The matter will now go to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Governor’s Office hopes to defend its emergency orders limiting public gatherings and the operations of Pennsylvania businesses.
On September 14, 2020, Judge William S. Stickman IV issued a 66 page opinion declaring large portions of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mitigation orders unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
In the September 14 opinion, County of Butler et al. v. Thomas W. Wolf et al., the court expressed concern over the lack of transparency and accountability in Pennsylvania’s decision-making process. The court characterized the design, implementation and administration of businesses closures as “shockingly arbitrary.”
Federal district courts have discretion whether to stay a verdict pending appeal when certain elements are satisfied. In this case, the court found that the defendants did not show more than a negligible likelihood of success on the merits of their claim. The court also noted that defendants will not be injured by the denial of a stay.
In denying the motion for stay, the court distinguished County of Butler from other recent COVID-19 actions, most notably the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s decision earlier this year in Friends of Danny DeVito v. Wolf, 227 A.3d 872 (Pa. 2020). Among other distinctions, Judge Stickman noted that Friends of Danny DeVito neither reached questions of federal law nor included a fully developed factual record.
A spokeswoman said Governor Wolf was disappointed with the decision and plans to appeal the denial, along with all of Judge Stickman’s rulings in the case.
The Coronavirus Task Force at Klehr Harrison stands ready to assist you in your business and legal needs. We will continue to provide additional information and guidance as the COVID-19 situation develops.