Legal Memorandum: Settlement of Special Education Claims in NJ

Issue: Whether settlement agreements are preferred method of settling special education claims in New Jersey and Federal courts.

Area of Law: Administrative Law, Administrative Law & Regulation (Federal and State), Education Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Special education claims; Settlement agreements
Jurisdiction: Federal, New Jersey
Cited Cases: 168 A.2d 72; 65 N.J. Super. 472
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2012

New Jersey state and federal courts, as do courts throughout the country, favor and encourage the voluntary settlement of claims in litigation.  “Settlement agreements are encouraged as a matter of public policy because they promote the amicable resolution of disputes and lighten the increasing load of litigation faced by courts.”  D.R. v. East Brunswick Bd. of Educ., 109 F.3d 896, 901 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Jannarone v. W.T. Co., 65 N.J. Super. 472, 477, 168 A.2d 72, 74 (App. Div. 1961) (“The settlement of litigation ranks high in our public policy.”).  As the Third Circuit has recognized, the settlement of special education claims yields important benefits to both the student and the school district.  Not only does the student obtain the appropriate education he seeks and is entitled to under state and federal law, but the school district gains budgetary certainty by avoiding the costs of prolonged litigation and establishing their educational obligations.  See D.R. v. East Brunswick Bd. of Educ., 109 F.3d at 901 (“Government entities have additional interests in settling disputes in order to increase the predictability of costs for budgetary purposes.”). 

This policy pervades the Office of Administrative Law and has supported a long, consistent history of judicial approvals of settlements agreeing to prospective placement of classified students at the Lewis School and other unaccredited schools.  See, e.g., East Windsor Reg’l Bd. of Educ. v. K.V., EDS 4085-03 (Jun. 11, 2003) (ALJ Martone approving “prospective reimbursement” […]

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