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Van Ert v. Blank

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 29, 2018

ROBIN VAN ERT, Plaintiff,
v.
REBECCA M. BLANK, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LYNN ADELMAN District Judge.

         Robin Van Ert brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state tort law against various University of Wisconsin-Madison officials alleging violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, invasion of privacy, negligence, defamation, and conspiracy. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. I found that the complaint failed to state a cognizable claim to relief under federal law and granted defendants' motion with respect to Van Ert's federal claims. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3), I declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Van Ert's state-law claims. The Clerk of Court entered final judgment and closed the case.

         Van Ert moves under Rule 59(e) for reconsideration of my order dismissing her federal claims. Rule 59(e) does not list specific grounds for reconsideration, so district courts “enjoy[] considerable discretion in granting or denying” relief under that rule. 11 Charles Alan Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1 (3d ed.), Westlaw (updated Apr. 2018). Still, reconsideration after the entry of a judgment “is an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly.” Id. Before considering whether Van Ert has shown that such a remedy is warranted here, I briefly revisit the allegations in her complaint and the bases for my prior order dismissing her federal claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Van Ert's complaint alleges, in relevant part, as follows: “Between 2009 and 2014, VAN ERT had a private, consensual, romantic relationship with a former head coach of a University of Wisconsin varsity sport.” Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 13.

VAN ERT ended her relationship with the COACH in 2014 in part because of her belief that the COACH was manipulative, deceptive, and abusive toward VAN ERT and other women. In VAN ERT's opinion, the COACH was unfit to coach and mentor young student athletes and conducted himself in a manner contrary to the best interests of student athletes and the University of Wisconsin.

Id. ¶ 17.

         “On February 11, 2015, VAN ERT reported the relationship and the COACH's inappropriate behavior to” the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rebecca Blank; Deputy Athletic Director Walter Dickey; and Senior Associate Athletic Directors Terry Gawlik and Bruce Van De Velde “via email.” Id. ¶ 18.

The e-mail asked BLANK, DICKEY, GAWLIK, and VAN DE VELDE to investigate and take appropriate action to prevent the COACH and others in similar positions at the University of Wisconsin from engaging in conduct while working for and representing the University of Wisconsin that may interfere with job performance, be abusive towards women, have a negative impact on student athletes, as well as violate University of Wisconsin and/or National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) rules, or violate a “morality clause” contained in the COACH'S contract with the University of Wisconsin.

Id.

On December 22, 2015, VAN ERT, through her attorneys, sent a letter to DICKEY advising him and the other DEFENDANTS that her February 11, 2015, e-mail was confidential, that it should not be released to the public, and requested that DEFENDANTS contact her attorneys before releasing the e-mail and/or disclosing its contents to the public. DICKEY acknowledged receipt of the December 22, 2015, letter . . . .

Id. ¶ 26.

         “On March 4, 2016, DICKEY contacted VAN ERT directly . . . and informed her that her February 11, 2015, e-mail was going to be released to the public in response to an open records request.” Id. ¶ 31. “Within approximately one hour . . ., DEFENDANTS released the e-mail to the media . . ., with only VAN ERT's name and e-mail address redacted.” Id. ¶ 35. “Later on March 4, 2016, or March 5, 2016, [defendant John Lucas] disclosed VAN ERT's identity to a reporter . . . .” Id. ¶ 37.

         As noted above, I considered the allegations in Van Ert's complaint and found that they failed to state a cognizable claim to relief under federal law. Specifically, I found that the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations did not allow me to reasonably infer that defendants violated Van Ert's constitutional right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment by disclosing her email and her identity to the press because the information disclosed was of significant public interest and Van Ert could not have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that information. I also found that the facts as alleged did not plausibly suggest that defendants retaliated against Van Ert in violation of her First Amendment rights or that they arbitrarily and irrationally singled her out for poor treatment in violation of her constitutional right to equal protection.

         II. DISCUSSION

         In her motion for reconsideration, Van Ert raises three of the “basic grounds upon which a Rule 59(e) motion may be granted.” 11 Wright, supra, § 2810.1. She argues that reconsideration is “justified by an intervening change in controlling law” and that it is “necessary to correct manifest errors of law . . . upon which the judgment is ...


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