Judge recommends ex-MSU staffer's suit against Mark Dantonio, others be dismissed

A federal ​magistrate judge has recommended that a former Michigan State football staff member's claims against former Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former school president Lou Anna Simon should be dismissed.

Curtis Blackwell, ​who oversaw recruiting operations for the football team from 2013 to 2017, filed a lawsuit in November 2018 claiming ​he lost his job because he was made into a scapegoat during a time when the school was dealing with the fallout of multiple sexual assault issues. During the past year, Blackwell and his attorneys have filed several motions that publicly accuse Dantonio and others at Michigan State of committing NCAA rule violations and ignoring warning signs about a former player who had a history of sexual violence.

Blackwell was arrested in February 2017 after police questioned him about a claim of sexual assault that involved three then-freshman members of the football team. Blackwell was not charged with a crime. A law firm hired to investigate how the football program handled that incident found that Blackwell was the only employee who did not act appropriately. Blackwell refused to answer questions from the attorneys of Jones Day law firm during its investigation.

His lawsuit claims that Michigan State violated his fifth amendment rights by ending his employment as retaliation for his decision not to participate in interviews with police or Jones Day.

Dantonio ​said in 2017 that Blackwell's year-to-year contract was not renewed due to "philosophical differences." He, Hollis and Simon were named as defendants in the suit. The two MSU police detectives who arrested Blackwell were also named as defendants for allegedly violating his fourth amendment rights.

In a filing Friday, Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens said the case against Dantonio, Hollis and Simon "appears to have been prosecuted for an improper purpose and should be dismissed." Berens did not recommend dismissing the claims against the detectives.

The recommendation goes to Janet T. Neff, the federal judge overseeing the case.

"Plaintiff Blackwell's attorneys have repeatedly misused court process to elicit information unrelated to his case and then have publicly filed that information, at least once in violation of a court order," Berens said in her recommendation.

​Some of Blackwell's previous filings have accused Dantonio and others of wrongdoing, including: breaking NCAA recruiting rules by having Blackwell attend in-home visits of high school prospects, arranging for job opportunities for the parents of recruits and ignoring warning signs during the recruitment of former player Auston Robertson, who was charged with sexually assaulting a female student less than a year after arriving on campus.

Attorneys representing Dantonio have argued in court documents that those accusations are false and have nothing to do with Blackwell's original claim that he was punished for exercising his fifth amendment rights. Blackwell's lawyers have filed motions to broaden the scope of their original claim in an attempt to make his other accusations more relevant, but those requests have been denied.

Berens wrote that it appeared Blackwell's lawyers "have used discovery, not to adduce support for the narrow claim Plaintiff alleges against the MSU Defendants in this case, but to harass the defendants and to build a case they have now filed in state court."

Blackwell recently filed a new, state-level lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court, naming Dantonio, Hollis, Simon and current Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman as defendants. That suit alleges breach of contract, violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act for race discrimination and wrongful termination, wrongful termination against public policy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The state lawsuit incorporates many of the specific accusations made in federal court documents as well as a new claim that Michigan State's football team illegally taped practices of an out-of-state opponent during the time Blackwell was employed.

​In the federal case, Berens also ordered that one of Blackwell's two attorneys -- Andrew Paterson -- appear before another judge to determine if he should be sanctioned for any of his actions. Paterson was already fined and sanctioned for one filing in the Blackwell suit.

"Plaintiff's attorneys have engaged in a pattern of seeking discovery on issues unrelated to the claim against the MSU Defendants but that might be relevant to a different claim and that certainly appear to be of interest to the press and public," Berens wrote.

ESPN's Dan Murphy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.