Last Updated: Jul 2, 2020
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled against an effort by the Pennsylvania General Assembly to end Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster declaration and subsequent pandemic-related orders.
Background of Case
On June 9, 2020, the General Assembly passed a joint resolution, H.R. 836, to terminate the COVID-19 disaster declaration issued by Governor Wolf in March that was later extended for another 90-day period in June.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly argued that the Emergency Management Services Code, the legal authority upon which the Governor issued the disaster declaration, provides them the authority to terminate the disaster declaration without the Governor’s approval. The Governor, meanwhile, argued that Pennsylvania’s Constitution provides that resolutions must be approved by the Governor to have the full force and effect of law. Governor Wolf vowed to veto the resolution if sent to him.
On June 10, the Senate Republican Caucus, as well as Senators Scarnati and Corman, filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court seeking to enforce the General Assembly’s resolution that ordered the end to the disaster declaration. On June 12, the Governor filed a lawsuit against Senators Scarnati, Corman, and the Senate Republication Caucus in the Supreme Court seeking to invalidate the legislature’s resolution and upholding the Governor’s authority to continue with the disaster declaration.
Ultimately, a divided Pa. Supreme Court ruled in Governor Wolf’s favor. Relying on provisions in the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Emergency Services Management Code, the Supreme Court held the General Assembly’s June 9th resolution to be a “legal nullity” since it was not sent to the Governor to sign or veto.
Justice Wecht wrote the majority opinion with Justices Baer, Todd and Donohue joined. Justice Dougherty filed a concurring and dissenting opinion. Chief Justice Saylor filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Mundy joined.
What does this mean?
This ruling means that Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster declaration remains in effect. Also, the Governor’s COVID-19 related orders will remain in place for the duration of the disaster declaration, including the executive order granting liability immunity for certain practitioners and the various regulatory waivers.
Practitioners should continue to operate as they have been by following guidance and directives issued by the CDC, the Departments of Health and State, and other government agencies. It is important to follow-up with your own legal counsel and malpractice carriers for guidance on your situation.
PAMED has established a COVID-19 resource page where you will find additional information and resources on the COVID-19 outbreak.