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Schmied v. Reformed Church of Highland Park

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 30, 2013

MARILYN SCHMIED and JACQUES SCHMIED, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
REFORMED CHURCH OF HIGHLAND PARK, Defendant-Respondent.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Telephonically Argued April 19, 2012

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-9515-09.

Henry Gurshman argued the cause for appellants.

Jason M. Judovin argued the cause for respondent (Methfessel & Werbel, attorneys; William S. Bloom and Mr. Judovin, on the brief).

Before Judges Fuentes, Graves and Koblitz.

OPINION

FUENTES, P.J.A.D.

On January 23, 2008, plaintiff Marilyn Schmied[1] fell in the sanctuary building owned and operated by defendant the Reformed Church of Highland Park (the Church), fracturing her left arm. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was attending an adult education class given by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Rutgers University (OLLI-RU). Plaintiff alleged the Church negligently failed to properly clean the area where she fell, did not provide sufficient lighting to detect any possible dangers, and failed to warn her of the presence of the dangerous conditions that caused her to fall.

Plaintiff appeals from the order entered by the Law Division dismissing her suit against the Church based on the protections against civil liability conferred by the Legislature under the Charitable Immunity Act (CIA or Act), N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11. Plaintiff argues the motion judge improperly applied the immunity protections in N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7, because the Church was not promoting its core mission as a charitable religious or educational non-profit organization when it rented space to OLLI-RU to conduct these adult education classes. We disagree and affirm.

Because the trial court dismissed plaintiff's complaint as a matter of law, we will review the matter de novo, Town of Kearny v. Brandt, 214 N.J. 76, 91, (2013), and consider all factual allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995); R. 4:6-2(c).

I

It is not disputed that the Reformed Church in America is recognized as a non-profit, eleemosynary organization exempt from federal income tax under 26 U.S.C.A. § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Church in Highland Park where plaintiff fell is a member of the Reformed Church in America, and is also exempt from New Jersey Sales and Use tax.

As published on its website, the purpose of the Reformed Church in America is "to minister to the total life of all people by preaching, teaching, and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and by all Christian good works." Reformed Church in America (last visited Oct. 24, 2013) http://rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=6575. The mission statement of the Church in Highland Park states:

Because we belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are called as the Reformed Church of Highland Park to worship God together; to learn and teach the gospel; to serve one another, our community and the world with Christ's love; and to provide and maintain a consecrated place for our worship, mission and fellowship, all according to the Reformed tradition ...

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