(Update: The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Carlisle Events reached a settlement agreement in principle Friday morning, allowing the Spring Carlisle event to continue through Saturday, and the scheduled hearing to be continued. Details of the agreement, which has not yet been written down, were not available.)
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has filed suit against Carlisle Events regarding pandemic safety precautions at its Spring Carlisle automotive swap meet, which opened Wednesday. A hearing on the suit in Commonwealth Court ended Thursday with no ruling, allowing the annual event to proceed.
The suit seeks a court injunction to limit the number of attendees to 250 at any one time, in compliance with the governor’s restriction limiting pandemic gatherings. The swap meet at the Carlisle Fairgrounds is a sprawling event that typically attracts 100,000 people, which the health department terms a “public health threat.”
State Governor Tom Wolf’s “Green Phase” reopening plan for the COVID-19 outbreak limits gatherings to a maximum of 250 people. Carlisle Events sought a waiver June 9 to allow an exception for the popular meet that attracts collector car hobbyists from all over the country, but it was turned down by the Department of Community and Economic Development, the legal filing says.
According to the suit, the Department of Health sent a letter to the show organizers on Tuesday to remind them that they must comply with the 250-person restriction and requested a written response to confirm. No response was ever received, the suit says, and Carlisle Events went ahead and opened the show without the confirmation.
Carlisle Events, which had postponed the event from earlier this year and canceled its collector car auction because of coronavirus, says that it has made put necessary safety measures in place to protect show goers, including sanitizing stations.
The organizers also claim that the venue is large enough that there will never be more than 250 people gathered in one place at a time.
On Wednesday, Carlisle events released this statement:
“This morning (June 17, 2020), Carlisle Events received notice of a lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in the Commonwealth Court. The filing seeks to apply and enforce the Department’s 250-person COVID-19 limit to outdoor events, such as our Spring Carlisle event, which opened this morning. We have retained counsel and intend to vigorously defend this action.
“Similar to other large outdoor entertainment venues and amusement parks that have or are scheduled to open under the Green Phase in southcentral Pennsylvania, our approximately 100-acre event facility provides ample space for vendors and patrons to interact in a responsible manner, consistent with the CDC’s social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines.
“Carlisle Events has worked tirelessly to put on this event in a socially responsible manner and will continue to do so. We believe the Department of Health’s Order is invalid. Even if the Order is valid, the Department has erred in its application to outside events such as ours, or has acted arbitrarily in seeking to enforce the order against us, while permitting other entertainment venues to open.”
Attorneys representing the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Carlisle Events are expected to resume arguments in court Friday morning. Meanwhile, Spring Carlisle continues to operate as usual, scheduled to conclude on Saturday.
On Thursday, Gov. Wolf issued updated business guidelines that allow outdoor recreation facilities, including motorsports, to resume operation. There was no immediate word as to how this would affect the Spring Carlisle decision.