The plaintiffs in the case filed their complaint on May 7, 2020, seeking a declaratory judgment that several of the orders issued by the defendants – Pennsylvania Governor Thomas W. Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine – designed to combat COVID-19 violated certain of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. Among other things, the plaintiffs challenged a March 19, 2020, executive order which called for the immediate closure of all businesses in the Commonwealth that were not deemed “life sustaining” as well as a series of “stay-at-home” orders for residents in a number of Pennsylvania counties. Although the Commonwealth subsequently lifted many of those restrictions, it also issued “targeted mitigation” orders in July that imposed limitations on businesses in the food services industry, prohibited indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 people, and prohibited outdoor gatherings of more than 250 people. The opinion indicates that the court addressed the legal effect of the since-suspended business closure and related stay-at-home provisions of the Commonwealth’s orders because they could be reinstated at any time.
The decision in County of Butler comes just two weeks after Judge R. Barclay Surrick of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed substantive due process claims challenging some of the same orders in Paradise Concepts Inc., et al. v. Thomas W. Wolf, et al.2 The governor has already indicated that Pennsylvania will seek a stay of Judge Stickman’s ruling in County of Butler and will file an appeal.