In New Jersey, an entity seeking charitable immunity must establish that it “(1) was formed for nonprofit purposes; (2) is organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes; and (3) was promoting such objectives and purposes at the time of the injury to plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works.” Tonelli, 185 N.J. at 444-45 (quoting Hamel, 321 N.J. Super. at 72). In F.K. v. Integrity House, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-1862-18T1, Decided July 8, 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division, in an unpublished opinion, reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment because the defendant did not present sufficient evidence to support the affirmative defense of charitable immunity.
Plaintiff was a resident at the Integrity House residential drug-treatment facility in Newark, New Jersey when he slipped and fell on a wet interior staircase and alleged personal injury. Integrity House moved for summary judgment at the close of discovery based on the charitable immunity defense. In granting summary judgment, the trial court applied the three factors above and concluded that the amount of funding from private contributions did not preclude the defense of charitable immunity. The trial court further found that it was organized for charitable purposes because its stated purpose is to keep former drug addicts drug free. It also found that Plaintiff was a beneficiary of the charitable works.
The Appellate Division’s review of the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was de novo and no deference was given to the trial court’s conclusions of law and application of the law to the facts. It noted that whether an entity is organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes is a fact-sensitive inquiry requiring a “source of funds assessment” to determine whether a charitable purpose is being fulfilled.
The trial court’s order of summary judgment was reversed because:
Because Integrity House did not submit sufficient evidence to substantiate the source and use of its funding, we find that Integrity House did not present sufficient evidence to support its burden of persuasion on the affirmative defense. See Abdallah, 351 N.J. Super. at 288. In addition to failing to provide evidence to assist in analyzing its tax return and determining the percentage of funds received from charitable contributions, Integrity House did not submit any evidence to: (1) specify the fee structure for its services; (2) detail its fundraising efforts beyond the indication on its tax return that it held a golf event and a gala event; (3) rebut plaintiff’s forensic accounting expert’s report; or (4) substantiate that its public service efforts relieved the government of a burden.
Thus, the court has made clear that the affirmative defense of charitable immunity for a publicly-funded enterprise requires more than just a facial demonstration of entitlement, but rather an affirmative showing of sufficient information for the court to determine the scope and extent of charitable funding, as opposed to government funding.
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