Retired Pittsburgh Captain Settles First Amendment Case

The strange case involving retired Pittsburgh fire captain David Cerminara appears to have come to a close.

Captain Cerminara filed a lawsuit in Federal Court last summer alleging that the city wrongfully withheld his severance check in retaliation for his exercise of his First Amendment Rights. See the original post from July 6, 2012.

The crazy story began back on May 30, 2012, Captain Cerminara’s last official work day before he retired on June 1, 2012 at 08:00 hours. While on duty the captain observed a city crew paint lines on the roadway in front of his station. An hour later, a second crew came by and tore up the freshly painted surface in preparation for resurfacing.

Shortly thereafter a news crew in the area covering the story happened by and asked Captain Cerminara what he had seen. He told them, including referring to the work as a waste of taxpayer funds. The news station then ran a humorous story about line painting – repaving incident.

Apparently city officials didn’t think the story was as funny as everyone else did. In fact, Public Safety Director Michael Huss was so upset that he personally went to Captain Cerminara’s house on June 1, 2012 at about 2:30 pm to deliver an order rescinding his retirement and directing him to remain on duty until June 21, 2012 so he could be disciplined. According to the complaint: “When it was pointed out to Defendant Huss that he could not order a person who no longer worked for either him or the City of Pittsburgh to remain on duty, to attend a hearing, or indeed to not speak as a private citizen on a matter of public concern, he became enraged.”

According to the suit, the city and Director Huss refused to give Captain Cerminara his severance check, estimated to be approximately $20,000. In the settlement announced on Monday, the city agreed to release the captain’s severance check in the amount of $16,255.57, plus pay $7,500 for Captain’s Cerminara’s attorney fees.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

Check Also

Hotel Owners Sue Fire District and Fire Marshal Over Closure

The owners of a California hotel have filed suit against a city, a fire protection district, a building inspector, and a fire marshal claiming they unlawfully “red tagged” the building resulting in economic damages in the millions. The owners filed suit against the City of Anderson, Anderson Fire Protection District, city building inspector Brad Hawkins, fire marshal Steven Allred alleging a violation of their constitutional rights.

Fire Law Headlines: New York and Miami-Dade Follow-Up

There are two cases in the Fire Law headlines today, both being follow-ups of cases we covered previously. In New York, the Supreme Court for Oswego County has ruled that individual taxpayers lack standing to challenge a tax increase imposed by a fire district.