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Pennsylvania Lock-down & Business Closures Ruled Unconstitutional

Many of the lockdown and business closure orders issued by Gov. Wolf have been ruled unconstitutional by a Federal judge.  Judge William Stickman issued an order on September 14, 2020 striking most of these orders down. 

The plaintiffs in the case included seven businesses and their owners, several state representatives, as well as Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties. The businesses included three hair salons, an appliance store, a farm and two drive-in theaters.

The complaint was filed May 7, arguing that the governor’s orders — setting numeric limitations on the size of gatherings, the stay-at-home order and the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses — were unconstitutional.

Judge Stickman acknowledged that Gov. Wolf’s actions and orders were “undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency.”  However, he found that many of Gov. Wolf’s orders violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

The Governor’s advisory team designated businesses throughout the Commonwealth as “non-life sustaining” requiring them to close. The court observed that the Governor “did so with no set policy as to the designation and, indeed, without ever formulating a set definition for “life-sustaining” and, conversely, “non-life-sustaining.” In addition, the Court found the way the Governor designed, implemented and administered the business closures as “shocking arbitrary.”

The Court’s Order specifically declares that the limits on gatherings, the stay-at-home and business closure orders all as unconstitutional.

This decision applies to everyone in Pennsylvania, not just those persons in the counties who filed the suit. One would assume that Gov. Wolf will appeal this decision and has thirty days to do so. Once appealed, Gov. Wolf will likely seek an order staying the effect of Judge Stickman’s Order until the appeal can be further reviewed. If the Order is not overturned on appeal, it may encourage business owners to file lawsuits against the state seeking relief, or compensation, for their losses during the closure.

Stay tuned to this important case. Developments are sure to come.


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