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‘Deprived of their income’: Businesses suing state claim viral illnesses aren’t defined disasters

The businesses challenging Gov. Tom Wolf’s order to close all non-life sustaining businesses — two of which are located in Warren County — have fired back.

A law firm representing the entities filed a brief in the matter on Tuesday morning.

“As a direct result (of the order), hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians have been furloughed or laid off from their jobs, with the result that families have been deprived of their income, and businesses have shut down or are suffering significant financial distress,” their brief argues. “The existence of hundreds of thousands of businesses, as well as the economy of this state, are in jeopardy as a direct result of this Order.”

They acknowledge that the order is “unprecedented in the history of Pennsylvania” but assert that viral illnesses don’t meet the statutory definition of disaster.

“Had the General Assembly intended to include viral illness or disease in the definition of disaster in the Code it would have,” they conclude. “The question is not why don’t Petitioners believe that COVID-19 is a pandemic? (Petitioners have not claimed that COVID-19 is not a pandemic). The question is whether COVID-19 or pandemics are the subject of the Code or the Disease Act.”

But the entities push the argument that their “principal places of business are not located within a disaster area in that no disasters have occurred there. There is no report of COVID-19 in the place of the Petitioners’ businesses…

“Petitioners do not claim the Commonwealth does not have police power. Yet, neither statute gives the Governor the power he claims.”

They claim that the order is “much more than a denial” of their right to use their property and denies “the right to use their property at all. So, this case is not only the deprivation of the Petitioners’ property rights without due process; this case is an actual government taking of private property without due process and just compensation.”

They also take umbrage with the waiver process and that it “did not permit any Petitioner or business owner in Pennsylvania the right to assert their claim for why their business or industry should not be placed on the non-life-sustaining list before the Governor placed them on the list and shut them down.”

What’s the relief they’re seeking from the Pa. Supreme Court?

“Petitioners request this Court vacate or strike down the Governor’s Order as beyond his statutory authority, a violation of the separation of powers and/or a violation of the Petitioners’ constitutional rights. “

Two of the entities challenging the closure order are in Warren County — Blueberry Hill Public Golf Course and Lounge, Russell, and the Caledonia Land Company (a timber company), which has a Cherry Grove Road, Clarendon, address. Outside of Warren County, in this lawsuit, entities include a laundromat, real estate agent, and political candidate.

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