Parking Authority’s Operation of a Fee Based Jitney Service Did not Deprive it from Asserting Public Entity Snow Removal Immunity

Plaintiff Mildred Molino was walking in the Township of South Orange when she fell on an icy sidewalk adjacent to a municipal parking lot. The lot was owned by the Township and operated by the South Orange Parking Authority (“SOPA”). The issue in Molino v. Township of South Orange, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1665 (App. Div. July 12, 2018) was whether SOPA was barred from asserting the common law snow and ice removal immunity because it charged for its jitney service.

It was undisputed that it had snowed the day before the plaintiff’s accident. Township employees had plowed, shoveled, and salted the parking lots and sidewalks, including the municipal lot owned by the Township and operated by SOPA. The plaintiff alleged that the Township and SOPA failed to properly remove ice and snow, causing plaintiff’s injury.

Both the Township and SOPA filed motions for summary judgment, each asserting a common law public entity snow and ice removal immunity. Plaintiff argued that SOPA’s  operation of a fee based jitney service for residents to the train station rendered it a commercial entity, not entitled to public entity immunity.

Although the trial court judge initially denied SOPA’s motion, upon reconsideration, the trial judge found that SOPA was acting as a public entity and, regardless of whether it ran a jitney service, it did not lose its public entity immunities. Having surplus funds did not convert SOPA into a commercial enterprise.

The Appellate Division agreed. Charging a fee for its jitney service did not render SOPA a commercial enterprise. The Court found that collecting parking fees and operating a jitney service did not deprive SOA of its common law snow and ice removal immunity. It was operating within the bounds as a public entity and used the revenue raised through its parking fees and jitney service to defray the cost of its regulation. As a result, SOPA would be immune from liability for the injuries plaintiff suffered when she slipped on ice.

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