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Corwin v. Brandywine Valley Friends of Old Time Music

December 21, 2007

ROBERT D. CORWIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRANDYWINE VALLEY FRIENDS OF OLD TIME MUSIC, INC., SALEM COUNTY COOPERATIVE FAIR ASS'N, INC., JOHN DOES 1-2 (FICTITIOUS NAMES OF UNKNOWN DEFENDANTS) ABC AND XYZ (FICTITIOUS NAMES OF UNKNOWN COMPANIES), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

Before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by defendant Brandywine Valley Friends of Old Time Music, Inc. ("Brandywine Music") and defendant Salem County Cooperative Fair Association, Inc. ("Salem Fair"). Brandywine Music's motion for summary judgment based on New Jersey's Charitable Immunity Act ("Charitable Immunity Act" or "Act") is granted and Salem Fair's motion for summary judgment based on the Charitable Immunity Act is denied. Bandywine Music's motion for summary judgment based on New Jersey's public use exception doctrine is denied as moot.

I. JURISDICTION

Plaintiff Robert Corwin is a citizen of the state of Pennsylvania, defendant Brandywine Music is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Delaware, and defendant Salem Fair is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey. This Court exercises diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

II. BACKGROUND

The underlying facts are not in dispute. Brandywine Music is a Delaware nonprofit corporation and is exempt from federal tax under Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3). Brandywine Music is organized solely for the educational purpose of promoting and preserving "bluegrass" or "old time" music. Since 1990, it has organized the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival held at Salem Fair's fairgrounds in Woodstown, New Jersey. The festival is held over several days and Brandywine Music charges a fee for admittance to the festival. It also holds bluegrass festivals in other states.

Salem Fair is a New Jersey nonprofit corporation and is exempt from federal tax under Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3). Salem Fair is organized solely to prepare and conduct fairs and exhibits in Salem County, New Jersey, for the purpose of improving the agriculture in the county through educational and competitive exhibits. Salem Fair's by-laws allow it to purchase, lease or rent real estate or personality or borrow money in order to effectuate its educations goals. Salem Fair is the owner of the fairgrounds in Woodstown, New Jersey. It rented the fairgrounds to Brandywine Music for $9,216.00 to hold the Bluegrass Festival from August 29-31, 2003.

While at the festival on August 30, 2003, plaintiff Robert Corwin suffered injuries when he fell while walking down a stage ramp from one the stages set up by Salem Fair and used for musical acts at the Festival. Mr. Corwin was a freelance photographer and intended to sell his photographs to the magazine Bluegrass Now and other magazines. Mr. Corwin was granted "media" access and did not pay an admittance fee to the festival.

Before the Court are three motions for summary judgment. Both defendants filed motions for summary judgment arguing that they qualify for immunity under New Jersey's Charitable Immunity Act, since they are nonprofit entities organized exclusively for educational purposes; they were promoting their educational objectives and purposes at the time of plaintiff's injury; and plaintiff was a beneficiary of their charitable works. In addition, Brandywine Music filed a second motion for summary judgment arguing that under New Jersey's "public use exception" doctrine, it did not owe a duty of care to plaintiff and, therefore, his claim of negligence should be dismissed against Brandywine Music.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary ...


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