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Lax v. Princeton University

August 10, 2001

JANET LAX, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, TRUSTEES OF PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, PRINCETON CHAMBER SYMPHONY, INC., ROBERT SMART, JOHN HLAFTER, TOM NYQUUIST, MR. CONSOLLOY, GERALD WITSEL, AND KEN GRAYSON, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-3676-97.

Before Judges Skillman and Wecker.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 22, 2001

Plaintiff appeals from a summary judgment which dismissed her personal injury action against Princeton University (University), the Princeton Chamber Symphony (Chamber Symphony) and certain of their officials and employees on the ground that her claim is barred by the Charitable Immunity Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11.

The Chamber Symphony, a non-profit corporation, rents Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, a small campus auditorium with high quality acoustics, from the University, also a non-profit corporation, to perform symphony concerts of classical music. The University's total charges to the Chamber Symphony for each concert are approximately $5,000. Those charges include the use of Richardson Auditorium not only for the performance but also rehearsals, providing security staff and ushers, setting up and taking down the orchestra stage, and recording the concert.

Plaintiff, a resident of a retirement community, purchased a subscription for a five concert series performed by the Chamber Symphony. While attending one of the concerts on October 20, 1996, plaintiff tripped and fell, suffering personal injuries. Plaintiff's complaint alleged that defendants were negligent in the maintenance and inspection of Richardson Auditorium and failed to provide a safe place for members of the public who attend concerts there.

N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7a provides in pertinent part:

No nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes or its trustees, directors, officers, employees, agents, servants or volunteers shall, except as is hereinafter set forth, 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.

In addition, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-9 provides in part:

For the purposes of this act but not in limitation thereof, the buildings and places actually used for colleges, schools, academies, . . . [or] charitable . . . purposes, the moral and mental improvement of men, women and children, . . . [and] auditoriums, . . . when so operated and maintained by any such nonprofit corporation, society or association, shall be deemed to be operated and maintained for a . . . charitable [or] educational . . . purpose.

Thus, to be entitled to immunity under the Charitable Immunity Act, "a defendant must be a 'nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes,' and the plaintiff must be 'a beneficiary' of its 'works.'" Morales v. New Jersey Acad. of Aquatic Scis., 302 N.J. Super. 50, 53 (App. Div. 1997) (quoting N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7).

The Chamber Symphony is organized to provide both the musicians and the public with the opportunity to explore and enjoy the vast repertoire for chamber orchestra, with particular emphasis on the symphonies of Haydn and on works of the twentieth century, to foster the development of an appreciation for the musical arts and to provide a focus for cultural education and interest in those arts by: promoting the study, improvement and advancement of such arts; sponsoring and encouraging professional as well as amateur chamber orchestra concerts so as to provide entertainment and the voluntary exploitation of the members' talents, all for no pecuniary gain; carrying on research; and taking part in any and all activities necessary, suitable and proper for the accomplishment of these purposes . . . .

Consistent with these purposes, the Chamber Symphony hires professional musicians to perform symphonic concerts of classical music for members of the general public and also provides educational programs for local schools. Although the persons who attend concerts pay admission charges, those charges are insufficient to defray all of the Chamber Symphony's expenses. Consequently, the Chamber Symphony relies to a substantial extent ...


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