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35 Pa.C.S. § 7301, entitled "General authority of Governor," clarifies the nature of the Governor's powers and responsibilities in disaster situations. First and foremost, the Governor is responsible for meeting the dangers to the Commonwealth and people presented by disasters. § 7301(a). He is further empowered to issue, amend and rescind executive orders, proclamations and regulations which shall have the force and effect of law. § 7301(b). The Governor may, by proclamation or executive order, declare a state of disaster emergency, § 7301(b), upon finding that a disaster has occurred or that the occurrence or the threat of a disaster is imminent. § 7301(c). This state of disaster emergency shall continue until the Governor finds that the threat or danger has passed or that emergency conditions no longer exist, but may not continue for longer than ninety days unless renewed by the Governor. § 7301(c). As a counterbalance to the exercise of the broad powers granted to the Governor, the Emergency Management Services Code, 35 Pa.C.S. §§ 7101-79a31, provides that the General Assembly by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time. § 7301(c).
Petitioners were four Pennsylvania businesses and one individual seeking extraordinary relief from Governor Wolf's March 19, 2020 order (the "Executive Order") compelling the closure of the physical operations of all non-life-sustaining business to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus disease ("COVID-19"). The businesses of the Petitioners were classified as non-life-sustaining. In an Emergency Application for Extraordinary Relief (the "Emergency Application") filed on March 24, 2020, Petitioners raised a series of statutory and constitutional challenges to the Executive Order, contending that the Governor lacked any statutory authority to issue it and that, even if he did have such statutory authority, it violated various of their constitutional rights.
The Court held that the Governor had the authority to issue an executive order compelling the closure of the physical operations of all non-life-sustaining business to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, as the pandemic qualified as a "natural disaster" under 35 Pa.C.S. § 7102, thereby triggering the Governor's powers under 35 Pa.C.S. § 7301. Moreover, the Court held that the petitioners had not shown that a regulatory taking occurred under U.S. Const. amend. V or Pa. Const. art. I, § 10, as the order resulted in only a temporary loss of the use of their business premises. The order did not violate the right to free speech or assembly under U.S. Const. amend. XIV and Pa. Const. art. I, §§ 7 and 20 as it was tailored to meet the exigencies of the pandemic by restricting in-person gatherings to promote social distancing and did not prohibit alternative means of communication or virtual gathering. Accordingly, the Court denied petitioners' claim for relief.