On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County, Docket No. L-0198-07.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: R. B. Coleman, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Graves.
Plaintiffs Anita and Robert Klein appeal an order of the Law Division dated May 2, 2008 granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Bristol Glen, Inc. (Bristol Glen) and United Methodist Homes of New Jersey (UMH) (referred to collectively as defendants). The trial court concluded that defendants were protected by charitable immunity because defendants were charitable organizations and because Anita Klein (Ms. Klein) was a beneficiary of their charitable works when she was injured on the grounds of Bristol Glen. Because we are convinced that summary judgment was prematurely granted before the completion of discovery, we reverse and remand for further proceedings in the Law Division.
On January 4, 2006, Ms. Klein was seriously injured when she slipped and fell on black ice on the grounds of Bristol Glen, an elder care community in Newton. She was visiting Marjorie Layton, a good friend of her deceased mother. Ms. Klein had visited Layton every week for approximately ten years both before and after Layton moved to Bristol Glen. Prior to Layton's move to Bristol Glen, Ms. Klein would help Layton clean her home, take Layton to appointments, and accompany her to lunch. After Layton moved to Bristol Glen, she no longer needed Ms. Klein's assistance with housekeeping, but Ms. Klein continued to assist Layton by helping her pay bills and by transporting her to appointments. Though the two women are not related, Ms. Klein considers Layton to be "like an aunt" and feels familial affection towards her. Layton has no other family to look after her.
According to the certification of G. Scott Norton, the Executive Director of Operations for Bristol Glen, Bristol Glen is one of ten New Jersey elder care communities operated by UMH. Bristol Glen has a sixty-bed nursing home, a fifty-eight-bed assisted living facility, and eighty-eight independent apartments restricted to residents sixty-five years of age and older. Layton was a resident in the assisted living facility, which rendered services such as home cleaning and bathing assistance depending on the resident's needs. The record does not contain any information about the services actually provided to Layton.
Norton's certification asserts that both Bristol Glen and UMH are organized as non-profit corporations whose stated mission is to "provide quality and caring services to senior men and women in a Christian community," but includes no other information about the religious aspects of the Bristol Glen community or of UMH. Residents must pay for housing and services at Bristol Glen. The rent for independent living apartments ranges from $2,174 to $3,513 per month, plus either a ninety-percent-refundable entrance fee between $199,700 to $319,000, or a non-refundable entrance fee between $126,600 to $227,100.
Norton's certification states that since UMH was founded in 1907, "it has been United Methodist Homes' commitment that once a resident has been accepted into the community that they will never be asked to leave as a result of an inability to pay." It further states that UMH has "stood by that commitment to this day." UMH and Bristol Glen use charitable donations from a "Fellowship Fund" to subsidize shortfalls resulting from a resident's inability to pay. Bristol Glen is accorded tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.
Norton's certification specified that in 2006, Bristol Glen relied on charitable donations from the Fellowship Fund to subsidize a $114,000 shortfall and had an operating budget of approximately $13,000,000 in the same year. In 2006, UMH relied on charitable donations to subsidize a shortfall of $2,000,000 and had an operating budget of approximately $60,000,000. According to those numbers, charitable donations made up eight tenths of one percent and three and one third percent of the respective operating budgets of Bristol Glen and UMH in 2006.
A certification submitted by Richard Wilson, vice president of finance for UMH, revealed that Bristol Glen is a wholly-owned subsidiary of UMH and that both receive charitable donations from the United Methodist Homes of New Jersey Foundation (the Foundation), another wholly-owned subsidiary of UMH. The Foundation is dedicated entirely to fundraising and distributes charitable contributions "based upon the relative shortfall amounts of the different facilities." The distributions cover three types of costs: residential shortfalls "to cover the shortfall arising out of residents being unable to pay," Medicaid shortfalls "for health care," and capital improvements.
Bristol Glen assesses a potential resident's ability to pay before he or she is accepted into the community. An applicant to Bristol Glen must disclose all income, assets (including real estate), liabilities, life insurance, long-term care insurance, and pharmacy insurance. The applicant must also submit a signed and witnessed statement representing that "the assets and income listed above are available for the cost of my (our) care." Presumably Bristol Glen may also use a resident's substantial refundable entrance fee to subsidize shortfalls resulting from that resident's inability to pay before resorting to the Fellowship Fund.
Wilson's certification stated that Norton's certification did "not represent the total picture regarding reliance on charitable donations." Wilson referred to an attached spreadsheet, which provided information concerning charitable donations and operating expenses from 2004 through 2007.
The spreadsheet discloses that in 2004, Bristol Glen received $983,000 in "Foundation grants for residential Medicaid shortfall" and $46,000 in "Foundation grants for capital improvements"; total operating expenses were $10,996,000. In 2005, Bristol Glen received Medicaid and capital improvement Foundation grants of $819,041 and $99,549, respectively, while total operating expenses were $11,693,000. In 2006, Bristol Glen received Medicaid and capital improvement Foundation grants of $290,830 and $112,050, respectively, with total operating expenses of $12,228,000. In 2007, Bristol Glen received Medicaid and capital improvement Foundation grants of $294,506 and $361,467, respectively, and had total operating expenses of $12,816,000.
The spreadsheet discloses that in 2004, UMH distributed $2,000,000 in Medicaid Foundation grants and $856,666 in capital improvements Foundation grants to all its facilities; UMH's total operating expenses were $52,179,000. In 2005, UMH distributed $290,830 and $112,050 in Medicaid and capital improvements Foundation grants, and had total operating expenses of $57,100,000. In 2006, UMH distributed $2,000,000 and $562,198 in Medicaid and capital improvements Foundation grants, and had operating expenses of $61,665,000. In 2007, UMH ...