Firefighters argue terminations took place before FDA OK’d Pfizer vaccine

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The nine firefighters who were terminated for insubordination after refusing to get vaccinated and are suing the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and its commissioner, Dennis Mendiola, claim that the recent Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine should not affect their case because their terminations took place long before the vaccine’s approval.

Joseph Horey, who represents the firefighters, said his clients don’t expect the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine to have an impact on their lawsuit.

“We don’t expect it to impact the lawsuit. The terminations took place long before the approval so they were wrongful[ly terminated] when it occurred. And the approval has no effect on the CNMI Constitution in any event,” he said.

In a filed notice of approval of the vaccine, Horey said although the merits of the case remains unaffected, the nature and scope of relief might be.

“While this approval does not affect the substantive merits of the plaintiff’s case, which arose before such approval occurred, it may affect the nature and scope of relief the court may order on the instant motion for preliminary injunction,” Horey said.

Meanwhile, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph Camacho gave a Sept. 7 deadline for each party to submit their proposed orders and additional briefs on the matter. This deadline is a hard deadline and the court will not grant any more extensions because it is extremely important that a decision be made as soon as possible, he said.

“Generally, the court accommodates the parties when they need more time and grants their request for an extension of a deadline. Because this case has far-reaching ramification beyond the parties as it also affects the whole CNMI community, it is important that the court issues its decision without unnecessary delay. Therefore, the Sept. 7, 2021, is a hard deadline. There will be no extension. To provide guidance, calm anxieties, and address concerns for the plaintiffs and defendants as well as the CNMI community it is imperative that the court issues its decision,” Camacho said.

According to Saipan Tribune archives, the terminated firefighters are alleging violations of their constitutional rights to privacy, due process, deprivation of rights and property, and violations of equal protection of the laws. They are asking the court to issue an injunctive relief, reinstating them as firefighters with back pay and cost of bringing the suit.

The firefighters also asked the court to issue an order declaring that their terminations were invalid and unlawful, and to set the terminations aside.

The nine firefighters are Paul T. Acebedo, Jose K. Angui, Allen T. Calvo, Cain C. Castro, Argernon A. Flores, Derek B. Gersonde, Shawn DLR Kaipat, Philip M. Kalen and Adam J. Safer.

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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