April 1, 2008
DREW BRADFORD, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
TOWNSHIP OF UNION PUBLIC SCHOOLS, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the State Board of Education, 5-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 10, 2008
Before Judges Lintner and Sabatino.
Petitioner, Drew Bradford, appeals, pro se, from a final decision of the State Board of Education (Board) affirming the Commissioner of Education's (Commissioner) adoption of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Solomon Metzger's summary dismissal of his petition against the Board of Education of the Township of Union (Board) as untimely. We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by the ALJ in his written opinion of January 2, 2007.
The facts are substantially undisputed. Petitioner entered into a Teacher's Contract with the Board for the school year September 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001. On May 1, 2001, the Board's District Superintendent advised petitioner, by letter, that his contract was up for non-renewal and discussion by the Board at its closed session meeting on May 8, 2001. The letter further advised petitioner that if he desired that the matter be discussed at an open session he should inform the Superintendent before 4:00 p.m. on May 8. Petitioner and his attorney appeared before the Board on May 8 and requested a written statement of reasons for non-renewal, N.J.S.A. 18A:27-3.2. They also requested an appearance before the Board, N.J.S.A. 18A:27-4.1. On May 21, 2001 the Superintendent provided a statement of reasons. On May 22, 2001, petitioner, through his attorney, requested an informal appearance before the Board to reconsider its decision.
A special meeting was held on June 12, 2001, at which time petitioner was permitted to address the Board. He also was permitted to present testimony on his behalf from parents of four students. On June 14, 2001, the Board Secretary wrote to petitioner's attorney, advising that, following a discussion in an executive session, the Board decided "to not take action to rehire [petitioner]." A similar letter was sent to petitioner on June 18, 2001.
On August 17, 2001, petitioner filed a Law Division complaint against the Board and several individual defendants,*fn1 asserting: violation of N.J.S.A. 34:19-3; violation of the federally protected writs under 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985; defamation; and, essentially, loss of prospective economic opportunity. In January 2004, defendants moved for summary judgment and petitioner responded with a motion to amend his complaint to assert violations of N.J.S.A. 18A:27-3.1 and -4.1. On April 16, 2004, the Law Division judge denied petitioner's motion to amend, pointing out, in a letter opinion, that the Commissioner has jurisdiction under N.J.S.A. 18A:6-9 to hear and determine all controversies and disputes arising from alleged violations of Title 18A.*fn2 Subsequent motions for reconsideration of the motion to amend the complaint were denied on May 14 and June 14, 2004.*fn3
On September 26, 2005, we affirmed the Law Division judge's denial of petitioner's motion to amend for the reasons expressed in the judge's April 14, 2004, letter opinion. Certification was denied on December 16, 2005. Bradford v. Twp. of Union Pub. Schs., 185 N.J. 597 (2005). Certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court of the United States on May 22, 2006.
On August 16, 2006, petitioner filed his Petition of Appeal of the Board's determination with the Commissioner, alleging violations of N.J.S.A. 18A:27-3.1 and -4.1, as well as violations of provisions of the Administrative Code, specifically N.J.A.C. 6A:32-4.5 and -4.6(h). The matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law following the filing of the Board's response.
N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.3(i) requires a petition seeking to appeal from a ruling or other action of a district board of education to be filed "no later than the 90th day from the date of receipt of the notice" of a such ruling or action. On appeal, petitioner essentially argues that the limitation should be tolled, he was diligent in pursuing his claim, and he filed his appeal with the Commissioner promptly, following his pursuit of relief through the judiciary systems. Rejecting those same arguments, the ALJ pointed out that petitioner did not attempt to assert his allegations that the Board violated provisions of the school laws until he sought to his amend the 2001 Law Division complaint in March 2004, a period of almost two and one-half years after the complaint was filed. Addressing petitioner's contention that the Law Division judge should have, on his own motion, transferred his claim to the Commissioner, the ALJ noted that such action is mandated by the Rule where the "court is without jurisdiction of the subject matter of an action or issue therein." R. 1:13-4(a). He correctly found that at the time petitioner unsuccessfully sought to amend his complaint, the Law Division had subject matter jurisdiction of the statutory and constitution claims raised by petitioner in his initial complaint.
We fully concur with the Commissioner's adoption of the ALJ's ruling and, therefore, affirm the State Board of Education's final decision, substantially for the reasons expressed by ALJ Metzger's comprehensive and thoughtful written decision of January 2, 2007. Petitioner's arguments to the contrary lack sufficient merit to warrant further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D).