Fed. Judge Won't Pause Pa.'s COVID-19 Biz Closure Order

By Mike LaSusa
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Law360 (May 21, 2020, 10:36 PM EDT) -- A federal judge denied a bid by business owners and political candidates to temporarily suspend Pennsylvania's COVID-19 shutdown order, saying his court "will not micromanage public policy in the midst of a pandemic."

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III repeatedly expressed sympathy for the challengers, who had argued that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's March 19 executive order shuttering "non-life sustaining" businesses across the state could cause them economic harm and had violated their due process and First Amendment rights.

But ultimately, Judge Jones said, their request for a temporary restraining order didn't pass legal muster.

"While there is ample basis for pandemic-weary Pennsylvanians to disagree about the means being instituted to fight COVID-19, there is no legal basis for us to enjoin them at this time," the judge said. "Petitioners provide us no basis upon which we could find that the orders were not reasonably necessary to combat COVID-19 beyond their broad, unsubstantiated assertions and political disagreements."

The case in the Middle District of Pennsylvania isn't the first time a court has declined to put the shutdown order on hold.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments by a Pittsburgh-area state legislative candidate and a Lehigh Valley real estate agent that they were suffering irreparable harm from the shutdown order requiring an immediate stay.

The high court did not comment on the case in issuing its order denying the stay, and a petition asking the justices to weigh the merits of the challenge remains pending.

That case ended up at the high court after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the governor's powers during a state of emergency, coupled with the temporary nature of the closure order, overrode constitutional concerns.

The day after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, a similar case was filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The challengers in that case are also seeking to enjoin the order, but no ruling has yet been made on the request.

Representatives for the parties didn't respond on Thursday to requests for comment.

The challengers are represented by Marc A. Scaringi and Brian C. Caffrey of Scaringi Law.

Pennsylvania is represented by Keli M. Neary, Karen M. Romano and Nicole J. Boland of the state attorney general's office.

The case is William Benner et al v. Wolf et al, case number 1:20-cv-00775, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

--Additional reporting by Matt Fair. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Benner et al v. Wolf et al


Case Number

1:20-cv-00775

Court

Pennsylvania Middle

Nature of Suit

Civil Rights: Other

Judge

John E. Jones, III

Date Filed

May 11, 2020

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