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Catholic Cemetery Found Immune from Liability for Personal Injury Claim based Upon Charitable Immunity Act

By on February 16, 2018 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff, Gary Jack, and his wife Maureen had attended a funeral at the Calvary Cemetery. Maureen was pushing the plaintiff in a rolling walker, when the front wheels of his walker lodged in a crack in the asphalt, causing him to fall from the walker and break his wrist. In Jack v. Calvary Cemetery, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3041(App. Div. Dec. 11, 2017), Plaintiff sued defendants Calvary Cemetery, Chapel Mausoleum, Catholic Cemeteries, and the Diocese of Camden.  The defendants contended that they were immune from liability based upon the Charitable Immunity Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53-7 to 11.

Parish of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (“Cathedral”) owned the Calvary Cemetery, which was operated by the Diocese. Both Cathedral and the Diocese were non-profit corporations formed under N.J.S.A. 16:15-1 to 17, which set forth the procedures by which “any Roman Catholic church or congregation … may incorporate.”

Plaintiffs did not dispute that the Diocese was a non-profit corporation established for religious, ecclesiastical, charitable and educational purposes. Rather, plaintiffs contended that the operation of a cemetery was not set forth in the bylaws of the Diocese as one of its purposes.

Under the Charitable Immunity Act, an entity qualifies for charitable immunity if it “(1) was formed for non-profit 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.”

The Appellate Division found that the statute’s first two requirements were satisfied. The cemetery was owned by Cathedral and operated by Diocese, both of which were not-for-profit entities, organized for religious, charitable and educational purposes. Further, as to the last requirement, the defendants satisfied it because they were engaged in promoting a religious purpose when plaintiff was injured, who was a beneficiary of those religious works.

The plaintiffs contended, however, that defendants’ operation of a cemetery was not a religious activity. Further, plaintiffs argued that defendants were engaged in secular, profit making activities and, hence, the Act’s immunity did not apply.

The Appellate Division rejected these arguments. It found that the cemetery and mausoleum were owned and operated by religious entities. The bylaws of the Diocese did not need to specifically include the operation of a cemetery to qualify that activity as a religious purpose. At the time the plaintiff fell, neither the cemetery, nor the mausoleum were being used for commercial purposes. The funeral was conducted by a priest “in accord with the tenets and protocol of the Catholic faith.” The Court found that the “Defendants were engaged in an activity that had substantial and direct relationship to its general religious purposes.”

Further, the Appellate Division found that the plaintiff was a beneficiary of those religious works. He was injured in the driveway after leaving a religious funeral service conducted by a Roman Catholic priest at the mausoleum chapel. He was a beneficiary of the religious works of the church. Hence, the Court found that the Charitable Immunity Act did apply, barring the claim as to the defendants.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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