The Appellate Division ruled in February that a parent claiming a board failed to comply with a special education settlement agreement only has six years to do so, dismissing the parent’s claim that she has 20 years to pursue such an action.

In L.A. v. South Orange-Maplewood, the parent of a special education student brought a claim against the school district alleging that it had not complied with the terms of a settlement agreement first entered into with the parent in 2002. At that time, the parties reached settlement in an underlying matter before the Office of Administrative Law, resolving the parent’s claim that the district failed to provide a proper and suitable education for plaintiff’s son.

The administrative law judge concluded that the plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily accepted the terms of the settlement. However, before the parties could execute a written settlement, the parent expressed concern about her son’s transportation arrangements, noting that it would be difficult for him to take the several buses he would need to reach the designated school.

The district agreed to pay costs for alternative transportation, but after the district approved the agreement, the parent sought to have the agreement invalidated. The administrative law judge denied the parent’s request, finding that the parties freely and voluntarily entered into the settlement, whose terms were just and fair.

In 2016, 14 years after the settlement was approved by both the parent and the district, the parent claimed, in an action filed in Superior Court, that she unsuccessfully attempted to collect payment from the district, which she alleged failed to make payments required by the parties’ settlement.

The trial court granted the school district’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff’s complaint untimely because the statute of limitations for enforcement of a contract was six years. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the applicable statute of limitations was 20 years because the decision in 2002 enforcing the settlement was a court order or judgment.

The trial court rejected the parent’s argument, and dismissed her complaint, noting that her cause of action arose sometime shortly after the parties entered their settlement when the defendant allegedly failed to make the requisite payments. The trial court noted that, although the administrative law  settlement was enforceable, the statute of limitations was only six years and was enforceable as a contract action.

The trial court determined that an administrative law judge (ALJ) settlement agreement is not subject to the longer 20-year statute of limitations because an ALJ functions out of the executive branch and not the judicial branch of government. The 20-year statute of limitations applies to court judgments, which an ALJ settlement is not, as it is not a court under the judiciary branch of government.

For more information about this matter, please consult your board attorney or call NJSBA’s Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5245.

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