COVID-Related Cases in the Headlines

Two COVID-related cases are in the Fire Law News. In the Northern Mariana Islands, nine firefighters who were terminated for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination, have filed suit claiming the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and its commissioner, Dennis Mendiola violated their Constitutional rights.

The firefighters, 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, were terminated in May after several proposals failed to resolve the stalemate.

The Northern Mariana Islands, a US Commonwealth, has its own federal district court, but the suit was filed in Northern Mariana Islands Superior Court. The suit alleges a violation of the firefighter’s rights to privacy, due process, and equal protection. The Superior Court has no electronic access, so a copy of the complaint is not available. However, the Marianas Variety quotes from it:

  • By mandating an unconsented physical intrusion into the plaintiffs’ bodies, to wit, the injection of a vaccine, defendants have breached plaintiffs’ constitutional right of privacy.
  • There is a constitutionally protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment. The forcible injection of medication into a nonconsenting person’s body represents a substantial interference with that person’s liberty.
  • A person’s interest in freedom from unwanted medical treatment is fundamental. It can be infringed only upon a showing that the protection of a compelling public interest could not have been accomplished by any other less intrusive means, and the government has not shown and cannot show this.
  • By imposing mandatory vaccination upon the employees of the executive branch, including plaintiffs, defendants have deprived them of liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Constitution.
  • The equal protection clause prohibits discrimination in the exercise of fundamental rights, absent a showing that the protection of a compelling public interest could not have been accomplished by any other less intrusive means.
  • By accepting free exercise of religion as an exemption from vaccination, while not accepting the rights of individual privacy, due process, and freedom from unconsented bodily intrusions asserted by plaintiffs, defendants have established a preference for one fundamental constitutional right, and those who assert it, over another, in violation of the equal protection of the law.

More on the story.

In Florida, an Ocoee firefighter is facing discipline for taking four sick days in over a twelve-month period during the pandemic. Firefighter Eric Megegat claims he was merely following the department’s COVID policy. He points to a COVID related email telling employees to stay home of they felt ill. Here is a link to news video coverage that I could not embed.

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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