Gibson’s Bakery Judgment Appeal

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Oberlin Appeals Gibson’s Bakery Judgment

June 5, 2020

Attorneys representing Oberlin College today filed their principal brief appealing the judgment awarded to Gibson’s Bakery. The brief was filed in Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals.

In its filing, the College argues that numerous errors occurred during trial that prevented the jury from hearing key facts surrounding the November 2016 incident involving three students and a member of the Gibson family, and the student protests following that incident. Those significant errors deprived Oberlin of a fair trial.

Oberlin requests that the judgment be reversed and entered in Oberlin’s favor based on well-established constitutional law protecting freedom of speech. The College also argues that it was wrongly held responsible for the opinions students expressed as part of their protests. As set forth in Oberlin’s brief, it cannot be held liable for failing to censor the speech of its students.

In addition, Oberlin explains in its brief that the trial court prevented the jury from hearing critical evidence on significant issues, resulting in a one-sided presentation of the evidence and making it virtually inevitable that the jury would rule against Oberlin.

Finally, Oberlin argues that the trial court erred by allowing the jury to award punitive damages when well-established constitutional law required otherwise, by misapplying the Ohio damages caps, and by awarding attorney fees in violation of Ohio Supreme Court precedent.

Oberlin pursued this appeal because it was deprived of a fair trial and to vindicate core constitutional protections for freedom of speech. Colleges and universities must allow students and faculty to speak freely – even when their speech is controversial, and even when administrators disagree with it – as an important part of the free exchange of ideas that is the heart of any academic institution.

This entire chapter has taken an unfortunate toll on Oberlin College and the surrounding community. It is our hope that the appeal will affirm fundamental constitutional rights while fostering the continued growth of the college’s partnership with the local business community.

Additional Court filings are expected during the next two months. Following the close of briefing, the appeals court may hear oral arguments before issuing its ruling.

National Organizations and First Amendment Scholars Submit Briefs in Support of Oberlin’s Appeal of Gibson’s Bakery Judgment

June 8, 2020

Oberlin College is pleased to have received the support of numerous groups and scholars around the country who collectively submitted four amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs with an Ohio appeals court urging that the Gibson’s Bakery judgment against the College be reversed. The briefs were submitted to Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals. They include:

  • A brief (scholars) submitted on behalf of more than two dozen nationally recognized First Amendment scholars (see list of scholars here), explaining that that the rules applied in this case are inconsistent with the law in many critical respects;
  • A brief (civil liberties organizations) submitted on behalf of various civil liberties organizations, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship (see list of civil liberties organizations here), expressing concern that the Court rulings in this case will lead to future censorship of a wide range of speech on college and university campuses across the political spectrum;
  • A brief (NAACP) submitted by the NAACP, explaining that the students’ statements were expressions of opinion made in the context of a call for a boycott, and that peaceful protests of this kind are historically protected ways of achieving social change in America; and
  • A brief (media organizations) submitted on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the American Booksellers Association, and 19 additional media organizations (see list of media organizations here), explaining that the trial court rulings resulting in the judgment interfere with key protections allowing the news media, libraries, bookstores, and other institutions to distribute commentary on matters of public concern, without facing massive court judgments.

Additional filings are expected during the next two months, following which the appeals court may hear oral arguments before issuing its ruling.