No Charitable Immunity for YMCA

Posted in Legal Updates, Personal Injury

On September 18, 2015, the Honorable Stephanie A. Mitterhoff, J.S.C. denied YMCA’s Motion for Reconsideration of the denial of its Motion for Summary Judgment as to whether it is a charitable organization and entitled to immunity pursuant to the Charitable Immunity Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53-7 (see “CIA”). Judge Mitterhoff found that the core business of the “modern day YMCA” is a fitness center providing gym memberships including classes for various physical activities (e.g. aerobics and racquetball) for a fee.

A comprehensive analysis was conducted by Judge Mitterhoff to determine that the YMCA is not organized exclusively for religious or educational purposes, and that the sole basis for such an argument were documents such as the Articles of Incorporation, Certificates of Incorporation, and Mission Statements, which generally stated that it is an organization established to “promote a moral, spiritual, physical and mental welfare of the young men and boys of the community.”

For an organization to be immune from tort liability pursuant to the CIA, it must establish four things:

  1. The organization is formed for non-profit purposes;
  2. The organization is organized exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational purposes;
  3. The organization was promoting such purposes at the time of plaintiff’s injury; and,
  4. The plaintiff was a beneficiary of the organization’s charitable works.

It is the defendant’s burden to prove this affirmative defense. See Abdallah v. Occupational Center of Hudson County, Inc., 351 N.J. Super., 280, 288 (App. Div. 2002).

As alluded to above, Judge Mitterhoff conducted an in depth analysis of the YMCA’s mission statement, which was its primary evidence or basis for asserting that it is entitled to full immunity. Despite that mission statement stating that a YMCA exists to “…provide various opportunities for individual use, growth, youth and family development and overall enhancement of the quality of life in our community through programs that include health, housing, recreation, education and social direction,” Judge Mitterhoff ruled that such mission statements alone do not establish a basis of what the “core aspect of the purpose of the YMCA” is in today’s world.

Judge Mitterhoff also relied on the Supreme Court decision of Kuchera v. Jersey Shore Family Health Ctr., 221 N.J. 239 (2015) to debunk the argument by the YMCA that they should be afforded immunity because their activities can be, in part, characterized as educational. As per the ruling by the Supreme Court in Kuchera, modern healthcare systems providing services, such as preventative services, therapy, and educational programs, in furtherance of its core business or purpose, is only part of the analysis and the provision of “ancillary services that enhance the hospital’s mission” do not distract from the primary purpose of a hospital to provide 24-hour continuous care for in-patients and provide other medical services to out-patients.

Judge Mitterhoff also looked at the YMCA’s finances, which further supported the conclusion that it is not entitled to charitable immunity. In 2013, in the United States, the YMCA generated $6.2 billion in revenue.

Finally, Judge Mitterhoff looked to its funding for the Newark YMCA and determined that with regard to over $7.3 million in revenue for the Newark YMCA, only 8.11%, or $592,000 came from contributions and grants. Hence, the Court concluded that a “fitness facility whose revenue is overwhelmingly derived from sources other than charitable donations, is not entitled to charitable immunity.” (See Opinion of J. Mitterhoff @ p. 15).