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P.V. v. Camp Jaycee

November 24, 2008

P.V., BY HER GUARDIANS AD LITEM T.V. AND L.V. AND T.V. AND L.V., INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
CAMP JAYCEE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND "A" THROUGH "Z" DOE (FICTITIOUS NAMES ACTUAL NAMES BEING UNKNOWN), DEFENDANTS.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 393 N.J. Super. 19 (2007).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

This choice-of-law case involves the question of whether New Jersey's charitable immunity statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11, applies to a tort committed in Pennsylvania.

Over thirty years ago, New Jersey Camp Jaycee, Inc. (Camp Jaycee) was organized as a not-for-profit corporation to operate a summer program for mentally challenged individuals. Although Camp Jaycee was incorporated in New Jersey and maintains an administrative office here, it has chosen to carry out its primary charitable mission in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at a campsite in the town of Effort.

In 2003, one of Camp Jaycee's campers was P.V., a twenty-one-year-old female from New Jersey with Down syndrome and mental and emotional handicaps. P.V. had attended the camp for at least three consecutive summers. According to the complaint, in August 2003, P.V. was sexually assaulted by another camper, as a result of which she sustained injuries requiring medical treatment.

P.V.'s parents, T.V. and L.V., as guardians ad litem and individually, instituted a personal injury action in New Jersey against Camp Jaycee and several fictitious defendants. They alleged that Camp Jaycee and its agents, servants, and employees were careless and negligent in the supervision of P.V. "at the camp" in Pennsylvania. Camp Jaycee filed a motion to dismiss, asserting immunity from suit under the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act (CIA).

The trial judge granted Camp Jaycee's motion for summary judgment on the ground that, under the CIA, the camp is immune from suit by a beneficiary. The Appellate Division reversed, declaring that the CIA is not the governing law of the case because Pennsylvania, the state of the wrongful conduct and injury, has abrogated charitable immunity and has a greater interest in regulating the conduct of entities operating within its borders than New Jersey has in immunizing not-for-profit corporations.

HELD: Although the Court recognizes the vitality of New Jersey's own policy of immunizing charities, in this case, it must yield to the presumption favoring application of Pennsylvania law, which has not been overcome.

1. Traditionally, New Jersey courts, like those of most jurisdictions, followed the bright-line rules embodied in the Restatement (First) of Conflict of Laws (1934). Those rules applied the law of the jurisdiction where a right was said to have "vested." That approach resulted in the application of the law of a state with no real connection to the litigation and led to the downfall of the First Restatement. In 1967, New Jersey joined other jurisdictions in abandoning the First Restatement approach to tort cases, embracing the modern governmental interest analysis, traditionally described as an approach by which courts seek to assess countervailing state laws through statutory construction and other interpretative mechanisms to determine whether the states' policies are aligned with either party in the litigation. Four years after our adoption of the governmental interest analysis, and seventeen years after the reform effort had been undertaken, the Second Restatement was finalized. In place of black letter law, the Second Restatement contains presumptions and detailed considerations that bear on conflicts analysis, in particular a "general presumption" (section 146) and factors and principles to be considered in determining which state has the most significant relationship to the occurrence and the parties (sections 6 and 145). Although continuing to denominate our standard as a kind of governmental interest test, we now apply the Second Restatement's most significant relationship standard in tort cases, requiring application of the law of the state of the injury unless another state has a more significant relationship to the parties and issues. (Pp. 5-13)

2. The Court must first determine whether an actual conflict exists. Here, it is clear, as the parties have conceded, that an actual conflict exists between the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. By enacting the CIA, the New Jersey Legislature has carved charitable corporations out of its tort law system and declared them to be free from most tort liability. Contrary to New Jersey's policy of immunization, Pennsylvania has definitely abrogated its charitable immunity laws and has chosen to subject charitable corporations to the same tort liability as all others. If New Jersey law applies, the case will be dismissed. If Pennsylvania law applies, it will proceed. Because there is an evident conflict, the Court turns to the Restatement analysis. (Pp. 14-15)

3. Section 146 of the Second Restatement recognizes the intuitively correct principle that the state in which the injury occurs is likely to have the predominant, if not exclusive, relationship to the parties and issues in the litigation. It is from that vantage point that we turn to the remaining contacts set forth in section 145 and the cornerstone principles of section 6. On one side of the contacts ledger, P.V. and Camp Jaycee are co-domiciliaries of New Jersey. On the other side of the ledger, Camp Jaycee chose to perform the sole charitable function for which it was organized in Pennsylvania; P.V. chose to attend a camp in Pennsylvania; the relationship between P.V. and Camp Jaycee was centered on the camp experience in Pennsylvania; the tortious conduct (negligent supervision) took place solely in Pennsylvania; and P.V. was injured in Pennsylvania. Standing alone, New Jersey's contacts are certainly no greater than those of Pennsylvania. However, because our analysis is not merely quantitative, we also look to the principles of section 6 to measure the significance of those contacts. In other words, do the section 6 considerations gin up or diminish the values to be ascribed to the contacts relative to the issue presented? (Pp. 15-20)

4. Reduced to their essence, the section 6 principles are: "(1) the interests of interstate comity; (2) the interests of the parties; (3) the interests underlying the field of tort law; (4) the interests of judicial administration; and (5) the competing interests of the states." In the main, the policies are aligned with Pennsylvania's contacts. The fact that the conduct and injury occurred in Pennsylvania was not fortuitous. Camp Jaycee has a continuous and deliberate presence in Pennsylvania. It is that perennial presence and activity in Pennsylvania that is inextricably intertwined with Pennsylvania's interest in conduct-regulation. If Pennsylvania's tort law is to have any deterrent impact and protect other campers from the type of harm inflicted upon P.V., it must be applied in situations where tort-feasors repeatedly perform their tasks within the state, regardless of the home state of the campers. Concededly, New Jersey's interest in protecting its charitable corporations is aligned with the parties' co-domiciliary status in this state. However, where, as here, the plaintiff chooses to attend camp and the corporation opts to perform its primary charitable acts outside the state, the strength of that contact is diluted. New Jersey can continue to protect charities operating in this state even if the law of Pennsylvania is applied to the Pennsylvania activities in this case. The converse is not true. If New Jersey's immunity law is applied, Pennsylvania's ability to regulate the conduct of those who chose to operate within its borders will be substantially impaired. (Pp. 20-31)

5. Although both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have strong countervailing policies regarding immunity, Pennsylvania's policy of conduct-regulation and recompense is deeply intertwined with the various Pennsylvania contacts in the case. On the contrary, New Jersey's loss-allocation policy does not warrant the assignment of priority to the parties' domicile in New Jersey in connection with activities outside the state's borders. In short, neither the contacts themselves nor the section 6 considerations support the conclusion that New Jersey has a more significant relationship to the case than Pennsylvania. In fact, the converse is true. Although we recognize the vitality of our own policy of immunizing charities, in this case, it must yield to the presumption favoring application of Pennsylvania law, which has not been overcome. (Pp. 31-33)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED. The case is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the principles to which we have adverted.

JUSTICE HOENS filed a separate, DISSENTING opinion, in which JUSTICES LaVECCHIA and RIVERA-SOTO join, stating that the majority has chosen to adopt a new framework for deciding conflict of law disputes and has tossed aside the Court's far more nuanced "governmental interest" approach, substituting its view of an appropriate public policy for the public policy choice explicitly announced by the New Jersey Legislature.

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES ALBIN and WALLACE join in JUSTICE LONG's opinion. JUSTICE HOENS filed a separate, dissenting opinion, in which JUSTICES LaVECCHIA and RIVERA-SOTO join.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Long

Argued February 19, 2008

This choice-of-law case involves the question of whether New Jersey's charitable immunity statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11, applies to a tort committed in Pennsylvania. In 2003, a mentally disabled New Jersey resident was sexually abused at a summer camp located in Pennsylvania but operated by a New Jersey charity. Her parents sued the camp individually and on her behalf for negligent supervision at the campsite. The trial judge granted the camp's motion for summary judgment based on the doctrine of charitable immunity to which New Jersey adheres by statute. The Appellate Division reversed, declaring that Pennsylvania law governs the action because the commonwealth, which has abrogated charitable immunity and is the state in which the tortious conduct and injury occurred, has the greater governmental interest in the case. The camp filed a petition for certification that we granted.

Although we have traditionally denominated our conflicts approach as a flexible "governmental interest" analysis, we have continuously resorted to the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (1971) in resolving conflict disputes arising out of tort. See, e.g., Erny v. Estate of Merola, 171 N.J. 86, 95-96 (2002); Fu v. Fu, 160 N.J. 108, 119-39 (1999). That approach is the "most significant relationship" test. Under that standard, the analysis in a personal injury case begins with the section 146 presumption that the local law of the state of the injury will apply. Once the presumptively applicable law is identified, that choice is tested against the contacts detailed in section 145 and the general principles outlined in section 6 of the Second Restatement. If another state has a more significant relationship to the parties or issues, the presumption will be overcome. If not, it will govern.

Examining the facts of this case as they relate to the contacts and principles articulated in the Second Restatement, we conclude that Pennsylvania, the state in which the charity chose to operate and which is the locus of the tortious conduct and injury, has at least as significant a relationship to the issues as New Jersey, and that the presumptive choice of Pennsylvania law therefore has not been overcome.

I.

Over thirty years ago, New Jersey Camp Jaycee, Inc. (Camp Jaycee) was organized as a not-for-profit corporation to operate a summer program for mentally challenged individuals.*fn1 Although Camp Jaycee was incorporated in New Jersey and maintains an administrative office here, it has chosen to carry out its primary charitable mission in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at a campsite in the town of Effort.

In 2003, one of Camp Jaycee's campers was P.V., a twenty-one-year-old female from New Jersey with Down syndrome and mental and emotional handicaps. P.V. had attended the camp for at least three consecutive summers. According to the complaint, in August 2003, P.V. was sexually assaulted by another camper, as a result of which she sustained injuries requiring medical treatment.

P.V.'s parents, T.V. and L.V., as guardians ad litem and individually, instituted a personal injury action in New Jersey against Camp Jaycee and several fictitious defendants. They alleged that Camp Jaycee and its agents, servants, and employees were careless and negligent in the supervision of P.V. "at the camp" in Pennsylvania. Camp Jaycee filed a motion to dismiss, asserting immunity from suit under the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act (CIA). N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11.

The trial judge granted Camp Jaycee's motion for summary judgment on the ground that, under the CIA, the camp is immune from suit by a beneficiary. The Appellate Division reversed, declaring that the CIA is not the governing law of the case because Pennsylvania, the state of the wrongful conduct and injury, has abrogated charitable immunity and has a greater interest in regulating the conduct of entities operating within its borders than New Jersey has in immunizing not-for-profit corporations. P.V. v. Camp Jaycee, 393 N.J. Super. 19, 21-22 (App. Div. 2007). In ruling, the Appellate Division relied in part on the exceptions that have been carved out of the CIA (e.g. the CIA does not immunize charities against actions for intentional conduct) as diluting New Jersey's interest. We granted Camp Jaycee's petition for certification, 192 N.J. 295 (2007), and now affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

II.

Camp Jaycee argues that New Jersey has a transcendent interest in the application of its charitable immunity law because the camp was organized under the laws of New Jersey; both parties are domiciled in New Jersey; Pennsylvania has no interest in the post-event rights and liabilities of two New Jersey domiciliaries; Pennsylvania is merely "the happenstance of the situs of the accident"; and no Pennsylvania citizen was injured.

P.V. counters that Pennsylvania, the state in which Camp Jaycee chose to operate; in which the tortious conduct and injury occurred; and in which the relationship of the parties was centered, has at least as great if not a greater interest than New Jersey in the resolution of this matter because of its concerns over conduct-regulation and redress to tort victims.

III.

The background of our present approach to conflict of laws is helpful to this analysis. Traditionally, our courts, like those of most jurisdictions, followed the bright-line rules embodied in the Restatement (First) of Conflict of Laws (1934). Those rules applied the law of the jurisdiction where a right was said to have "vested." William L. Reynolds, Legal Process and Choice of Law, 56 Md. L. Rev. 1371, 1376 (1997).

A tort right vested, for example, in the state where the injury occurred (rather than, say, where the wrongful conduct occurred); a contract right vested in the state where the last act necessary to make the contract took place (usually the acceptance), and so on. The system purported to solve all choice-of-law problems by isolating a key fact (such as where the plaintiff was injured); once the location of that fact is identified, the law to be applied follows ineluctably. On the surface, at least, the judge exercises no discretion; choosing applicable law is a routine, humdrum enterprise. [Ibid.]

Under that system, courts could choose between competing laws simply by applying concepts such as lex fori, lex loci, and lex contractus, without analyzing the content of the laws, the specific facts of a case, or the contacts the parties may have had with other states. That approach often resulted in the application of the law of a state with no real connection to the litigation and led to the downfall of the First Restatement.

Id. at 1380-85.

During the 1950s, "legal realists" attacked the vested rights theory and countered that, in choosing between conflicting laws, courts should take into account the policies behind those laws and the facts of the cases that gave rise to the conflict. Id. at 1380 (citing Bruce Posnak, Choice of Law:

Interest Analysis and Its "New Crits", 36 Am. J. Comp. L. 681, 682 (1988) (noting early criticisms of First Restatement)).

In 1967, we joined with other jurisdictions in abandoning the First Restatement approach to tort cases, embracing the modern governmental interest analysis, for which Professor Brainerd Currie is generally credited.*fn2 See Mellk v. Sarahson, 49 N.J. 226, 234-35 (1967) (foregoing application of lex loci approach). The governmental interest test has traditionally been described as an approach by which courts seek to assess countervailing state laws through statutory construction and other interpretative mechanisms to determine whether the states' policies are aligned with either party in the litigation. Jeffrey M. Shaman, The Vicissitudes of Choice of Law: The Restatement (First, Second) and Interest Analysis, 45 Buff. L. Rev. 329, 349-50 (1997). See generally Brainerd Currie, Selected Essays on the Conflict of Laws 627 (1963). Under the governmental interest test, where an actual conflict exists, courts must "identify the governmental policies underlying the law of each state and how those policies are affected by each state's contacts to the litigation and the parties." Veazey v. Doremus, 103 N.J. 244, 248 (1986).

Four years after our adoption of the governmental interest analysis, and seventeen years after the reform effort had been undertaken, the Second Restatement was finalized. To a great extent, it embraced the "reasoned elaboration" school of judicial analysis that requires a thorough explanation of every judicial decision, tied closely to the facts of the case, and an articulation of why the decision is just. Reynolds, supra, 56 Md. L. Rev. at 1387 (quoting Henry Hart, Jr. & Albert M. Sacks, The Legal Process: Basic Problems in the Making and Application of Law 145-52 (William Eskridge, Jr. & Philip P. Frickey eds., 1994)). In place of black letter law, the Second Restatement contains presumptions and detailed considerations that bear on conflicts analyses. The philosophy underlying the Second Restatement has been described as follows: to provide guidance for judges by reminding them of things to consider in making a choice-of-law decision. The judge then would weigh the factors in light of the facts and explain why she reached the particular result. The listed factors certainly do not control the decision; rather, they merely suggest items upon which the judges should reflect. In other words, the Second Restatement provides judges with a starting point: a set of presumptions and a list of concerns worth addressing. It is then up to the judge to make it all work.

The judge has to choose which law to apply, not which theory. Indeed, theory has relatively little to do with decisionmaking under the Second Restatement. [Id. at 1388.]

Section 6, which has been described as the "cornerstone of the entire Restatement," Eugene F. Scoles et al., Conflict of Laws § 2.14 (4th ed. 2004), prescribes that

(1) A court, subject to constitutional restrictions, will follow a statutory directive of its own state on choice of law.

(2) When there is no such directive, the factors relevant to the choice of the applicable rule of law include

(a) the needs of the interstate and international systems,

(b) the relevant policies of the forum,

(c) the relevant policies of other interested states and the relative interests of those states in the determination of the particular issue,

(d) the protection of justified expectations,

(e) the basic policies underlying the particular field of law,

(f) certainty, predictability, and uniformity of result, and

(g) ease in determination and application of the law to be applied. [Restatement, supra, § 6.]

The Second Restatement also provides specific guidance for resolving particular types of cases. See, e.g., Restatement, supra, ch. 8 ("Contracts"). In connection with tort, section 145 of chapter 7 is entitled "The General Principle" and prescribes that: "The rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to an issue in tort are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the occurrence and the parties under the principles stated in § 6." Restatement, supra, § 145(1). The contacts that are weighed in making that assessment include:

(a) the place where the injury occurred,

(b) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred,

(c) the domicil, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties, and

(d) the place where the relationship, if any, between the parties is centered. [Restatement, supra, § 145(2)(a)-(d).]*fn3

Although the Second Restatement eschews the bright lines established by its predecessor, it does not abandon all rules:

Once one ventures past section 145, however, the chapter dramatically changes character. Instead of infinitely open-ended sections, the Second Restatement, for the most part, articulates reasonably definite rules. To be sure, these succeeding sections contain escape valves that refer to section 6. Many of the rules echo the First Restatement's preference for choosing the law of the injury state. Others do not refer to the injury state directly, but choose connecting factors very likely, if not certain, to lead to the application of the law of the injury state. . . . Only a relatively few sections refer solely to the general formula of section 145 without providing some presumptive choice. [Patrick J. Borchers, Courts and the Second Conflicts Restatement: Some Observations and an Empirical Note, 56 Md. L. Rev. 1232, 1239-40 (1997) (footnotes omitted).]

In a personal injury case, the relevant presumption is contained in section 146, which provides:

In an action for a personal injury, the local law of the state where the injury occurred determines the rights and liabilities of the parties, unless, with respect to the particular issue, some other state has a more significant relationship under the principles stated in ยง 6 to the occurrence and the parties, in which ...


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