Judge dismisses Curtis Blackwell's lawsuit against Mark Dantonio, Mark Hollis, Lou Anna K. Simon
Curtis Blackwell’s case saying he was wrongfully terminated by Michigan State has come to an end.
The former Michigan State football staffer’s federal lawsuit against former football coach Mark Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former president Lou Anna K. Simon was dismissed on Wednesday in a ruling from U.S. District Court judge Janet Neff.
The ruling denied the objections of Blackwell’s attorneys, who were responding to recommendations made by magistrate Sally Berens on March 20 to dismiss the case.
The order from Neff also upheld the removal of Blackwell’s attorneys, Thomas Warnicke and Andrew Paterson, and for sanctions to be paid to by Warnicke and Paterson. Though the amount was not specified in Wednesday's ruling, Dantonio's attorneys argued in an April filing that if the case is dismissed, they should be awarded at least $214,153 in legal fees. They say the case has generated more than $300,000 in fees.
Also in Wednesday's ruling, it stated Paterson has been referred to chief judge Robert Jonker to determine if he should face further discipline.
Attorneys for Blackwell as well as those for the defendants were unable to be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The ruling on Wednesday upheld claims from the magistrate saying Blackwell's attorneys "engaged in a pattern of seeking discovery on issues about the recruitment of Auston Robertson or other MSU football players and alleged NCAA violations, issues that were unrelated to Plaintiff’s claim against the MSU Defendants but might be relevant to a different claim and that certainly appeared to be of interest to the press and public. The Magistrate Judge opined that the improper purposes of the inquiries appeared to be to 'harangue Defendants into exhausted compliance in the form of settlement' and 'gather discovery for a future claim (which has now been filed) in state court.'"
The state case referenced in the ruling was filed in February and alleges racial discrimination and breach of contract against Dantonio, Hollis, Simon and current athletic director Bill Beekman.
Blackwell was MSU football's recruiting coordinator from 2013 until May 2017, when he was let go for what Dantonio called "philosophical" differences. Blackwell said he was made the scapegoat in the wake of a January 2017 on-campus party at which three football players allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in the bathroom of an apartment.
Blackwell was suing the MSU parties for wrongful termination, and the MSU Police for wrongful arrest. MSU Police said he obstructed the initial investigation into the three players. Blackwell was arrested by MSU Police in February 2017, and subsequently suspended by MSU until he was let go in May. He was never charged with a crime.
The March recommendation from the magistrate did not include the case against the police detectives and that case can proceed, though Blackwell would need to find new representation.
It was during discovery for the federal case against Dantonio, Hollis and Simon that Blackwell’s attorneys drew the ire of the court. After deposing Hollis, Simon, two MSU Police detectives and current MSU athletic director, seven hours were set aside for Dantonio’s deposition. After the coach was deposed for five hours and 55 minutes, Blackwell’s attorneys repeatedly pushed for another 65 minutes, a wish that was never granted.
As Blackwell’s legal team continued to push on the issue of Robertson’s recruitment, as well as other players, they entered into public filings allegations of NCAA violations by Dantonio, submitting a photograph taken at a recruit's house that showed Dantonio and Blackwell with the highly ranked recruit, a violation of NCAA rules.
Dantonio retired hours after the allegations went public, but said the case had "zero" to do with him calling it a career after 13 mostly successful seasons at Michigan State.
Concern of the actions of Paterson have been public for quite some time, and even led to high-profile attorney and NCAA expert Tom Mars quitting Blackwell's counsel, just days after he agreed to join the team.
The case against MSU Police detectives Chad Davis and Sam Miller should continue. Blackwell is seeking up to $5.5 million from the cops, to cover lost wages and future earnings. Lawyers for the police detectives have been battling in court trying to secure financial statements from Blackwell's Sound Mind Sound Body football camp, in an attempt to prove he's not losing wages.