On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-6050-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges S.L. Reisner, Gilroy and Baxter.
Plaintiff Richard Tyler, CEO of United Children's Center, appeals from the October 21, 2005 grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Middlesex County Educational Services Commission (ESC). He further appeals from the grant of summary judgment to the remaining defendants, New Brunswick School District, New Brunswick Public Schools, and Richard Kaplan, Superintendent of Schools (the District) on December 15, 2006. We affirm.
For each of the four school years beginning in September 2000 and ending in June 2004, plaintiff operated two preschools, United Children's Preschool, and United Children's Preschool-Raritan under contract with the District.*fn1 A separate contract was executed for each preschool. The contracts contained the following language: "the District shall notify the Provider in writing on or before March 1 of each contract year of its intent to renew the agreement for an additional one (1) year term."
Because the New Brunswick School District is defined as an Abbott district pursuant to Abbott v. Burke*fn2 and its progeny, the District was required to establish childhood education programs for children three and four years old. The funding and the form of the contract were provided annually by the State Department of Education, and the funds were channeled to plaintiff and other providers through the Board.
On February 28, 2005, the Board sent plaintiff a letter notifying him that the District would not renew its contract with United Children's Center, which operated both sites, for the 2005-2006 school year. Prior to that letter, the business administrator of the Board, Richard Jannarone, had informed plaintiff that the downtown site had consistently failed to comply with state-mandated reporting and financial record requirements.
On March 10, 2005, plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to Jannarone acknowledging the school district's decision not to renew, and asking Jannarone to provide specific reasons why the Board made that decision. In a letter dated April 1, 2005, Jannarone reiterated the Board's decision not to renew plaintiff's contract for 2005-2006, and demanded a detailed corrective action plan for plaintiff's non-compliance with the State requirements. Jannarone further stated that upon receipt of the corrective action plan, the Board would notify him whether this plan was "acceptable to continue in the 2005/2006 school year." Ultimately, at its July 26, 2005 meeting, the Board ratified its decision not to renew either contract.
Plaintiff's appeal to the New Jersey Department of Education was denied because it had been untimely filed. On August 22, 2005, plaintiff filed a verified complaint alleging breach of contract and tortious interference with his contractual rights. Plaintiff sought: (1) an order enjoining the District from terminating his contracts until the court could render a decision; and (2) compensatory and punitive damages. In an order filed on August 23, 2005, Judge Paley denied plaintiff's application for injunctive relief.
ESC moved for summary judgment in September 2005, which the court granted in a written decision on October 21, 2005. The judge held that plaintiff had "failed to demonstrate a continuing contract between him and the School District" and plaintiff did not present any evidence that ESC "intended to interfere or did interfere with his contractual right." The judge further reasoned that the District and ESC did not enter into a contract until August 2005, six months after the District had notified plaintiff of its decision not to renew.
On March 28, 2006, plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment against the District. Plaintiff argued that he was entitled to partial summary judgment in the amount of $135,732 because this was the balance due to plaintiff for payment of his employees' benefits for the 2004-2005 contract year. The District did not contest this figure, but instead argued that at least $90,000 of the $135,732 was owed to other vendors, and not plaintiff's employees. The exact amount due to the vendors was unknown at that time because under the applicable statute of limitations, time still remained for the vendors to submit their claims. Consequently, the trial court denied plaintiff's motion because of the uncertainty concerning who was entitled to assert a claim.
On July 24, 2006, plaintiff filed another motion for partial summary judgment, which was heard on September 8, 2006. Similar to his May 26, 2006 motion, plaintiff sought judgment for the monies owed to him by the District under the 2004-2005 contract; however, plaintiff recalculated the amount owed to him and this time sought $53,144 instead of the original $135,000. The District made the same argument it had made earlier, and the judge denied plaintiff's motion for the same reasons it had denied plaintiff's earlier motion.
The District subsequently moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no obligation to renew the contract and plaintiff had no legal right to rely on renewal. Specifically, the District argued that: (1) all Early Childhood contracts, such as the two at issue here, are annual and are considered to have expired at the conclusion of the school year for which they are made; and (2) if the Board does not send a renewal notice by March 1, the provider's services are deemed terminated. Even though the District did notify plaintiff of its decision not to renew, the District argued that it had no contractual obligation to do so, and its February 28, 2005 letter was sent merely as a courtesy. The District also argued that plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies.
In opposition to the District's motion, plaintiff argued that: (1) the District had "an affirmative duty to [provide him with] notice by the date in question"; (2) the District only gave notice as to one school, the United Children's Preschool, and not Raritan; and (3) the termination of his contracts would result in unjust enrichment. As to the latter argument, plaintiff maintained that he had made a substantial investment in both preschool buildings, from which both defendants benefited because they moved into the ...