Speedy lawsuit resolution sought

County, others want lockdown suit ruling

May 22, 2020 Cranberry Local News

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Attorneys representing Butler and three other counties, four Republican lawmakers and several businesses are seeking a quick resolution to a federal lawsuit filed two weeks ago challenging the state's business closure order and reopening plan.

The plaintiffs suing Gov. Tom Wolf and state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine requested a “speedy hearing” in the case, according to a motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

A prompt decision on the matter is important because of the nature of the issues, lead attorney Tom King said Thursday, and “because every person in Pennsylvania is affected by these orders that have been entered by this governor and the secretary of health.”

The motion requests District Judge William Stickman IV, who is assigned to the case, for a declaratory judgment finding the orders in violation of the U.S. Constitution, namely the First, Fifth and 14th amendments.

On Thursday, Stickman ordered the defendants to respond to the speedy hearing request by Tuesday. An oral argument on the matter will be held the next day.

The plaintiffs named in the suit filed May 8 include Butler, Greene, Fayette and Washington counties, along with U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th, and state Reps. Marci Mustello, R-11th, Daryl Metcalfe, R-12th, and Tim Bonner, R-8th, and eight small businesses and business owners in those counties.

Specifically, the businesses, which were deemed “non-life sustaining” under the governor's orders, argue the designation was unfair and arbitrary, and that Wolf's waiver process for the affected businesses did not provide for a hearing or appeal process.

The four counties contend they have lost tax revenue due to the orders, and the public is prevented from attending their meetings.

The lawmakers say the orders limited their campaigning activities. For example, they are unable to make door-to-door visits or hold rallies

Additionally, the suit claim's the state's three-phased, color-coded reopening plan is “arbitrary and irrational.”

The plaintiffs in the suit asked the court to rule the orders unconstitutional and requested a permanent injunction barring the state from enforcing them.

“This case is straight forward,” according to the motion for the speedy hearing, “and few issues are in dispute with respect to the Business Shutdown Orders and the process or lack thereof undertaken with respect to the issuance or effectuation of said Orders.”

Because the state attorney general's office is representing Wolf and Levine, the motion said, the commonwealth “is aware of and versed in the actions undertaken by the defendants and able to participate in a speedy hearing without detriment to the Defendants.”

The defendants, on the other hand, are apparently opposed to the motion for an expedited decision.

“Plaintiffs' legal counsel consulted with Defendants' legal counsel,” according to the motion filed Wednesday seeking a speedy hearing, “and Defendants' do not consent or concur with the motion” for the speedy hearing.

The defendants will have to say why they oppose the motion, in accordance with Stickman's order. On May 27, a telephonic oral argument/status conference will be held.

“The scope of the oral argument/status conference is limited to Plaintiffs' request to accelerate case management deadlines,” the order said, “as well as their request for a speedy hearing under (federal law).”

Mark Shade, press secretary for the state Attorney General's Office, declined comment Thursday.

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Jim Smith

Jim Smith

Grew up in upstate New York. Earned my Journalism degree in 1983 from the University of Texas at Austin. Worked for two newspapers in Fayette County (Pa.) before starting at the Butler Eagle in 1998.