DALA was initially established in 1974 as the Division of Hearing Officers, to replace the staff of hearing officers who formerly heard rate appeals in-house at the Rate Setting Commission. By 1978, DALA's jurisdiction had expanded to include appeals from actions of the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, the Civil Service Commission and any other agency that requests that DALA hear designated matters. In 1983, the name of the agency was changed to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. The Bureau of Special Education Appeals ("BSEA") was transferred to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals by Chapter 131 of the Acts of 2010.
Under DALA's current enabling legislation, its key role is to provide a neutral forum for due process hearings required by other agencies as prerequisites of final agency actions or to hear appeals of other agencies' decisions. DALA was purposely established as an independent agency, to help ensure that decisions would be rendered free from the appearance of conflicts of interest or undue influence by personnel within the agency whose decisions are under review.
The jurisdiction of the Bureau of Special Education Appeals is set out in G.L. c. 71B, § 2A. It conducts mediations and provides advisory opinions and hearings to resolve disputes among parents, school districts, private schools and state agencies concerning eligibility, evaluation, placement, individualized education programs (IEPs), special education services and procedural protections for students with disabilities.
DALA's general jurisdiction cases come to DALA in two ways. Certain classes of cases are assigned to DALA by statute, such as appeals of citations issued by the Attorney General for violations of the fair wage and hour laws. Other classes of cases are heard upon request - any agency authorized to conduct hearings may request that DALA hear those cases, subject to the approval of the Secretariat in which the requesting agency sits, DALA's Chief Administrative Magistrate, and the Secretary of Administration and Finance. The subject matter of DALA general jurisdiction proceedings is as diverse as the activities of the agencies for which DALA hears cases. DALA magistrates routinely preside over cases of public importance and their decisions can have significant and lasting consequences, for the public and for individual citizens and their families. Pension eligibility issues and disciplinary actions involving physicians may be among the better known matters heard by the agency, but a range of other issues are part of DALA's jurisdiction. Among these are allegations of patient abuse by licensed health care professionals; secondary educator license suspension or revocation cases; EMT license suspension or revocation cases; enforcement of wage and hour laws; and civil service appeals.