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Florida Supreme Court turns down Miami firefighter defamation case

CBS News Live
CBS News Miami Live

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court on Friday declined to take up an appeal filed by three Miami firefighters after a lower court shielded the city and Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban from defamation allegations. 

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2017 incident in which a Black firefighter's family photos were defaced and a string shaped like a noose was placed over one of the photos. 

Firefighters David Rivera, Kevin Meizoso and Justin Rumbaugh filed the lawsuit over comments that Zahralban made in a news release and news conference that implicated them in placing the noose over the photo, according to a ruling last year by a panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

The firefighters said they were not involved in the noose incident and alleged in the lawsuit that Zahralban's statements falsely portrayed them as "racists who were responsible for placing the noose over the defaced photos, causing them irreparable harm," the appeals court ruling said.

After being terminated from their jobs, the firefighters went to arbitration and were reinstated.

A Miami-Dade County circuit judge declined to dismiss the defamation allegations, but the appeals court said the city and Zahralban were entitled to legal immunity. 

That led the firefighters to take the dispute to the Supreme Court. As is common, the Supreme Court on Friday did not detail reasons for declining to take up the case. But the decision effectively kept in place the appeals court ruling in favor of the city and Zahralban.

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