Judge Rules in Favor of Plaintiffs in Case Against PA Governor Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine on COVID Restrictions

Today in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge William Stickman, IV held that Governor Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine’s shutdown orders and congregational limits were unconstitutional. Judge Stickman ruled in favor of individual and business plaintiffs. Along with a 66-page Opinion, Judge Stickman issued a declaratory judgment which states: “(1) that the congregate gathering limits imposed by defendants’ mitigation orders violate the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment; (2) that the stay-at-home and business closure components of defendants’ orders violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) that the business closure components of Defendants’ orders violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

As per the decision issued in the matter, Judge Stickman explained that while Governor Wolf’s actions “were undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency,” “even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered.” Judge Stickman went on to opine that Constitutional liberties are not fair-weather freedoms in place when times are good and cast aside during troubled times. Rather, Judge Stickman explained: “[t]here is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment. The constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures. Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by defendants crossed those lines. It is the duty of the court to declare those actions unconstitutional.”

While Governor Wolf has lifted many of the restrictions allowing businesses to reopen and canceling a statewide stay-at-home order, those orders were “suspended,” not eliminated and representatives of the Governor testified at the hearing in this matter that the restrictions could be reinstated at any time. The decision will also have an impact upon Governor Wolf’s orders concerning pandemic restrictions on bars, restaurants and the congregational limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

For more information, please contact Joseph Hofmann, Theresa Zechman or reach out to the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you regularly work.

This News Alert has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as, and does not constitute, legal advice on any specific matter. For more information, please see the disclaimer.