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.

Recall in February four taxpayers filed suit against the Richland Fire District seeking to overturn a tax increase that more than doubled the district’s budget. New York law permits such budget increases, but requires additional steps for increases that exceed 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is higher.  The district should have notified the New York State Comptroller in advance, notified taxpayers of the proposed increase, prepared a resolution to support the increase, and obtained a 60% taxpayer vote in favor of the increase.

The court agree with the fire district’s esteemed legal counsel, Brad Pinsky, concluding that the taxpayers lack standing under New York law to challenge any procedural violation that may have occurred. Congratulations are in order to Brad. Here is a copy of that decision:

In Florida, a discrimination lawsuit brought by a firefighter against Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and a company officer resulted in a defense verdict. The firefighter-plaintiff alleged a total of nine-counts, eight of which were dismissed in March, 2023 via summary judgment. A jury returned a defense verdict on the last remaining count last July. The plaintiff-firefighter did not appeal, and the case was brought to our attention this week.

The Miami-Dade case is worth discussing for another reason. The plaintiff in the case made some egregious accusations against those involved in the case. Those accusations – which we included here back in 2021 because they were in the complaint – were deeply hurtful to those involved. Making allegations in a lawsuit is easy. Proving them in a court of law is another thing entirely. In the end, the firefighter-plaintiff was unable to convince a jury that he was the victim of race discrimination. What’s more, the firefighter-plaintiff was assessed $5,467.95 in costs.

While we are not always able to track the outcomes of all the cases covered, where we can we provide that follow-up information. The goal of Fire Law Blog is to provide information that firefighters – and those who support firefighters (lawyers, HR professionals, union reps) can use to better understand the impact of our legal system on the fire service. The allegations made in a lawsuit contribute to that goal.

While I wish there was a way to separate provable facts, from unprovable facts, from differences of opinion, from bold-faced lies, that just is not possible. It is hard enough for courts and juries to do after years of discovery and weeks of trial.

It is helpful to remember that the allegations made in a complaint are allegations, not fact; a verdict is the considered opinion of those who sat through the trial and weighed the evidence, not fact; and an appellate decision is a ruling on a matter of law, not fact. It is factual that the allegations are made, that the verdict was decided, that an appellate court ruled in a certain way. Here are the documents evidencing the conclusion of the Miami-Dade suit.

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.

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