It has been a while since we’ve covered the ongoing legal developments in Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College.

Our last post was on February 15, 2020, right before all hell broke loose with the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, To Dox The Store Clerk or Not, That Remains The Question In Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College.

The Cleveland Media Motion to Unseal Private Facebook Records

The post linked above concerned a post-trial effort by a group of Cleveland media entities which allegedly have ties to Oberlin College’s lead trial lawyer to unseal confidential Facebook records of Allyn D. Gibson, the store clerk who stopped a black Oberlin College student from shoplifting. That stop set in motion a chain of events that eventually led to the trial and the $32 million judgment against Oberlin College.

Allyn D. was not a party in the case and did not testify. See the post linked above for all the details, including the suggestion by the Gibsons that there is collusion between the college and the media entities to “doxx” Allyn D. The judge requested additional briefing as to whether the court still had jurisdiction now that the case is on appeal. The media group said yes, Gibsons said no. One of the points the Gibsons raised was that since Oberlin College was denied identical relief, a ruling by the trial court now as to the media group could interfere with the appeal.

Up to this point, Oberlin College had been silent as to the media group motion to unseal, even when the Gibsons alleged collusion. But for the first time, Oberlin College filed a Notice with the Court that it would not be including the denial of Oberlin College’s motion to unseal in the appeal. This clearly was an attempt to help the media entities in their effort to unseal the records — supportive of the Gibsons’ claim that the media group and college were colluding.

The Court has not ruled as of this writing.

The Appeal — Magistrate Denies Defendants’ Request for Expanding Page Limits for Briefs

The Facebook records fight aside, the appeal of the substance of the judgment has seen some procedural skirmishes.

By agreement of all parties, there was a limited remand to the trial court to memorialize in writing some of the verbal trial rulings so they could be addressed on appeal. That happened, and now the case is back in the appeals court, but not before the defendants filed a second appeal for procedural reasons, to make sure the rulings memorialized on remand were appealed. The appeals have now been consolidated.

But nothing in this case is simple. Oberlin College, which has added additional lawyers for the appeal, including First Amendment specialists from D.C., filed a motion to permit expanded briefs, from the standard 35 pages to 50 pages. The motion and opposition by the Gibsons opens a window into the macro-level strategies of the two sides on appeal. The details of the alleged trial errors likely to be raised on appeal are in the post-trial motions, but the overall approaches revealed in the page-limit motion are instructive.

Here’s my (very) loose paraphrase of Oberlin College’s Motion to Exceed Page Limitations: OMG, this is so complicated and so big! There are really important STUDENT FREE SPEECH issues on which the fate of the Republic hinges, we need more pages! And there are SO MANY problems with this trial, and the Judge did SO MANY things wrong, we need more pages! Did we say STUDENT FREE SPEECH? Yes, we said STUDENT FREE SPEECH, thanks for asking.

Here’s my (very) loose paraphrase of the Gibsons’ Opposition to Motion to Exceed Page Limitations: This is a simple tort case, and there are no complicated legal issues. The defendants defamed us, interfered in our business, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress, and while there may be factual disputes — resolved in our favor by the jury — the law is pretty plain. This is not a student free speech case, no matter how many First Amendment lawyers the defendants hire.

The Magistrate who handles such procedural matters in the appeal court rejected the defense motion for expanded briefing.

What’s Next

It’s unclear to me from the docket what the timing of the briefing will be. The defendants brief was due in early May, but the Magistrate’s Order suggests that the date will be reset once the record from the remand rulings is received.

Since the judgment is secured by an appeal bond, the Gibsons do not have to worry about collecting no matter how hard the pandemic hits Oberlin College’s finances.

[Featured Image: Gibson Family and legal team after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]


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