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Public Health drops complaint against dance studio, will incorporate allegations into counterclaim in related lawsuit
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Public Health drops complaint against dance studio, will incorporate allegations into counterclaim in related lawsuit

A Leap Above Dance

A 119-count complaint by Dane County's public health department against A Leap Above Dance in Oregon will be dismissed, but allegations of public health order violations would be added to another lawsuit pending in Dane County Circuit Court. 

Attorneys representing Public Health Madison and Dane County have asked to withdraw the health agency’s 119-count complaint against an Oregon dance studio over alleged COVID-19 public health order violations, but only to allow consolidation of the alleged violations into a related lawsuit.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced tens of thousands of restaurants to permanently shut their doors as dining restrictions keep customers away.

In a court filing Tuesday, Madison Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen wrote that Public Health is withdrawing its complaint against A Leap Above Dance, a move approved Wednesday by Circuit Judge Mario White, because the facts of the case are also being heard in a lawsuit filed against Public Health by two Dane County parents who have children involved in sports teams.

That lawsuit was filed on Jan. 20. A Leap Above joined that lawsuit as a plaintiff on Feb. 2, a week after Public Health filed its complaint against the studio.

“This case involves potentially some of the same facts alleged within the above-mentioned case and the outcome of this case would have a potential impact on the above-mentioned case,” Paulsen wrote in a notice of dismissal filed in court. “Therefore, to expedite the judicial process, it is (in) the plaintiff’s best interest to have both cases heard in one court.”

The Madison city attorney and the Dane County corporation counsel jointly provide legal advice to Public Health, Paulsen wrote.

Because the case against A Leap Above Dance arose outside of the city of Madison, she wrote, the Dane County corporation counsel will file a counterclaim in the related lawsuit that alleges the facts originally stated in Public Health’s complaint against the dance studio in the case to be dismissed.

Paulsen said the counterclaim will likely seek the same maximum potential penalty as the Public Health complaint, which seeks nearly $24,000 in fines.

The decision to dismiss the complaint came because the city lacked authority to bring it under Dane County ordinances, said Luke Berg, deputy counsel for the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which represents A Leap Above.

“This complaint was dismissed because WILL found the city of Madison’s attorneys do not have authority to enforce a county ordinance,” Berg said. “This is just one of the many legal and factual flaws with this enforcement action. If the county chooses to refile, we are confident A Leap Above will be vindicated by the courts.”

The complaint against A Leap Above Dance alleged the studio violated a public health order to control the spread of COVID-19 by staging a performance of “The Nutcracker.” It alleged that 119 people participated in the Dec. 13 production, in defiance of a ban on mass gatherings mandated in a Nov. 17 public health order.

A Leap Above Dance’s owner, Natalie Nemeckay, told the Wisconsin State Journal after the Public Health complaint was filed that she never had more than 10 people in her studio at a time while the production was recorded on video.

In court documents in the related lawsuit, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which is representing A Leap Above Dance and the sports parents, maintains the studio fell within an exception to the no-gathering order as an “unregulated youth program.”

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