On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-5667-04.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Lisa and Grall.
The issue presented by this appeal is whether the Charitable Immunity Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11, provides immunity to a New Jersey charity for a claim arising out of its alleged negligence in the operation of a summer camp in the State of Pennsylvania, which has abolished charitable immunity. We conclude that Pennsylvania's interest in applying its law subjecting charities to the same liability as profit-making entities outweighs New Jersey's interest in immunizing New Jersey charities from liability for alleged tortious conduct in another state.
Plaintiff P.V., a mentally challenged New Jersey resident, was an attendee at a summer camp in Effort, Pennsylvania, operated by defendant Camp Jaycee, a New Jersey charitable corporation. While at the camp, plaintiff was allegedly sexually assaulted by another attendee, causing her to suffer personal injuries.
P.V. and her parents, T.V. and L.V., as guardians ad litem for P.V. and individually, brought this personal injury action, alleging that Camp Jaycee and its agents, servants and employees were "careless and negligent in the supervision of the patrons at the camp." After the end of discovery, Camp Jaycee moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiffs' action is barred by the Charitable Immunity Act. Plaintiffs opposed the motion on the ground that the alleged negligent conduct and sexual assault occurred in Pennsylvania, which does not immunize charitable organizations from tort liability.
The trial court concluded in a written opinion that, applying New Jersey's "governmental interests" test for determining choice of law issues, New Jersey's interest in protecting New Jersey charities from liability for their charitable endeavors outweighs Pennsylvania's interest in subjecting charities to the same rules of tort liability as other private entities. Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs' complaint.
When a lawsuit is brought in this State, New Jersey's choice-of-law rules are applied to determine which state's laws should govern the litigation. Erny v. Estate of Merola, 171 N.J. 86, 94 (2002). In making this determination, our courts employ a "governmental-interests analysis" that involves "two steps." Rowe v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., 189 N.J. 615, 621 (2007). First, a court must determine whether there is an "actual conflict" between the laws of the interested states. Ibid. Second, if there is a conflict, a court must "determine the interest . . . each state has in resolving the specific issue in dispute[,]" id. at 621-22 (quoting Gantes v. Kason Corp., 145 N.J. 478, 485 (1996)), and "apply the law of 'the state with the greatest interest in governing the particular issue.'" Id. at 622 (quoting Veazey v. Doremus, 103 N.J. 244, 248 (1986)).
There is a clear conflict between the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey regarding the immunity of charitable organizations. More than forty years ago, Pennsylvania abolished charitable immunity by judicial decision, and it has not subsequently reinstated the immunity. Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hosp., 208 A.2d 193, 207-08 (Pa. 1965); Nolan v. Tifereth Israel Synagogue, 227 A.2d 675, 677 (Pa. 1967). Although the Supreme Court of New Jersey also abolished charitable immunity in Collopy v. Newark Eye & Ear Infirmary, 27 N.J. 29, 42-48 (1958) and Dalton v. St. Luke's Catholic Church, 27 N.J. 22, 24-25 (1958), the Legislature subsequently reinstated that immunity by enactment of New Jersey's Charitable Immunity Act. L. 1959, c. 90, § 1.
The Act currently provides in relevant part:
No nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational 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 ...