In the case of Frances Green v. Monmouth University, A-63-17, Decided May 7, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed Monmouth University’s entitlement to charitable immunity in the face of a personal injury lawsuit filed by a non-student. The plaintiff was injured while attending a Martina McBride concert that was hosted in a University facility, but open to the public.
New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act provides immunity to non-profit corporations organized for charitable, religious, or educational purposes, as against suits from the corporation’s beneficiaries of those charitable purposes.
Monmouth University’s certificate of incorporation provides that its purpose is:
To establish, maintain and conduct an institution of learning for the purpose of promoting education … for the instruction of students in the various branches of technological, professional, vocational, and general cultural education …
To provide for the holding of meetings and events open to the public, including classes, conferences, lectures, forums, exhibitions, conventions, plays, motion pictures, concerts, and athletic contests, all calculated, directly or indirectly, to advance the cause of education and wholesome recreation.
The plaintiff attended a concert at the University’s Multipurpose Activity Center. The University had entered into an exclusive booking agreement with a third-party, Concerts East, Inc., which agreed to act as the University’s agent for live music entertainment services. Concert East assigned its rights to Thoroughbred Management, Inc. (“TMI”), who in turn booked Martina McBride, a country music star, for a concert. TMI paid the University $10,000 in a rental fee for its facilities.
The plaintiff alleged that she was climbing a set of stairs in a poorly lit area, and stepped onto a dangerous surface, causing her to fall and sustain injuries. After the fall, she stayed to watch the concert, but reported the accident afterwards to a University police officer. That officer investigated and located a rubber strip that stuck out two inches from the step, which he deemed a tripping hazard.
The University moved for summary judgment, contending that it was a charitable institution and that it was entitled to immunity. The trial court found that: the University was a non-profit educational institution organized for charitable purposes; that the University’s educational missing included hosting concerts; and that the plaintiff was a beneficiary of the University’s educational purpose when she attended the concert.
The Appellate Division agreed, although a dissenting judge found that the question of whether the country music concert advanced the University’s educational purpose presented a material issue of fact.
The Supreme Court, hearing the matter “as of right” due to the dissent below, affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the suit against Monmouth University. They found that the University was formed for nonprofit purposes, was organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes, and was promoting such objectives and purposes at the time of the injury to the plaintiff, who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works. The University’s certificate of incorporation made clear that cultural education was part of its mission, which included concerts. Conducting a “fast-sensitive inquiry,” the Court noted that the concert at issue was part of the educational mission and purpose of the University, regardless of the fact that they derived some form of payment for it; that it was ultimately licensed by a third-party; and that the plaintiff was not a student of the university.