G W v. Ringwood Board of Education, No. 20-3552 (3d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The parents of M.W., a minor eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), filed a Petition for Due Process against the Board of Education. Before a scheduled hearing, the ALJ met with counsel, M.W.’s parent, and a Board representative. The terms of a purported settlement were read into the record. In a “Decision Approving Settlement,” the ALJ made specific findings and ordered, “that the parties comply with the settlement terms.” The parents later contacted the Board, repudiating the agreement, and moved the ALJ to “set aside the settlement.” They filed suit, seeking relief under the IDEA.
The district court questioned whether the ALJ’s bare findings that the settlement was entered into voluntarily and resolved all disputes satisfied the IDEA's jurisdictional requirements, concluded that it lacked jurisdiction, citing IDEA provisions for the enforceability of settlement agreements (20 U.S.C. 1415(e), 1415(f)(1)(B)), and held that the ALJ’s decision was not based on “substantive grounds,” under 1415(f). The Third Circuit reversed. The entry of a “Decision Approving Settlement” in an IDEA dispute satisfies section 1415(I)'s jurisdictional prerequisite to an appeal of an administrative IDEA determination. If a prevailing party may enforce a settlement agreement embodied in an administrative consent order as an “aggrieved party” under 1415(i)(2), then a party seeking to challenge such an order as improperly entered must likewise be able to bring a challenge in federal court.