United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
Allyson SEXTON, general administratix and administratix ad prosequendum of the Estate of Brett J. SEXTON, and Allyson SEXTON, individually, Plaintiffs,
Anthony J. RIZZETTA, D.O., et al., Defendants.
B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon the motion of Cape
Regional Medical Center (“Defendant”) to limit
damages to $250, 000 under the New Jersey Charitable Immunity
Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:53A-7 et seq.
(See Doc. No. 77.) Because Defendant is a charitable
organization that is organized exclusively for hospital
purposes, and because Plaintiff was a beneficiary of its
services, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.
12, 2013, Brett Sexton was admitted to Cape Regional Medical
Center. (Def. Ex. B at 8.) He was diagnosed with a litany of
issues, and a nursing triage evaluation in the emergency
department states he was suffering from diffuse pain in the
epigastric region radiating to flanks, shoulder pain,
anxiety, panic, and vomiting. (Id.) He began to
experience delirium tremens. (Def. Ex. B at 8.)
Defendant's nursing staff then administered medications
such as Ativan and Haldol to alleviate his combativeness and
anxiety. (Id.) Mr. Sexton was also restrained by
hospital staff. Once he was non-combative, hospital staff
turned him to a supine position. He was then found
unresponsive; his face was blue and gray; there were no vital
signs. Resuscitative efforts were unsuccessful. Mr. Sexton
was pronounced deceased.
amended death certificate dated September 4, 2013 documented
sudden cardiac arrest during physical struggle while Mr.
Sexton was restrained, along with acute necrotizing
pancreatitis, dilated cardiomyopathy, chronic ethanol abuse,
and obesity as causes of death. The autopsy report indicated
Mr. Sexton had been subject to serious physical stresses. The
death certificate stated homicide.
Sexton's estate, the plaintiff in this matter, then filed
an action for medical malpractice, alleging-among other
things-that the hospital deviated from the duty of care
resulting in Mr. Sexton's death. (Def. Ex. B. at 8-9.)
Defendant has filed a motion to limit damages pursuant to the
New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act, claiming to have been a
non-profit organization organized exclusively for hospital
purposes since before July 2013. (Def. Ex. A at 1.) It has
presented an affidavit stating as much. We now address that
the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act, the liability of
nonprofit hospitals to negligence actions is limited to $250,
000. N.J. Stat. § 2A:53A-8. Close scrutiny of this
statutory scheme will reveal the disposition of this motion.
Section 2A:53A-7(a) completely immunizes entities
“organized exclusively for religious, charitable or
educational purposes” from negligence actions brought
by “beneficiaries” of those entities'
activities, while § 2A:53A-7(b) immunizes nonprofit
hospitals in particular from any such negligence action.
Section 2A:53A-8, however, provides that
“notwithstanding” the blanket immunity of §
2A:53A-7, any nonprofit organized exclusively for hospital
purposes shall be liable in a negligence action for no more
than $250, 000, inclusive of interest and costs. Thus, as the
Supreme Court of New Jersey has explained,
By the plain language of N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 and -8, a hospital
is subject to limited liability under section 8 if it is
formed as a nonprofit corporation, society, or association,
is organized exclusively for hospital purposes, was promoting
those objectives and purposes at the time the plaintiff was
injured, and the plaintiff was a beneficiary of the
activities of the hospital.
Kuchera v. Jersey Shore Family Health Ctr., 221 N.J.
239, 249, 111 A.3d 84, 90 (2015). Importantly, the Act's
grant of immunity is to be applied liberally, N.J. Stat. Ann.
§ 2A:53A-10, and we are to rely on the text of the
statute in interpreting it. See Pizzullo v. New Jersey
Mfrs. Ins. Co., 196 N.J. 251, 264 (2008).
first argues this provision is unconstitutional, but this is
without merit. “The constitutionality of the charitable
immunity legislation, which has been part of our statutory
law for more than thirty years, is now well settled.”
Johnson v. Mountainside Hosp., 239 N.J.Super. 312,
320, 571 A.2d 318, 322 (App. Div. 1990). When determining
state law, this Court predicts how the state's courts
would apply it, not fashion it anew. See Erie Castings
Co. v. Grinding Supply, Inc., 736 F.2d 99, 100 (3d Cir.
1984) (“When the highest state court has not rendered
an authoritative pronouncement, the task of a federal
tribunal is to predict how that court would rule.”). We
will therefore not overrule an interpretation by the courts
of New Jersey on the validity of a New Jersey statute under
the New Jersey Constitution.
primary argument in opposing the motion is that the
charitable immunity statute does not apply to Defendant. The
statute applies to a “nonprofit corporation . . .
organized exclusively for hospital purposes, ” which
shall be liable for no more than $250, 000. N.J. Stat. Ann.
§ 2A:53A-8. Plaintiff emphasizes the exclusivity of this
language, and draws on Klein v. Bristol Glen, Inc.,
2010 WL 3075582 (App. Div. 2010) for the argument that the
hospital must show that it is actually a nonprofit and not
one solely in name. Klein addresses whether a
nursing home raking in millions of dollars can be considered
a “charitable” entity under § 2A:53A-7(a).
The court noted the searching inquiry given to entities
describing themselves as “charitable” and the
risk that profit-seeking enterprises would seek to immunize
themselves in contravention of public policy and common
decency. Entities whose operations were “virtually
exclusively funded by government money and compensation paid
by the private market for value received” were not
entitled to charitable immunity. Klein, 2010 WL
3075582, at *6 (quotations omitted). Plaintiff asks that this
Court extend Klein's searching inquiry of
whether an entity is indeed “charitable” under
§ 2A:53A-7(a) to whether, under § 2A:53A-8, an
entity is actually a “nonprofit.” Plaintiff
contends the policy of treating all hospitals as nonprofits,
“except obviously for tax purposes, ” (Pl. Br. at
8), is a bad one for purposes of immunity.
III courts do not generally make policy decisions, and that
is especially the case when a federal court, sitting in
diversity, is asked to predict how the courts of New Jersey
would apply their own laws. But today we do not need to make
those decisions, for Klein does not stand for the
proposition Plaintiff argues it does. Rather, Klein
took a close look at whether an entity is indeed engaged in
“charitable purposes” under § 2A:53A-7(a).
That term's analog in § 2A:53A-8 is “hospital
purposes, ” and there is no reason-and none has been
presented-to doubt that Defendant is indeed engaged in the
operation of a hospital. Although Plaintiff would have this
Court apply the searching inquiry of Klein to the
term “nonprofit, ” Klein itself did not
scrutinize the non-profit status of the nursing home before
it. And that is because “[n]onprofit status cannot be
equated with charitableness.” Hamel v. State,
321 N.J.Super. 67, 74 (App. Div. 1999). We will not conflate
the terms. If New Jersey courts find tax status suffices to
show nonprofit status for purposes of the Charitable Immunity
Act, so will this Court. See Parker v. St. Stephen's
Urban Dev. Corp., 243 N.J.Super. 317, 324 (App. Div.
1990) (noting that an entity seeking charitable immunity is a
nonprofit under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue
Code). And we will likewise rely on what other courts have
has produced an affidavit showing it is a charitable
organization organized exclusively for hospital purposes.
(Def. Ex. A.) It states that Cape Regional Medical Center has
been continuously organized as a non-profit exclusively for
hospital purposes since before July 2013. (Id.).
Plaintiff has not seriously contested this document's
validity, and we find it sufficient. See Mottola v. Union
City, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52258 at *5 (D.N.J. July 31,
2006) (finding that defendants satisfied the Charitable
Immunity Act by producing two affidavits from hospital staff
demonstrating the hospital was a nonprofit entity organized
exclusively for hospital purposes); see also
Hottenstein, 981 F.Supp.2d at 294 (finding that
defendants satisfied the ...