Williamsport Firefighters File Due Process Suit

Three Williamsport, Pennsylvania firefighters have filed suit in Federal court alleging that their civil rights were violated when the city’s Civil Service Commission refused to grant them a hearing.

Mark Webster, Noel Ferari and David Weaver applied to take a promotional examination for Platoon Chief scheduled for May 5, 2011. On May 4th they were informed by telephone that they lacked the required certifications and could not take the exam. Each firefighter requested a hearing before the Civil Service Commission, and were informed that the Commission “unanimously voted with the opinion of counsel to deny your request for a hearing”.

The suit filed in US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on August 29, 2011 claims the city and Civil Service Commission violated the due process rights of the three firefighters. The complaint pointed to a Pennsylvania statute, Section 53 P.S. 39865 of the Third Class City Code, that requires cities such as Williamsport to afford personnel a public hearing when they are denied the opportunity to take an examination. The statute reads as follows:

If any applicant feels himself aggrieved by the action of the commission in refusing to examine him, or, after and examination, to certify him as eligible, as provided in this section, the commission shall, at the request of such applicant, appoint a time and place for a public hearing, at which time the applicant may appear, by himself or counsel, or both, and the commission shall then review its refusal to make such examination or certification, and testimony shall be taken.

The complaint indicates that the firefighters’ attorney,  Thomas W. Jennings, Esquire, put the Civil Service Commission on notice of the statutory requirement of a hearing prior to filing the suit. The commission did not reply to Jennings’ demand letter.

Following the filing of the suit Commission Member Raymond Danneker told a Sun-Gazette reporter “I don’t know anything about it”, and asked “Why would they file a civil lawsuit?”

Here is a copy of the complaint. WilliamsportComplaint

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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