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6 N.J.A.R. 360

N., A. (By His Parent D.N.) v. Clark Board of Education
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Citation: 6 N.J.A.R. 360
Decision Date: 1983
Synopsis: In this special education case before the Office of Administrative Law, the parents of A.N., a 13 year old classified as emotionally disturbed, neurologically impaired and educable mentally retarded sought reimbursement from the Clark Board of Education for the residential costs incurred in connection with A.N.'s out-of-state educational placements. The Clark Board of Education argued that should it be found responsible for the residential costs of A.N.'s placement, some entity within the Department of Human Services should actually be paying these costs. Consequently, the Clark Board of Education moved to join the Department as a party to this case. The administrative law judge assigned to the case noted that the U.S. District Court for New Jersey had ruled that the Department of Education's special education hearings were inconsistent with 20 U.S.C. 1415 et seq. and thus, the Commissioner of Education had requested that the Office of Administrative Law conduct these hear- ings in a manner that would be consistent with the federal law and regulations at 34 C.F.R. 300.121a et seq. These regulations require that a final decision in such special education matters be issued by the person conducting the impartial special education due process hearing for a state agency. Thus, to comply with these regulations and the Commissioner's request, administrative law judges are not assigned to handle these cases pursuant to the Director of the Office of Administrative Law's contested case adjudication powers under N.J.S.A. 52:14F-1 et seq. and N.J.S.A. 52:14B-I et seq. but rather under N.J.S.A. 52:14F-5(o) which empowers administrative law judges to assist administrative agencies in proceedings other. than those related to contested cases or administrative adjudications. Therefore, any administrative law judge deciding a special education State of New Jersey 361 A.N.v. Clark Bd. of Ed. case is required by federal law to issue a decision binding upon the parties, unreviewable by the Department of Education and appealable to either state or federal court. The judge noted, however, that special education cases such as this one can include some claims within the special education law and some claims which are more properly part of a contested case proceed- ing. In such cases, the judge should carefully parse the claims and delineate which are the final determinations and which are reviewable by agency heads under the usual contested case procedure. In this case, the judge ruled that the determination of whether the school board or the Department of Human Services should pay the residential costs is a decision which could not be the subject of a due process hearing. In addition, the judge found that there is no right to join parties under the federal or state rules and statutes dealing with special education. Therefore, the judge ruled that consideration of the motion to join the Department of Human Services would be considered under the Uniform Administrative Procedure Rules and would thus be an automatically reviewable recommendation. Under these Rules, the judge determined that the motion should be denied. N.J.A.C. l:l-14.1(b), which governs consolidation of con- tested cases, requires that for consolidation to occur, a contested case must have been 'commenced.' Here, the judge found that no claim or application had been filed against the Department of Human Services and thus any possible claim had not yet ripened into a contested case. In addition, the judge determined that the Department was not a necessary party to the determination of responsibility for the residential costs for A.N.'s schooling which is the central issue in the case. Kathryn A. Brock, Esq., for petitioner John P. Higgins, Esq., for respondent (Pettit and Higgins, attorneys) Susan R. Oxford, Deputy Attorney General for Department of Human Services (Irwin I. Kimmelman, Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney)
Rule(s) Cited: 6:28-4.3