State Supreme Court Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich released the ruling Wednesday, which dismissed parts of two lawsuits.
In dismissing the allegation that the Met has violated its 1893 lease with the city, which required admission without fees, the judge said the city has approved the Met's admission fee decisions since the fees have gone into effect more than 40 years ago. She said the plaintiffs didn't have standing as private citizens to sue the museum on grounds of a lease violation.
"For those without means, or those who do not wish to express their gratitude financially, a de minimis contribution of a penny is accepted," the judge said. "Admission to the Met is de facto free for all."
She went on to say that forcing the museum to not charge anything and lose revenue "would put the museum's ability to provide the current level of access in jeopardy."
Museum officials said in a statement that they were "delighted" with the ruling and believe it validates the Met's "pay-what-you-wish admissions policy."
Arnold M. Weiss, an attorney for plaintiffs in both lawsuits, said they would appeal the judge's decision. But going forward on the claim that the museum has defrauded the public into thinking the fees are required, "on that portion of the case, we feel very good," he said.
The city Department of Cultural Affairs agreed in 1970 that the museum could charge a general admission as long as the amount was left up to visitors and museum signs reflected that the amounts were discretionary.
The suits say the museum signage states adult admission is $25 and has an addendum printed underneath that the amount is "recommended."
The museum last week said it has signed an amendment to its lease with the city that codifies the museum's authority to set admission fees and gives the Met the ability to consider price changes as needed.