February 24, 2003
ISA DUPREE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
THE CITY OF CLIFTON, DEFENDANT, AND THE NETHERLANDS REFORMED CHURCH, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 351 N.J. Super. 237 (2002).
SYLLABUS BY THE COURT
This appeal considers whether the plaintiff can maintain a cause of action against defendant Netherlands Reformed Church (church) for injuries resulting from a fall on the sidewalk abutting the church's property.
On October 27, 1997, plaintiff fell while walking along the uneven public sidewalk bordering the church's property located at Third Street in Clifton. The uneven condition of the sidewalk resulted from its upheaval caused by the roots of a tree located between the curb and the sidewalk.
Through discovery it was disclosed that the church was a non-profit corporation created solely for religious and charitable purposes, and that it did not rent its real property or use that property for any commercial purposes. The parties also discovered that the church constructed the sidewalk forty years before plaintiff's fall and that it had a portion of the sidewalk repaired eight or ten years before plaintiff's fall. Plaintiff's consulting engineer explained that movement of pavement slabs is a common occurrence that can be caused by tree roots growing under the sidewalk.
The trial court granted the church's motion for summary judgment, finding that a landowner using his property exclusively for charitable or religious purposes is not liable for injuries sustained by a pedestrian on the abutting sidewalk unless the property is used for commercial activities.
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment, holding that the church, as a noncommercial landowner, did not owe plaintiff a duty to maintain the sidewalk.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam
(NOTE: This Court wrote no full opinion in this case. Rather, the Court's affirmance of the judgment of the Appellate Division is based substantially on the reasons expressed in Judge Newman's opinion below.)
Argued January 21, 2003
The judgment is affirmed, substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Newman's opinion of the Appellate Division, reported at 351 N.J. Super. 237 (2002).
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES COLEMAN, LONG, VERNIERO, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI and ALBIN join in this opinion.
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