(The Center Square) – The world’s largest manufacturer of hand bells became the latest company to challenge Pennsylvania’s shut down order for non-life-sustaining businesses, this time arguing that Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate violates the Fifth Amendment.
Schulmerich Bells filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Friday that alleges the order infringes on the amendment’s “takings clause” that prohibits the government from seizing private property for public use.
Schulmerich Chairman Jonathan Goldstein said the order denies the company access to its own assets and threatens criminal prosecution or withholding of disaster aid as punishment.
“In so doing, he forced the layoff of our employees despite their readiness and willingness to work, and despite the fact that we are in the process of fulfilling orders at the beginning of our busiest season,” he said. “Now we are suing on our mutual behalf.”
The lawsuit joins a growing pile of federal and state court challenges – so far mostly defeated or withdrawn – that argue the governor’s order goes too far. Wolf, for his part, maintains that the disaster declaration he signed March 6 gives him broad powers – from shuttering state-held liquor stores to mandating sweeping closures of businesses large and small – so long as it's for the protection of public health. He admits, however, implementation hasn’t been perfect.
“What we’re all trying to do is take this hand that we’ve been dealt and play it the best possible way in terms of trying to keep Pennsylvanians safe,” he said.
The statewide mandate drove 800,000 residents into unemployment, so far. The state’s jobless claims through March 27 led the nation – an anticipated side effect of the governor’s “decisive and early” action, his administration said last week.
Wolf also extended stay at home orders to 26 counties on Monday, bounding more than half of the state’s population to their residences as the coronavirus pandemic surges. Businesses and schools will remains closed “indefinitely.”
“Right now it’s not safe,” Wolf said. “I know this is hard to hear.”
The Department of Health reported the largest one-day spike in new cases on Monday with 693 additional residents testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 4,087 with 48 deaths.