In a recent case, after a school psychologist helped remove an out-of-control student from a classroom, a parent filed an assault complaint against the psychologist. The complaint was dismissed when the parent did not appear for trial.

Although the case was dismissed, the psychologist was left with attorney fees to pay.

The psychologist filed suit to have his fees paid by the defendant, Warren County Special Services School District, which employed and paid him.

He also included defendant Hackettstown Board of Education in the lawsuit. Hackettstown used the psychologist’s services at one of its elementary schools. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court dismissed the action against Warren and granted judgment against Hackettstown.

In Welsh v. Warren County Special Services School District, the trial court determined that the part-time school psychologist was entitled to reimbursement for his attorney’s fees. Hackettstown appealed that decision. The Appellate Division upheld the decision of the trial court.

The court reasoned that the reimbursement statute, N.J.S.A. 18A:16-6.1, applies if “any criminal or quasi-criminal action” is brought against any person holding any office, position or employment under the jurisdiction of any board, provided the proceeding is dismissed or terminated in favor of the party seeking reimbursement. In this case, the trial for the assault of the student had been dismissed in favor of the school psychologist. Therefore, the psychologist was entitled to reimbursement, according to the statute.

Further, according to the court, Hackettstown was the appropriate party to provide reimbursement, despite its shared services agreement with the Warren special services school district.

The Appellate Division reasoned that the psychologist worked only at the assigned elementary school in Hackettstown. He used school letterhead, and worked out of an office at the school. As a professional, the plaintiff presumably controlled significant aspects of his practice; yet, the school imposed its own rules and regulations, and required the psychologist to participate in its training program for the handling of out -of-control students. As such, the school psychologist was under the jurisdiction of the Hackettstown Board of Education and entitled to reimbursement from that board.

For further information about this case, please call the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254 or contact your board attorney.

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