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Special Education Settlement Subject to 6-Year Statute of Limitations

When boards of education resolve disputes with parents of special education students, they often enter into settlement agreements with the parents which are approved by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) of the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”). On February 27, 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division in L.A. v. South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education issued a decision affirming that parties to a settlement agreement approved by the OAL are subject to a six-year statute of limitations to enforce that agreement.

In 2000, the parent of a special education student initiated litigation against the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education (“Board”) seeking reimbursement for her son’s education and transportation costs. In 2002, the parent and Board resolved the dispute by way of a settlement agreement, which was approved by an ALJ of the OAL. The ALJ questioned the parent regarding her understanding of the agreement and concluded that the parent accepted the terms of the agreement voluntarily. Shortly after both parties approved the agreement, the parent sought to set aside the settlement agreement. The ALJ denied the parent’s request and ordered the parties to comply with the agreement.

In 2016, the parent filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey alleging that the Board failed to make required payments in 2003 and 2008 under the settlement agreement. The Board filed a motion to dismiss the complaint arguing that the parent’s claims were barred by a six-year statute of limitations governing contract actions. The trial judge agreed with the Board and dismissed the parent’s complaint.

In her appeal before the Appellate Division, she asserted that the statute of limitations is twenty years, not six years, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:14-5, which governs enforcement of a judgment entered by a court. The Appellate Division summarily rejected the parent’s argument, reasoning that the OAL is not a “court” within the State’s judicial branch of government since it is overseen by the Department of State as part of the executive branch. According to the Appellate Division, since the OAL is not a court, N.J.S.A. 2A:14-5 governing judgments by a court does not apply. Furthermore, the Appellate Division determined the ALJ or the OAL did not issue a judgment.

For these reasons, the Appellate Division agreed with the Board that the settlement agreement between the parties is a contract subject to a six-year statute of limitations and upheld the dismissal of the parent’s case.

 

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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