Schultz v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark

Decision Date19 March 1984
Citation472 A.2d 531,95 N.J. 530
PartiesRichard E. SCHULTZ, as Administrator of the Estate of Christopher Schultz, Richard E. Schultz, as the father and natural guardian of Richard Schultz, Richard E. Schultz, individually, and Margaret Schultz, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. The ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF NEWARK, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

David Jaroslawicz, New York City, a member of the New York bar, for plaintiffs-appellants (Hartstein & Hartstein, Englewood, attorneys; David Hartstein, Englewood, on the brief).

Thomas J. Herten, Hackensack, for defendant-respondent (Breslin, Herten & Le Pore, Hackensack, attorneys; Louis L. D'Arminio, Hackensack, on the brief).

Edward J. Leadem, Trenton, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae, New Jersey Catholic Conference.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

O'HERN, J.

We granted certification, 93 N.J. 246, 460 A.2d 656 (1983), limited to the issue of whether the Charitable Immunity Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11, bars a claim by a beneficiary of a charitable institution based on the charity's alleged negligence in hiring.

Although the defendant charity asserts that it took no part in the hiring of the individual whose actions allegedly caused the grievous injuries inflicted here, because the case is before us to review a grant of motion for summary judgment, we must assume for purposes of review that the facts as alleged are true. All inferences of doubt are to be drawn in favor of the plaintiffs. Only when the pleadings, affidavits, and exhibits supporting the motion show a palpable absence of disputed material facts may judgment be granted. Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield, 17 N.J. 67, 74-75, 110 A.2d 24 (1954). Therefore, we take no action on the motion of amicus curiae, New Jersey Catholic Conference, to supplement the record by affidavit to show diocesan hiring practices, because a genuine issue would still remain as to facts that must be accepted as true for the purpose of summary judgment.

The facts alleged are that Christopher Schultz, age 11, was a student at a parish school owned, operated, and controlled by the defendant charity, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark. It is further alleged that the Franciscan Brothers of the Poor were engaged by the Archdiocese to supply instructors for the school. It is alleged that the defendant employed one such Franciscan, Robert Coakley, known as Brother Edmund, as an instructor at the school and as a scoutmaster for the Boy Scout group sponsored by the parish.

During the spring and summer of 1978, Coakley operated the Boy Scout camp that Christopher Schultz attended. It is alleged that while at this camp, in July 1978, Coakley forced Christopher to engage in sexually provocative activities and in sexual contact with him. Coakley threatened Christopher not to reveal what had occurred. These deviant actions and threats continued after the school year started. In the late fall of 1978, Christopher told his parents what had happened. They immediately notified the Archdiocese.

Throughout the winter and spring of 1979, Christopher received extensive psychiatric and medical care and was hospitalized. Finally, in May 1979, Christopher committed suicide by taking drugs.

Following Christopher's death, this action was brought, alleging that the defendant was reckless, careless, and negligent in hiring Coakley and permitting him to have young boys under his care, in failing to determine his prior employment history, in failing to supervise him, and that the defendant was otherwise negligent. Christopher's parents seek compensation for his suffering and death and for their own damages. The complaint also seeks medical expenses and damages on behalf of Christopher's brother, Richard Schultz, who attended the same camp and feels responsible for his brother's death.

The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to R. 4:6-2(e), on the ground that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and also moved for summary judgment under R. 4:46-2.

The defendant's primary point was that the plaintiffs' complaint was barred by the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11.

The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint based on the Charitable Immunity Act. The Appellate Division affirmed on that issue and on certain constitutional issues raised on appeal. We granted limited certification to review the issue of negligent hiring under the statute. 93 N.J. 246, 460 A.2d 656 (1983).

The common law doctrine of charitable immunity was abolished in this State in 1958. Benton v. YMCA, 27 N.J. 67, 141 A.2d 298 (1958); Collopy v. Newark Eye and Ear Infirmary, 27 N.J. 29, 141 A.2d 276 (1958); Dalton v. St. Luke's Catholic Church, 27 N.J. 22, 141 A.2d 273 (1958). The Legislature responded to these decisions by adopting N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11.

N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 provides:

No nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes shall, except as is 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, society or association, where such person is a beneficiary, to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation, society or association; provided, however, that such immunity from liability shall not extend to any person who shall suffer damage from the negligence of such corporation, society, or association or of its agents or servants where such person is one unconcerned in and unrelated to and outside of the benefactions of such corporation, society or association; but nothing herein contained shall be deemed to exempt the said agent or servant individually from their liability for any such negligence.

Judge, later Justice, Pashman described this statute as having "reinstated the common law doctrine as it had been judicially defined by the courts of this State" prior to Collopy. Wiklund v. Presbyterian Church of Clifton, 90 N.J.Super. 335, 338, 217 A.2d 463 (Cty.Ct.1966) (citing Anasiewicz v. Sacred Heart Church, 74 N.J.Super. 532, 181 A.2d 787 (App.Div.), certif. den., 38 N.J. 305, 184 A.2d 419 (1962)). Under this analysis we are urged to find that the Legislature crystallized the law as of 1958 and that it is our role to carve out of the statute those exceptions that would have been then recognized.

In New Jersey the central common law exception to immunity allowed "strangers" to a charity--those who gained no benefit--to recover damages for negligence. See Collopy, 27 N.J. at 37, 141 A.2d 276; Lindroth v. Christ Hosp., 21 N.J. 588, 592-93, 123 A.2d 10 (1956). Plaintiffs urge that there existed as well a common law exception from immunity for administrative negligence. The exception finds support in one case, Fields v. Mountainside Hosp., 22 N.J.Misc. 72, 35 A.2d 701 (Cir.Ct.1944), in which that court allowed an allegation of administrative negligence to survive a motion to dismiss. But a later Supreme Court decision disapproved that exception:

Further as to the plaintiffs' suggestion that the immunity rule does not extend to acts or omissions constituting administrative negligence, we are asked thereby to modify the established common law rule in this State. There is no merit in this contention. There can be no logical distinction between the tortfeasors when all act under the charitable corporation. The corporation acts, through its servants or agents, whether they be directors, trustees or instructors. [Jones v. St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, 7 N.J. 533, 538 cert. den., 342 U.S. 886, 72 S.Ct. 175, 96 L.Ed. 664 (1951).]

As to negligent hiring, the court in Woods v. Overlook Hosp. Ass'n, 6 N.J.Super. 47, 69 A.2d 742 (App.Div.1949), observed that even assuming such an exception existed, there was no evidence to support it in the case. Thus prior to the enactment of the statute, it simply was not true that administrative negligence, also called negligent hiring, was an exception to charitable immunity. In Jones, the Court sustained the dismissal of a complaint that alleged administrative negligence of a parochial school in the hiring and training of a teacher. That Court relied on two other cases that rejected the cause of action, Fair v. Atlantic City Hosp., 25 N.J.Misc. 65, 50 A.2d 376 (Cir.Ct.1946), and Roosen v. Peter Bent Brigham Hosp., 235 Mass. 66, 126 N.E. 392 (1920). Jones, 7 N.J. at 538, 82 A.2d 187.

Plaintiffs further argue that because one of the statute's purposes was to relieve a charity from liability based upon principles of respondeat superior, see Collopy, 27 N.J. at 39, 141 A.2d 276, it is inapplicable to negligent hiring. Under respondeat superior, an employer is liable only for those acts of his employee committed within the scope of employment, while negligent hiring reaches further to cover acts outside the scope of employment. See DiCosala v. Kay, 91 N.J. 159, 172-73, 450 A.2d 508 (1982). Therefore, it is said, immunity is not available.

Our dissenting colleagues advance a related theory. The argument has attraction because our natural sympathies favor the result, but it presents problems of consistency. It suggests that immunity is lost when the tort is intentional, since the statutory immunity refers consistently and exclusively to "negligence." Thus the fact that the ultimate act that did the damage was intentional takes the entire incident out of the statute in the dissent's view. That would make the church, protected in the past by the common law immunity and now by statutory immunity, more vulnerable than private entities protected by neither common law nor statutory immunity. 1 The dissent asks us to assume that the Legislature decided to disregard all other aspects of the tort and simply focus on the final action. Its premise is that ...

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    ...of nonprofit corporations organized for religious, charitable, educational, or hospital purposes. Schultz v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, 95 N.J. 530, 537-38, 472 A.2d 531 (1984). New Jersey is in the small minority of jurisdictions that have either partially or wholly retained the......
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