A. General Jurisdiction Unit

The GJU's mission is to provide the due process hearings that are the precondition of other agencies' final agency actions and, when provided for by statute, to hear de novo appeals of other agencies' decisions.  GJU cases come to DALA in two ways: (1) by legislation mandating that certain types of cases be heard at DALA; and (2) upon request of an agency, subjected to the approval of the DALA Chief Administrative Magistrate and the Secretary of Administration and Finance (A&F). Currently, GJU conducts hearings for approximately 20 state agencies, including the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, the Board of Registration in Medicine, the Department of Public Health, and the Fair Labor Division of the Office of the Attorney General.  The most pressing issue confronting the GJU is its large inventory of cases. The inventory is made up of Rate Setting Cases and Retirement Cases.  Generally, the GJU is able to schedule other types of cases when the parties are ready to proceed.

While the number of open GJU cases increased in 2017 by 331, that number was inflated by an unexpected increase in the number of cases filed on behalf of members of the Teachers Retirement System seeking enhanced retirement benefits pursuant to the RetirementPlus Program.1 Tab 1 contains a list of open GJU cases as of January 1, 2018.  This summary shows that the GJU had 4,815 open cases as of the first of the year.  Although this is an increase from the 4,484 open cases on the GJU's docket on January 6, 2017, if the 530 RetirementPlus cases are excluded, the number of open cases is 4,285 - a reduction of 199.  Similarly, while the number of open Retirement Cases grew in 2017 from 1,097 to 1,480, if the RetirementPlus cases are excluded from the calculation, the number of pending Retirement Cases is 956, a reduction of 147 since January 6, 2017.  In 2017, DALA reduced the number of pending Rate Setting Cases to 3,171 from 3,206. Perhaps the most dramatic indication of the GJU's progress over the last year is the reduction of time litigants wait to have their cases reached.  It now takes about 8 months for the GJU to reach an Accidental Disability Retirement Case, down from 12 months a year ago.  Other Retirement Cases are reached within about 18 months, down from 24 months a year ago.

The GJU continues to strive to improve the quality of the service it provides to its users.  During the last year, the GJU increased the visibility of its efforts to provide interpreter services to litigants.  In addition, it continued its pro se procedural assistance program to help pro se litigants respond to pre-hearing orders issued by the agency and expanded the use of joint pre-hearing memoranda to reduce the number of filings it receives.  The review of the GJU's practices and procedures will continue and changes will be made as needed.

B. Bureau of Special Education Appeals

The BSEA is an independent unit within DALA.  It provides a broad range of services applicable to resolution of disputes with respect to eligibility, evaluation, placement, individualized education programs (IEPs), special education services, and procedural protections for students with disabilities.  The BSEA is federally funded through a grant managed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  The Bureau was transferred from the DESE to DALA by Chapter 131 of the Acts of 2010 to ensure independence from any educational agency that could be a party to or interested in the proceedings before the Bureau.  Pursuant to the transfer litigation, the Bureau and its caseload are managed independently of DALA's other operations.

In 2017, the BSEA, a nationally recognized leader in dispute resolution in the area of special education, provided a broad range of dispute resolution services applicable to disputes concerning eligibility, evaluation, placement, individualized education programs (IEPs), special education services, and procedural protections for students with disabilities. BSEA's dispute resolution services include mediations, hearings, and settlement conferences. The Bureau also provides facilitators for IEP Team meetings. Parties to these proceedings include parents, school districts, private schools, the DESE, and other state agencies. The BSEA, through an ISA with the Department of Mental Health, conducts mediations and due process hearings with respect to early intervention.

In Fiscal Year 2017 2, there were 11,400 rejected IEPs received by the BSEA (representing an increase from the 10,800 received in the prior year). There were 742 mediations conducted in FY 2017 (representing a decrease from the 778 conducted during the prior year), with an agreement rate of 83.8%.

The BSEA received approximately 495 hearing requests during FY 2017 (representing a decrease from the 568 requests in the prior year). BSEA hearing officers conducted full hearings resulting in the issuance of 22 decisions (representing a slight decrease from the 23 decisions issued in the previous year). In addition, 50 substantive written rulings were issued (as compared to 48 in the previous year). In FY 2017, the BSEA facilitated 118 IEP Team meetings, a decrease from the 135 conducted during the previous year. Tab 2 contains a multi-year summary of the BSEA's annual statistics.

In addition to performing its dispute resolution function, during FY 2017, BSEA staff conducted several educational programs for Special Education Parent Advisory Councils, parent advocacy groups, school district personnel, non-profit groups, Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education presentations and other interested groups around the Commonwealth. This commitment to increasing the visibility of BSEA's service will continue in the next year.

1 On June 16, 2017, the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System (TRS) sent out 2,200 letters to members informing them that they had failed to enroll in RetirementPlus.  This resulted in approximately 530 additional, unexpected appeals being filed at DALA.  We understand that TRS, its members, and their union are addressing these cases and it is our expectation that DALA will not have to issue decisions concerning them.  Therefore, we are tracking these cases separately.

2 The BSEA keeps statistics by federal fiscal year.

Date published: March 30, 2017