In August 2010, Fire District No. 2 in Bordentown Township (Burlington County) agreed to pay $13,756.98 to a career firefighter who claimed that the Fire District violated his due process rights when it suspended him without pay for three months. As part of the settlement, the firefighter–David J. MacFarland of Florence–agreed to resign effective December 31, 2009.

In his suit, MacFarland claimed that he was suspended by the Fire District on January 29, 2009 based on a psychogist’s evaluation deeming him unfit for duty. He said that the suspension was procedurally defective because it did not provide him with meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard. He also said that the suspension was “ludicrous and irrational” because he was already excused from duty for medical reasons when the suspension was imposed.

Named in the suit were Fire Commissioners Stephen Monson, Matt Dillon, Joseph Fresco, Andrew Watson and David Horsnall.

The case is captioned MacFarland v. Commissioners of Fire District No. 2, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-02865 and MacFarland’s attorney was John F. Pilles, Jr. of Mount Holly. Case documents are on-line here.

None of MacFarland’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $13,756.98 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Fire District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Fire District or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay MacFarland $13,756.98 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]