TOPS v. IN DOE
Indiana Department of Education removed TOPS from its list of approved SES providers. TOPS appealed the determination and the DOE sent a letter affirming the decision. The letter did not contain any factual findings regarding its decision, nor did it reference any other document that would contain such findings. TOPS then filed for judicial review and the DOE moved to dismiss, stating that the letter was a final order and thus TOPS was obligated to submit the entire agency file to the trial court for review. The trial court granted the motion and TOPS appealed.
While the CoA admonished TOPS for not attaching the entire file for judicial review, it was not fatal to TOPS’s case. In fact, TOPS’s oversight was minimal compared to the DOE’s. In a strange bout of “let’s hope no one notices,” the DOE attempted to argue on appeal that the order was not final but rather “purported” order, even though the basis for dismissal at the trial level was that the order was final, thereby necessitating TOPS to attach the entire record. The CoA caught the inconsistency and ruled that DOE did not argue this to the trial court and therefore could not raise the argument for the first time on appeal. The DOE had advanced the argument because a final order is indeed required to contain findings of fact.
Under AOPA, a final order by an administrative agency must present written findings of fact, including ‘findings of ultimate fact . . . accompanied by a concise statement of the underlying basic facts of record to support the findings’ as well as ‘conclusions of law for all aspects of the order.’ Pack v. Indiana Family & Soc. Servs. Admin., 935 N.E.2d 1218, 1222 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010) (quoting Ind. Code § 4-21.5-3- 27(b) & (c)).
Thus, the cause was remanded to the administrative level where the DOE will be given the opportunity to support its decision with findings of fact and conclusions of law.