Court denies reinstating 9 firefighters

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The Superior Court has denied the request for a preliminary injunction to reinstate the nine firefighters who were terminated from their jobs for insubordination for refusing to take the mandated COVID-19 vaccine.

In a 28-page order yesterday, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph Camacho denied the preliminary injunction requested by the nine firefighters to reinstate them—either as firefighters or in any department within the government—while their lawsuit is pending in court.

According to Camacho, the court denied the firefighters’ request for multiple reasons, one being that the public’s interest in protecting the health of the whole CNMI and preventing the spread of COVID-19 outweighs the privacy and other interests of the nine individual firefighters.

“The public interest in protecting the privacy rights of a few individuals is outweighed by the public interest in protecting the health and safety of the entire community. For these reasons…the court declines to grant a preliminary injunction,” Camacho said.

The plaintiffs argued that the Commonwealth will suffer minimal hardship in taking the plaintiffs back to work, while the CNMI government and the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services contend that the harm caused by the spread of COVID-19 outweighs the harm of a vaccine mandate.

In this argument, Camacho said the court had to find whether the public interests in favor of granting an injunction “outweigh other public interests that cut in favor of not issuing the injunction.”

Camacho noted that the public interest in being able to trust the DFEMS and the public’s willingness to call emergency services in a crisis must also be added to this balancing of interests.

“The passing of an injunction reinstating firefighters who have chosen not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because it had not yet been approved by the [Food and Drug Administration]—an objection which is now moot, of course, as the FDA has issued its approval for several COVID-19 vaccines—risks undermining the public’s trust in DFEMS,” he said.

Camacho added that there are also members of the community who have not been vaccinated and are especially vulnerable to transmission, including children under the age of 12 and immunocompromised individuals.

“Even if the plaintiffs are reinstated with accommodations that prevent them from any direct interaction with the public, members of the public may not feel safe calling DFEMS in an emergency situation if a member of their household has not been vaccinated. It is an issue of life and death when the public cannot call the DFEMS to provide rescue and emergency assistance because the firefighters and medical personnel are unvaccinated. In this regard, the public interest outweighs the concerns of the plaintiffs,” Camacho stated.

He also noted in his order that the plaintiffs are firefighters and emergency responders serving the greater interest of public health and safety in a time of a global pandemic.

“As emergency responders, they have made a commitment to protect public health and safety. Therefore, they do not necessarily have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the right to refuse what is now an FDA-approved vaccine, without qualifying for a medical or religious exemption, when they are frontline workers in a global health emergency. Having received FDA-approval, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is no different than the other approved vaccines that are being required across the country in order to prevent infectious diseases and protect public health and safety,” Camacho said.

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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