June 18, 2018

Proper service of the petition and notice of the petition of an appeal to the Commissioner of Education critical to the Commissioner assuming jurisdiction


Proper service of the petition and notice of the petition of an appeal to the Commissioner of Education critical to the Commissioner assuming jurisdiction
Appeal of J.M from action of the Board of Education of the Croton-Harmon Union Free School District, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,402

In some instances an appeal to the Commissioner of Education is dismissed for failure to comply with certain procedural requirements. The appeal of J.M. illustrates one of the reasons why an appeal is rejected on technical grounds, in this instance for lack of proper service of the appeal on the respondent parties.

Croton-Harmon Union Free School District, in its reply to J.M.'s appeal, contended that the appeal must be dismissed for lack of proper service. The Commissioner agreed, explaining that the Commissioner’s regulation requires that the petition be personally served upon each named respondent as set out in 8 NYCRR §275.8(a).*

In the event a school district is named as a respondent, 8 NYCRR §275.8(a) requires that service upon the school district "shall be made personally by delivering a copy of the petition to the district clerk, to any trustee or any member of the board of education, to the superintendent of schools, or to a person in the office of the superintendent who has been designated by the board of education to accept service."

J.M.'s affidavit of service indicated that the appeal was served upon the secretary to the superintendent.  Although the affidavit of service attests that the secretary was “duly authorized to accept service,” Croton-Harmon said that the secretary has not been designated by it to accept service on behalf of the school district or the superintendent. 

The Commissioner, noting that J.M. did not submitted a reply or otherwise responded to the Croton-Harmon’s "motion to dismiss" J.M.'s appeal, said that in the event there is no proof that an individual is authorized to accept service on behalf of respondent, "service is improper and the appeal must be dismissed."

The Commissioner observed that considering the record before her, "I cannot conclude that [J.M.] properly served a copy of the notice of petition and petition on [Croton-Harmon]" and, accordingly, J.M.'s appeal must be dismissed.

Another common procedural defect resulting in the dismissal of the appeal is the petitioner's failure to serve a "necessary party" as required by 8 NYCRR 277.1(b).**

A "necessary party" is a  party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner and must be joined as such. Further, joinder as a necessary party requires that an individual be clearly named as a necessary party by name in the caption of the petition and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense.

Further, it is the petitioner's burden to properly serve the petition and the service of the petition and the petitioner must submit evidence that that has been done. In the absence of such evidence, the Commissioner has ruled that the appeal must be dismissed "for improper service."

* 8 NYCRR 275.8, service of pleadings and supporting papers, provides as follows:

(a) Petition. A copy of the petition, together with all of petitioner's affidavits, exhibits, and other supporting papers, except a memorandum of law (unless the appeal is a charter school location/co-location appeal pursuant to section 276.11 of this Title, in which case the memorandum of law shall be served with the petition) or an affidavit in support of a reply, shall be personally served upon each named respondent, or, if a named respondent cannot be found upon diligent search, by delivering and leaving the same at the respondent's residence with some person of suitable age and discretion, between six o'clock in the morning and nine o'clock in the evening, or as otherwise directed by the commissioner. If a school district is named as a party respondent, service upon such school district shall be made personally by delivering a copy of the petition to the district clerk, to any trustee or any member of the board of education of such school district, to the superintendent of schools, or to a person in the office of the superintendent who has been designated by the board of education to accept service. If a board of cooperative educational services is named as a party respondent, service upon such board shall be made personally by delivering a copy of the petition to the district superintendent, to a person in the office of the district superintendent who has been designated by the board to accept service, or to any member of the board of cooperative educational services. Pleadings may be served by any person not a party to the appeal over the age of 18 years. If the last day for service of the petition falls on a Saturday or Sunday, service may be made on the following Monday; and if the last day for such service falls on a legal holiday, service may be made on the following business day.

** In Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #16,853 the Commissioner noted that although a necessary party had not been named in "the original petition," her Office of Counsel had advised the all the parties that the petitioner's earlier request to join an individual as a necessary party was granted. Consequently, said the Commissioner, “in this instance, I find the failure to include that [individual] in the original petition is not a basis for dismissal of this appeal."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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