On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a ruling in the case of Corman, et al. v. Beam, otherwise known as the School Mask Mandate Case. The Commonwealth Court found that state health officials lacked authority to implement such a rule; however, this was not a unanimous decision. By way of brief background, the Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health, Allison Beam, issued a statewide Order in August of 2021 mandating that all Pennsylvania students, staff and visitors must wear face coverings inside schools and daycare centers. Shortly thereafter, that Order was challenged and the case was heard before the Commonwealth Court. On Wednesday the Commonwealth Court issued a ruling voiding the Secretary’s Order and declaring the Order had no legal effect and was void ab initio, meaning it is void from the start.
Shortly after the Commonwealth Court ruling, the Department of Health filed a Notice of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court signaling its intent to challenge the Commonwealth Court’s decision. Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Commonwealth’s appeal acts as an automatic stay of the Commonwealth Court’s decision, which has the practical effect of re-imposing the Secretary’s masking order until, at the very least, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on the matter. The Petitioners then filed a request that the automatic stay be lifted. That request was filed with the Commonwealth Court on Thursday, November 11, and is still pending. If the Petitioners are successful in having the stay eliminated, the Commonwealth Court’s determination voiding the Secretary’s Order would stand. It is likely that the Department of Health would then request the Supreme Court to reinstate the stay pending the appeal.
In practical terms, as of the date of this writing, the Commonwealth Court’s decision remains stayed and the masking order remains in effect pending proceedings before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Of course, prior to the Commonwealth Court decision, Governor Wolf had announced that he planned for the mask mandate to be lifted as of January 17, 2022. That date may arrive before the matter is heard by the Supreme Court.
Our office will continue to monitor the proceedings in this case and will update you accordingly.