Case Law Summaries

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Executive Order Closing Non-Life Sustaining Businesses Due to COVID-19

PennsylvaniaFriends of D. Devito, et al v. Wolf, No. 68 MM 2020, decided April 13, 2020. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the Governor’s executive order compelling closure of the physical operations of all non-life sustaining businesses. Four businesses and one individual contended that the Governor lacked any statutory authority to order the closures and even if he had authority, the closures violated their Constitutional rights. The court held that the Governor had authority to order the closures under the Emergency Code, which grants expansive powers when there is a disaster. The court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the Emergency Code did not apply to COVID-19 because it was not included in the statute’s list of disasters. The court noted that the Code applies to other catastrophes that result in suffering and potential loss of life. The court also rejected the argument that the Governor only has authority to act in disaster areas and that there was no disaster in the areas where their businesses are located. The court noted that there were COVID-19 cases in every county of the state and the petitioners ignored the nature of the virus and how it is transmitted. The court also rejected the petitioners’ claims that the order violated the separation of powers, constituted a taking without just compensation, violated their procedural due process and equal protection rights, and their first amendment right of free speech and assembly.

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