NY Chief Loses Appeal of Termination

A New York fire chief who was terminated in 2017, has lost the second lawsuit he filed in an effort to get his job back. U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Wolford ruled yesterday the City of Canandaigua did not violate the 1st or 14th Amendments when it terminated Fire Chief Mark Marentette.

Chief Marentette was terminated by Assistant City Manager John Goodwin following charges of “misconduct and incompetence”. A hearing officer had recommended the chief be demoted, but Goodwin insisted on his dismissal.

The Chief initially filed an Article 78 proceeding in Ontario County Supreme Court, based on New York State Civil service law. He later filed a second suit in the same court alleging that his “termination resulted in the deprivation of protected property and liberty interests without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment”. He also alleged that his First Amendment rights were violated by being deprived “of his right to petition the government for the redress of his grievances.”

The city had the second suit removed to US District Court to address the federal Constitutional issues. In the mean time, Chief Marentette lost the Article 78 proceeding. In ruling in favor of the city, Judge Wolford initially had to address an advanced issue: the collateral estoppel/issue preclusion effect that the Article 78 proceeding had on federal court case. We will leave that one for the Legal Eagles to contemplate.

Judge Wolford went on to rule against Chief Marentette on the merits of his constitutional claims as well. She does an excellent job of reviewing the key issues associated with due process in the context of public employment. It is too much material to review here, but those who have been through Managing Disciplinary Challenges in the Fire Service program will recognize the principles and the cases, including: Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, and Mathews v. Eldridge. At the end of the day, she concluded Chief Martentette received all the process he was due.

Here is a copy of the decision: Marentette v. City of Canandaigua_ 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXI

UPDATE: 1/11/2019 – Chief Marentette passed away the day the decision was handed down. http://www.mpnnow.com/news/20190110/former-canandaigua-fire-chief-mark-marentette-dies

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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