Nazzaro v. U.S., Civil Action No. 02-1735 (JEI).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Writing for the CourtIrenas
Citation304 F.Supp.2d 605
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 02-1735 (JEI).
Decision Date28 January 2004
PartiesAnthony NAZZARO and Mary Nazzaro, his wife, Plaintiffs, v. The UNITED STATES of America, DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY; Department of the Air Force; United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol and ABC Corp., or John Doe, Defendants.

Page 605

304 F.Supp.2d 605
Anthony NAZZARO and Mary Nazzaro, his wife, Plaintiffs,
v.
The UNITED STATES of America, DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY; Department of the Air Force; United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol and ABC Corp., or John Doe, Defendants.
Civil Action No. 02-1735 (JEI).
United States District Court, D. New Jersey.
January 28, 2004.

Page 606

Lentz & Gengaro by Mitchell L. Goldstein, Esq., West Orange, NJ, for Plaintiffs.

Smith, Stratton, Wise, Heher & Brennan, L.L.P. by Brian P. Sullivan, Esq., Wendy L. Mager, Esq., Princeton, NJ, for Defendant Civil Air Patrol.

Page 607

Christopher J. Christie, United States Attorney by Dorothy Donnelly, Esq., Trenton, NJ, for Defendants United States of America, Department of the Army and Department of the Air Force.

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge.


This case comes before the Court on Defendant Civil Air Patrol's ("CAP") motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) and Defendants United States of America, Department of the Army and Department of the Air Force's ("United States," "Army" and "Air Force," respectively)1 motion for summary judgment and motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1346(b)(1) and 1367.2

I.

At the time of the events giving rise to this suit, Plaintiff Anthony Nazzaro ("Nazzaro") was a senior member in the Picatinny Composite Squadron, New Jersey Wing, of the Civil Air Patrol ("CAP"). Plaintiff Mary Nazzaro is his wife. On May 6, 2000, Nazzaro participated in a recreational outing arranged by the CAP for its members at the Fort Dix, New Jersey army base.

Fort Dix permitted CAP to use the base confidence course pursuant to a licensing agreement.3 The confidence course is located in a wooded area on the base and contains various barriers and obstacles designed to train and test balance, instill confidence, encourage daring and promote physical conditioning. Donnelly Decl. Ex. 9. Nazzaro voluntarily participated in the outing and was injured when he fell approximately

Page 608

thirty (30) feet from an obstacle on the course.4

On or about May 22, 2001, Nazzaro submitted a personal injury claim for five (5) million dollars to the United States Government. Donnelly Decl. Ex. 1. Nazzaro claimed that, as a result of his fall, he suffered "serious injuries involving a fracture, spinal burst fracture at the A1 spinal level, requiring multiple surgeries and insertion of rods" among other injuries. Id. Nazzaro's claim did not mention his wife nor did Mary Nazzaro submit a separate claim. Id. The Department of the Air Force denied Nazzaro's claim in a letter dated November 6, 2001. Id.5

On April 12, 2002, Plaintiffs filed a three-count Complaint with this Court. Count One, brought by Nazzaro, alleges negligence on the part of the United States, and the Departments of the Army and Air Force ("United States," "Army" and "Air Force," respectively). Count Two, brought by Nazzaro, alleges negligence on the part of CAP. Count Three, brought by Mary Nazzaro, alleges negligence and loss of society, services and consortium against all Defendants. On October 1, 2003, CAP filed a motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) asserting immunity from suit under New Jersey's Charitable Immunity Act ("NJCIA"), N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2A:53A-7 et seq. (West 2003). On the same day, the United States, the Army and the Air Force filed a motion for summary judgment as to Counts One and Two and a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) as to Count Three. The United States and its agencies assert that their motion for summary judgment is appropriate on three separate grounds: (1) sovereign immunity; (2) immunity under New Jersey state law; and (3) failure to breach any duty owed to Plaintiffs. The motion to dismiss is predicated on Mary Nazzaro's failure to file notice of a tort claim. The Court heard oral arguments on all motions on December 30, 2003.

For the sake of clarity, the Court will first discuss CAP's motion for summary judgment, then the United States, Army and Air Force's motion for summary judgment, and, finally, the motion to dismiss.

II.

Summary judgment is appropriate where "`the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d

Page 609

Cir.1986). The role of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

A.

Defendant Civil Air Patrol's ("CAP") motion for summary judgment is based on its position that it is immune from suit under New Jersey's Charitable Immunity Act ("NJCIA"), N.J. STAT. ANN. 2A:53A-7 et seq. (West 2003). The NJCIA, enacted after judicial and legislative disagreement over the validity of the doctrine of charitable immunity,6 bars tort claims against certain religious, educational or charitable organizations.

New Jersey initially adopted the doctrine of charitable immunity in D'Amato v. Orange Memorial Hospital, 101 N.J.L. 61, 127 A. 340 (1925) (barring a negligence suit against a corporation established to maintain a public charitable hospital). In 1958, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court abolished the doctrine, finding that it "had no sound English common law antecedents and [had] found its way into American law by misconception." Collopy v. Newark Eye & Ear Infirmary, 27 N.J. 29, 141 A.2d 276, 287 (1958); see also

Page 610

Benton v. Y.M.C.A., 27 N.J. 67, 141 A.2d 298 (1958); Dalton v. St. Luke's Catholic Church, 27 N.J. 22, 141 A.2d 273 (1958). The Collopy court further noted that charitable immunity "runs counter to widespread principles which fairly impose liability on those who wrongfully and negligently injure others." Collopy, 141 A.2d at 287.

Immediately after the New Jersey Supreme Court repudiated the doctrine, however, the New Jersey Legislature introduced and passed bills to reinstate it. Parker, 579 A.2d at 363 (discussing the history of charitable immunity in New Jersey). The enactment of NJCIA reaffirmed an immunity designed to preserve charitable trust funds, to encourage private philanthropic activity in order to assure the continued provision of services that benefit the general welfare, and to relieve the government of the burden of providing those services. Ryan v. Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 175 N.J. 333, 815 A.2d 419, 425-26 (2003) (gathering cases discussing the underlying purpose of the NJCIA) (internal citations omitted).

The current statute provides that:

No nonprofit corporation ... organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes or its ... employees, agents, servants or volunteers shall, except as hereinafter set forth, be liable to respond in damages to any person who shall suffer damage from the negligence of any agent or servant of such corporation, ... where such person is a beneficiary, to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation, ... provided, however, that such immunity from liability shall not extend to any person who shall suffer damage from the negligence of such corporation ... or of its agents or servants where such person is one unconcerned in and unrelated to and outside of the benefactions of such corporation ....

N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2A:53A-7(a). Thus, the NJCIA provides immunity from tort liability where the entity being sued: (1) is a non-profit corporation; (2) is organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes; and (3) was advancing those purposes "at the time of the injury to plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works." Bieker v. Cmty. House of Moorestown, 169 N.J. 167, 777 A.2d 37, 42 (2001). The law is "deemed to be remedial and shall be liberally construed." N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2A:53A-10.

Plaintiffs do not challenge that CAP is a non-profit corporation, nor that Plaintiffs are beneficiaries as defined under the statute. Rather, Plaintiffs argue that CAP is not organized solely for charitable or educational purposes. Therefore, the Court will focus on the second element of the test. Where, as here, "there is no dispute as to the material facts, the determination of whether a non-profit corporation, society or association is organized for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes is a question of law for the court to decide." Pelaez v. Rugby Lab., Inc., 264 N.J.Super. 450, 624 A.2d 1053, 1055 (1993).

A determination of whether an entity is organized solely for charitable, religious or educational purposes is made on a case-by-case basis and requires a fact-sensitive inquiry which looks "beyond [an entity's] benevolent acts." Ryan, 815 A.2d at 425; see also Presbyterian Homes v. Div. of Tax Appeals, 55 N.J. 275, 261 A.2d 143, 148 (1970) (noting that the "term `charity' in a legal sense is a matter of description rather than a precise definition"). Courts have found the analysis simpler where an organization serves solely educational or religious purposes, because "the terms `educational' and `religious' have plain meanings that are subject to literal reading." Abdallah v. Occupational Ctr. of Hudson

Page 611

County, Inc., 351 N.J.Super. 280, 798 A.2d 131, 133 (2002). Where an organization claims a "charitable" purpose, however, "[w]hat is required is an examination of the entity seeking to clothe itself in the veil of charitable immunity to...

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20 practice notes
  • Dupont v. United States, Civil No. 15-3752 (JBS/AMD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • June 23, 2016
    ...purposes at the time of the alleged injury to the plaintiff-beneficiary. Bieker, 777 A.2d at 42 ; see also Nazzaro v. United States, 304 F.Supp.2d 605, 610 (D.N.J.2004) (reciting the three required elements). The inquiry under the second prong8 is generally a "fact-sensitive" one, and exami......
  • Ines Lomando As Adm'x Ad Prosequendum Of The Estate Of Laura Lomando v. U.S.A, Civil No. 08-4177 (FLW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 18, 2011
    ..."confers a procedural remedy by which substantive state law can be applied against the federal government." Nazzaro v. United States, 304 F.Supp.2d 605, 616 (D.N.J. 2004) (quoting Weber v. United States, 991 F.Supp. 694, 696 (D.N.J. 1998)) (alterations omitted). See FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. ......
  • Dupont v. United States, Civil No. 15-3752 (JBS/AMD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • June 23, 2016
    ...purposes at the time of the alleged injury to the plaintiff-beneficiary. Bieker, 777 A.2d at 42; see also Nazzaro v. United States, 304 F. Supp. 2d 605, 610 (D.N.J. 2004) (reciting the three required elements). The inquiry under the second prong8 is generally a "fact-sensitive" one, and exa......
  • Cruz v. Seton Hall Univ., Civil Action No. 11-1429 (SDW) (MCA)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • July 10, 2012
    ...those purposes 'at the time of the injury to plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works.'" Nazarro v. U.S., 304 F. Supp. 2d 605, 610 (D.N.J. 2004) (quoting Bieker v. Cmty.Page 13House of Moorestown, 169 N.J. 167, 175 (2001)). The New Jersey Appellate Division has establish......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Dupont v. United States, Civil No. 15-3752 (JBS/AMD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • June 23, 2016
    ...purposes at the time of the alleged injury to the plaintiff-beneficiary. Bieker, 777 A.2d at 42 ; see also Nazzaro v. United States, 304 F.Supp.2d 605, 610 (D.N.J.2004) (reciting the three required elements). The inquiry under the second prong8 is generally a "fact-sensitive" one, and exami......
  • Ines Lomando As Adm'x Ad Prosequendum Of The Estate Of Laura Lomando v. U.S.A, Civil No. 08-4177 (FLW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 18, 2011
    ..."confers a procedural remedy by which substantive state law can be applied against the federal government." Nazzaro v. United States, 304 F.Supp.2d 605, 616 (D.N.J. 2004) (quoting Weber v. United States, 991 F.Supp. 694, 696 (D.N.J. 1998)) (alterations omitted). See FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. ......
  • Dupont v. United States, Civil No. 15-3752 (JBS/AMD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • June 23, 2016
    ...purposes at the time of the alleged injury to the plaintiff-beneficiary. Bieker, 777 A.2d at 42; see also Nazzaro v. United States, 304 F. Supp. 2d 605, 610 (D.N.J. 2004) (reciting the three required elements). The inquiry under the second prong8 is generally a "fact-sensitive" one, and exa......
  • Cruz v. Seton Hall Univ., Civil Action No. 11-1429 (SDW) (MCA)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • July 10, 2012
    ...those purposes 'at the time of the injury to plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works.'" Nazarro v. U.S., 304 F. Supp. 2d 605, 610 (D.N.J. 2004) (quoting Bieker v. Cmty.Page 13House of Moorestown, 169 N.J. 167, 175 (2001)). The New Jersey Appellate Division has establish......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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