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A “club” is an organization or association of persons who meet or live together for the purpose of social intercourse or some other common object such as the pursuit of literature, science, politics, or good fellowship.  A club has been defined in zoning regulations as “a voluntary association of persons organized for the promotion of some common purpose or object, social, religious, benevolent, recreational, literary, scientific or political.”[i]

Almost any group of persons would qualify as a “club” if it has  an organizational structure and a distinct purpose such as recreational, educational, or religious.  A club’s membership need not be of restricted size, limited by traditional committee or ballot methods.[ii]  Thus, while determining whether a swim club was a club within the definition, the Massachusetts court held it not be a “club,” where bylaws could be applied so that anyone could use the pool and where members other than promoters had neither common interest in assets nor effective participation in management. [iii]
The expenditure of a club is managed jointly by its members.  It is common practice to divide the running expenditure among the whole membership.  Most clubs, however, accept and apportion to the particular recipients certain supplies and services.
Clubs can be of two types, namely private clubs and public clubs.  Courts will look in to the nature of membership for determining whether a club is private or public.  The determinant factor is whether the membership is truly selective.  Under Title II, a private club or other establishment not in fact open to the public is exempt from the statute.[iv]  In a dispute regarding the nature of a club, the defendant has the burden of proving that it is a private club.[v]

[i] Nelson v. Pierce, 117 N.Y.S.2d 61 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1952)

[ii] Jeffery v. Planning & Zoning Board of Appeals, 155 Conn. 451 (Conn. 1967)

[iii] Carpenter v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 352 Mass. 54 (Mass. 1967)

[iv] 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000a (e)

[v] United States v. Lansdowne Swim Club, 894 F.2d 83, 85 (3d Cir. Pa. 1990)

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