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Kuchera v. Jersey Shore Family Health Center

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 10, 2013

TERRY KUCHERA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JERSEY SHORE FAMILY HEALTH CENTER, JERSEY SHORE UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER, MERIDIAN HEALTH and MODERN REALTY CORPORATION, Defendants-Respondents.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 16, 2013.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-1513-10.

Steven L. Kessel argued the cause for appellant (Drazin & Warshaw, P.C., attorneys; Mr. Kessel, on the brief).

Richard A. Amdur argued the cause for respondents (Amdur, Maggs & Shor, P.C., attorneys; Mr. Amdur, on the brief).

Before Judges Parrillo and Harris.

PER CURIAM.

Plaintiff Terry Kuchera appeals from the summary judgment dismissal of her negligence lawsuit against defendants Jersey Shore Family Health Center (Family Health Center), Jersey Shore University Medical Center (University Medical Center) and Meridian Health, on the basis of the charitable immunity afforded by N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7.[1] We affirm.

The essential facts are not in dispute. On Saturday, March 7, 2009, plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on an oily substance while attending a free eye screening conducted by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Vision Impaired (Commission) that was being conducted on the premises of the University Medical Center's Family Health Center. The Commission was holding its annual free eye screening event at the facility.

The Family Health Center is a subsidiary of the University Medical Center, a hospital within the Meridian Hospitals Corporation (Meridian), [2] and is located offsite from the University Medical Center. The Family Health Center is a nonprofit, charitable, community outreach clinic that is open to the general public. It offers free care and sponsors multiple free programs for the community regardless of the ability to pay.

The screening event was the only purpose the Family Health Center was being used for that day, and the only reason the building was open, since the facility is usually closed on weekends for its normal operation. The Commission organized and staffed the event. Although some of the volunteers were employees of either the University Medical Center or the Family Health Center, the screening event was outside their regular working hours and they were neither paid by defendants to participate nor compelled to volunteer. Diane Resnick, a registered nurse employed by the Family Medical Center, volunteered for the Commission's screening that day and actually helped plaintiff off the tiled floor after she fell.

According to Meridian's 1998 Restated Certificate of Incorporation, the purpose of the Corporation "is for scientific, educational and charitable purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code."[3] In addition to establishing hospitals, Paragraph 2(c) states as a purpose "to promote, improve and protect the health and welfare of the general public in the communities served by the corporation, " and Paragraph 2(d) refers to the purpose "to carry out such other acts and to undertake such other activities as may be necessary, appropriate or desirable in furtherance of, or in connection with or complementary to the conduct, promotion or attainment of the foregoing purposes."

As noted, defendants moved for summary judgment, maintaining that as charitable organizations under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7, they are immune from liability to plaintiff, who on the date of the accident, was admittedly a beneficiary of services performed on their premises. Plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing, in essence, that defendants were only entitled to the limited immunity under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-8, as they are organized exclusively for hospital purposes. In granting summary judgment relief to defendants, dismissing plaintiff's complaint against them, the motion judge reasoned:

this is an organization that has a mixed purpose, a mixed use as it is developed. And it is providing hospital services. It runs a hospital, absolutely. It has an educational component as a medical university. It provides charitable care by making this facility available to provide charitable care to the community. And . . . I don't see that they fall under the Section 8 proviso that this was a situation where they were exercising or they were operating solely as a, exclusively ...

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