Firefighters await decision in Civil Service Commission appeal

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The nine firefighters suing the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and Commissioner Dennis Mendiola for wrongful termination are 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.

Although the court recently denied their request to be reinstated, Saipan Tribune learned that the firefighters will continue to push forward with their Civil Service Commission appeal, which is scheduled for a prehearing conference on Oct. 27.

In a 28-page order, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph Camacho informed the nine firefighters that one of the reasons their request for a preliminary injunction was denied was because the court currently has no jurisdiction over the case because a Civil Service Commissioner appeal is pending.

“Given that the appeal at the Civil Service Commission is still pending, and the requested remedy restoring plaintiff’s employment is a remedy available through the administrative appeals process, the plaintiffs have yet to exhaust administrative remedies. Until the Civil Service Commission issues its decision, the Superior Court cannot issue a judicial remedy,” he said.

Camacho explained that before the firefighters can pursue judicial review of their case, they must first exhaust administrative remedies, meaning they must first complete the Civil Service Commission appeal process before bringing their case to court.

“Here, the plaintiffs are awaiting a scheduled Civil Services Commission hearing, which they requested, and their appeal process is therefore not yet at Step 6. They have not yet received a Civil Services Commission decision, which would mark the completion of Step 7, and at which point they will be deemed to have exhausted administrative remedies, allowing them to bring an action for judicial review before this court. Instead, plaintiffs have skipped to Step 8 while they have not yet completed Step 6, failing to complete the intra-agency appeal process. Thus, plaintiffs’ untimely and precipitate claim before this court is in violation of the exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement,” he said.

A plaintiff cannot short-circuit the administrative process and must be reasonably diligent in protecting their interests by engaging fully with the administrative process until they have exhausted all administrative remedies available to them, Camacho added.

“Plaintiffs filed an appeal with the Civil Services Commission and that appeal is still in the early stages of the proceedings. The very same remedy sought by the plaintiffs from the Superior Court, namely restoration of their employment, is available in the administrative appeal proceedings. Plaintiffs cannot simply hedge their bets by simultaneously filing for an administrative appeal and bringing a cause of action in Superior Court, racing one legal proceeding against another and waiting to see which institution will give them the outcome they desire first. Plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies deprives this court of jurisdiction,” he 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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