9 firefighters’ lawsuit dismissed

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The Superior Court dismissed yesterday the lawsuit filed by nine firefighters who were terminated from their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph Camacho granted yesterday the agreement between the nine firefighters, Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and DFEMS Commissioner Dennis Mendiola to dismiss the case without prejudice.

Dismissing a case without prejudice means the plaintiffs can re-file their suit with the court if they choose.

According to the agreement among the parties, the court should dismiss the case without prejudice because the court has found that it has no jurisdiction over the case and because the court has denied the preliminary injunction requested by the nine firefighters.

“Because the court found it had no jurisdiction, the parties agree to dismiss the case without prejudice,” the agreement stated.

In a statement from Mendiola last night, he said he is thankful for the outcome of the lawsuit because it reaffirms the ongoing efforts to safeguard the community from the ongoing pandemic.

“Today is a reaffirmation of our ongoing and successful vaccination and mitigation efforts to safeguard our population from the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Camacho’s decision to maintain the termination of the former firefighters is in line with several precedents and court decisions throughout the country that uphold that states and territories are allowed enforce compulsory vaccination. Although, there is still a long process to the final disposition of this matter, I am still thankful of the outcome,” he said.

Mendiola said that, although it is unfortunate that the department lost good firefighters through the process, the main priority remains the wellbeing of the CNMI community.

“To be clear, it was never the governor’s nor my intention to go through this level of enforcement, yet the wellbeing of our community is of our utmost concern as we remain in a global pandemic. As firefighters and first responders, we are charged with the great responsibility of ensuring the safety of our community and that starts with us to protect ourselves through vaccination before answering the call of duty and to lead by example,” Mendiola stated.

“I wish there was another way; however, we are still in a state of emergency and must take all necessary measures to protect our loved ones and, of course, our people. COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the country, and we are seeing an exponential increase in the number of COVID-19 cases at our borders and quarantine sites here in the CNMI. The pandemic remains a clear and present danger to our livelihood, as we see the positive cases go higher and higher. As firefighters, we are at the frontlines of this response, and we must continue the work of maintaining one of the most effective COVID-19 operations in the country,” the commissioner added.

On Sept. 13, 2021, the court denied the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction on these grounds; they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, the preliminary injunction was not a proper remedy for economic harm, and the plaintiffs did not have a strong likelihood of success on the merits for any of their claims, the level of threat of irreparable harm was not present, and the public’s interest in protecting health outweighed the interest of plaintiffs.

According to Saipan Tribune archives, the nine firefighters are still holding out hope and awaiting the Civil Service Commission’s decision on their appeal following the Superior Court’s denial of their requested preliminary injunction for reinstatement.

The firefighters will continue to push forward with their Civil Service Commission appeal, which is scheduled for a prehearing conference on Oct. 27.

The court found that the firefighters tried to short-circuit the administrative process and did not engage fully with the administrative process and exhaust all administrative remedies available to them when they filed their lawsuit simultaneously with their appeal.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.

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