Once either showing is made, this burden shifts to the nonmoving party who must demonstrate facts supporting each element for which it bears the burden as well as establish the existence of genuine issues of material fact. Second, there is the burden of persuasion. This burden is a stringent one which always remains with the moving party. If there remains any doubt as to whether a trial is necessary, summary judgment should not be granted. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330-33, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Advisory Committee's Notes on Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e), 1963 Amendment; see generally C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure ยง 2727 (2d ed. 1983).

 II. Factual Background

 The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise indicated.

 The defendant American Cat Fanciers Association ("ACFA") is a non-profit Missouri association whose main goals are to promote the best interests of purebred and non-purebred cats as well as to further education, knowledge and interest in all domesticated cats. In furtherance of these goals, the ACFA serves as a central registry for purebred cats and sponsors related activities throughout the United States. One of these activities is the training and licensing of cat show judges who officiate at its sanctioned cat shows.

 The ACFA has established various requirements for becoming a cat show judge. Only members of the ACFA may be licensed as cat judges. In 1987, the ACFA licensed plaintiff Irene B. Brounstein ("Brounstein") as a "specialty breed" judge. In 1990, Brounstein was promoted to "allbreed" judge. The distinction of being an allbreed judge apparently carries a higher honor among cat fanciers.

 At a meeting of the ACFA Board of Directors in February, 1992, a majority of the Board voted to place Brounstein on a six-month probation with regard to her designation as an allbreed judge. Later that year, in August 1992, a majority of the Board of directors voted to remove plaintiff's name from its list of judges. Brounstein continues to be a member in good standing of the ACFA.

 Brounstein thereafter commenced this action against the ACFA and the ACFA Board of Directors, as well as the individual officers and directors of the ACFA, challenging the defendants' decision to place her on probation and subsequently revoke her judges' license. *fn1" In her amended complaint, Brounstein alleges that the defendants discriminated against her because she is Jewish in violation the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination; *fn2" and that the decision to place her on probation and remove her from the list of ACFA judges violated New Jersey's public policy and was contrary to the ACFA's Bylaws. Plaintiff also alleges a claim for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.

 The ACFA, in turn, contends that Ms. Brounstein's name was properly removed from the judges' list because she engaged in conduct inimical to the interests of the ACFA. Defendant ACFA has now moved for summary judgment as to each of plaintiff's claims. *fn3"

 A. New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

 The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq. ("LAD"), prohibits unlawful discrimination in places of public accommodation. N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(f) prohibits any operator of a "place of public accommodation" from withholding or denying any person any of its "accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges" on account of "race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, sex, affectional or sexual orientation or nationality." Thus, to be subject to the proscriptions of the LAD, an organization or establishment must be a "place of public accommodation."

 The ACFA argues that LAD has no application to this case as a matter of law for two reasons. First, it argues that "the designation of 'Allbreed cat judge' is not a place of public accommodation under the LAD." ACFA Brief at 5. Second, it argues that the ACFA is a purely private association and is therefore not subject to the LAD. Plaintiff, in turn, argues that by framing the issues in this way, the ACFA has distorted the nature of plaintiff's LAD claim. According to plaintiff, she is not claiming that the designation of "allbreed" judge is a "place of accommodation." Rather, she is claiming that the ACFA is a place of accommodation and that the "allbreed" judge designation is a privilege.

 I find that plaintiff's formulation of the legal issues involved in this case is the only logical way to proceed. It may be, as the ACFA contends, that this case is not a dispute over membership in a private organization, as Ms. Brounstein continues to be a member of the ACFA. However, this contention begs the threshold question of whether the organization is subject to the proscriptions of the LAD at all. If an organization is subject to the LAD, it is prohibited from discriminating not just as to membership, but as to "any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof." N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(f) (emphasis added). Thus, rather than asking whether titles or ranks in membership organizations are "places of public accommodations" within the meaning of LAD, I find it is conceptually sounder to ask whether titles or ranks constitute "privileges" within the meaning of the LAD.

 I will therefore consider the parties' arguments within the following framework. First, I will consider whether the ACFA itself is a place of public accommodation or a private association. If I find that the ACFA is indeed a place of public accommodation, I will then consider whether the designation of cat show judge is a "privilege" within the meaning of the Act.

 1. Is the ACFA a Place of Public Accommodation?

 The statutory definition of "place of public accommodation" contains a lengthy, nonexclusive list of different types of facilities and establishments. *fn4" In addition, the definition provides that "nothing herein contained shall be construed to include or to apply to any institution, bona fide club, or place of accommodation, which is in its nature distinctly private." N.J.S.A. 10:5-5(1).

 The primary New Jersey case interpreting the term "place of public accommodation" in a case involving a membership organization is National Organization for Women v. Little League Baseball, 127 N.J. Super. 522, 318 ...


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