The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLITAN
ORIGINAL ON FILE WITH CLERK OF THE COURT
This matter is presently before the Court on plaintiff D.K.'s application for an Order to Show Cause why the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") dismissing West Orange Board of Education as a defendant should not be reversed. I heard oral argument on October 25, 1995, and reserved decision. For the reasons stated herein, plaintiff's application is GRANTED, and the decision of the ALJ is REVERSED.
This case arises out of the very fragile endeavor of educating a disabled child. Plaintiff, D.K., is an eleven year old child who has been diagnosed as neurologically impaired, manifested in autistic-like characteristics. Due to this impairment, plaintiff has previously required special education classes. Plaintiff attended third, fourth, and fifth grade classes in West Orange because his resident town, Roseland, did not have the necessary facilities. In accordance with state law, Roseland paid West Orange an out-of-town tuition to allow plaintiff to attend school.
On June 8, 1995, West Orange informed plaintiff that it could no longer accommodate him as a tuition student. West Orange expressed the opinion that plaintiff is capable of attending general education classes, thereby extinguishing his reason for attendance in the West Orange rather than Roseland school system. Subsequently, on June 20, 1995, the Department of Special Services conducted an Eligibility and Individual Education Plan ("IEP") study of plaintiff. The result of the study determined that plaintiff could attend general education classes with special attention received in a Resource Center. Accordingly, on June 22, 1995, defendant Roseland Board of Education notified plaintiff that, in light of the IEP evaluation, plaintiff's educational placement should be in Roseland.
Plaintiff filed a Motion for Emergency Relief with the Office of Administrative Law ("OAL"), objecting to the defendants' decision to remove plaintiff from the West Orange school system. A hearing was held on September 14, 1995, before the Honorable Thomas E. Clancy, A.L.J. The ALJ determined, among other things, that defendant West Orange should be dismissed from the case because "West Orange [was] acting purely as a provider of services . . . at the behest of Roseland, because of the tuition arrangement that had been worked out." (Tr. 60, 20-23). In the Order, however, the ALJ reasoned that plaintiff could not maintain a cause of action against West Orange because it was not his domicile. The present application followed pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2).
N.J.S.A. 18A:38-1 provides that a child is entitled to a free public school education as provided by the school district in which he or she is domiciled. The board of education of residence is responsible for identifying handicapped children, N.J.S.A. 18A:46-6, and charged with providing suitable facilities for the education of handicapped children. N.J.S.A. 18A:46-13. Based on these statutory provisions, West Orange asserts that since plaintiff is not domiciled within its school district, it is not responsible for his education and therefore not a necessary party to this action.
Additionally, West Orange relies on a decision of the OAL, N.A. v. Willingboro Board of Education, in which an ALJ dismissed the plaintiff's request for a due process hearing because she was no longer a resident of the school district. 92 N.J.A.R.2d (EDS) 19 (1992). The N.A. plaintiff lived in Willingboro and sued the Willingboro Board of Education demanding that it educate her in Edgewater. Id. To assure a better education for the plaintiff, her mother moved to Edgewater so that the plaintiff could attend school there. Id. The plaintiff attempted to continue her suit against Willingboro, expressing an intention to move back to Willingboro. Id. The ALJ, however, determined that Willingboro no longer had an obligation to educate the plaintiff since she conceded that she now lived in Edgewater. Id. Therefore, the plaintiff's petition was dismissed. Id.
The case at hand is factually distinguishable because there is already an existing relationship between plaintiff and West Orange. West Orange had previously accepted plaintiff as a student even though he was not a resident. Also, West Orange instigated the termination of plaintiff's enrollment, thereby disturbing his planned course of education. These facts suggest that West Orange is more than an uninvolved school district in which plaintiff desires to enroll. Contra N.A. v. Willingboro Bd. of Educ., supra. Therefore, the more appropriate analysis is whether West Orange is a necessary and proper party to the litigation.
Neither the federal nor state procedural rules govern "due process" hearings before an ALJ. A.N. v. Clark Board of Educ., 6 N.J.A.R. 360, 363 (1983); L.P. v. Edison Bd. of Educ., 265 N.J. Super. 266, 277 n.14, 626 A.2d 473 (Law Div. 1993). Rather, the ALJ is guided by the Uniform Administrative Procedure Rules of Practice. A.N., 6 N.J.A.R. at 363. There are no Administrative Procedure Rules expressly governing joinder of parties; however, the ALJ is bound by the standards of consolidation set forth in N.J.A.C. 1:1-17.3. Id. at 364. Administrative consolidation focuses on the identity of parties, nature of the case, and advisability of disposing of all aspects of a case in a single proceeding as per the Entire Controversy Doctrine. Id. ...