Oberlin College takes a kitchen-sink approach, while the NAACP tries to turn this into a case about race.
Oberlin College and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo have filed their Appeal Brief (pdf.) in the Gibson’s Bakery case. The NAACP also has filed an Amicus Brief (pdf.) in support of the college. Full copies of both briefs are at the bottom of this post.
The Oberlin College Brief is redacted because some information was filed under seal (the information at issue in the various motions to unseal we previously covered). It’s not clear whether any Amicus Briefs will be filed supporting the Gibsons, to my knowledge no one is coming to their assistance.
Gibson’s Bakery has 20 days to respond, unless they get an extension of time.
Do you really need me to explain the case to you at this point? See here for a gazillion posts about the case.
The NAACP Amicus Brief is the easiest to deal with. It’s a political document, not a legal argument. It’s clearly meant to try to shame and/or bully the court into thinking this case has national implications for race relations.
The issues presented in this case are directly relevant to the work of the NAACP. The damages awarded to the plaintiffs in this case are based on a studentorganized boycott in protest of a Gibson’s bakery employee’s violent actions against an African-American student, the police department’s response to the incident, and the bakery’s historically discriminatory treatment of African-Americans. Not only are these issues at the core of the NAACP’s mission to eradicate racial injustice, the NAACP also has a longstanding commitment to defend its right and the rights of all people to engage in free speech.
Despite being drafted by the national law firm Jenner & Block, it bears almost no relationship to the actual facts of this case. It pretends that this is a case about Oberlin College being held liable for supporting a student boycott of the bakery. It then cites cases about how support for boycott activity is protected, and how government officials can’t sue people who protest against them. None of that has anything to do with the legal theories upon which the Gibsons recovered.
The Gibsons’ primary complaint is that Oberlin is associated with certain of its students that organized a boycott of the Gibsons’ bakery in protest of a bakery employee’s violent actions against an African-American student, the police department’s response to the incident, and the bakery’s historically discriminatory treatment of African-Americans.1 Even if Oberlin did provide support to its students—a point that was heavily contested—it cannot be held liable for a simple reason: boycotts like the one concerning the bakery that “vindicate rights of equality and of freedom” are a core First Amendment-protected activity.
In this case, the Plaintiffs were awarded damages from Oberlin for the college’s support or participation in a protest organized by its students. Plaintiffs also were awarded damages from Oberlin for the students’ creation and distribution of a flyer describing the assault of the student and the police response and referencing the bakery’s prior history of racial discrimination.
That is a complete misstatement of what the case is about. A shocking misstatement, but the point of the brief clearly is to make this a case about race, which it is not.
Oberlin College Brief
More serious is Oberlin College’s Brief, which takes a kitchen sink approach. In 29 pages of text they throw in dozens of alleged trial court errors. It reads like a 50-page brief squeezed into 29 pages, and indeed, the college tried to get the usual 35 page limit increased to 50 pages but were turned down by the court. The readability of the Brief suffers for that.
I don’t have time tonight to thoroughly analyze the Brief, but I can give some initial impressions (and readers can add to it in the comments) in no particular order:
• The college again portrays this as a case of being held liable for student speech. But that’s not what happened, as I’ve written (and the Gibsons have argued in court papers) dozens of times. This is not a “free speech” case, it’s a case about alleged libelous statements in flyers spread by the Dean of Students, and the facilitation of spreading libelous statement in a student senate resolution.
“This appeal arises out of a protest by Oberlin students of a well-known bakery bordering the campus on Tappan Square. Believing that Allyn Gibson Jr.’s public altercation with a black student—stemming from the bakery’s chase-and-detain policy—was racially motivated, the students called for a boycott. The bakery and its owners sued Oberlin, claiming it should have censored its students’ speech.”
• One of the main grounds for the appeal is that the trial court improperly denied summary judgment. That strikes me as an odd basis for an appeal. While appeals bring up everything for review, summary judgment is a procedure that requires a court to dismiss prior to trial claims as to which there are no material factual disputes and as to which a party is entitle to judgment as a matter of law. Oberlin College got many of the claims dismissed on summary judgment, but some survived for trial. What difference does the summary judgment ruling make now that we have a trial record with a lot more evidence presented in court than presented on summary judgment? It would be truly odd for an appeals court to say that summary judgment should have been granted dismissing the claims on a limited factual record when there is a full trial record supporting the verdict. Yet that is one of the main points in the Appeals Brief.
• This statement is a footnote was disputed. There was testimony that Raimondo was leading and directing the protest with a megaphone. She disputes that, but that factual dispute is for the jury. It serves no purpose on appeal to lose credibility by making it seem as if this is not disputed
“1 Raimondo did not join the students’ chants during the protests, or create or hold signs. Tr., Vol. III, 122. She used a megaphone to introduce herself, telling students she was there to make sure the protest remained safe and lawful and advising them where they could rest and get food and beverages. Id. at 126-127; Tr., Vol. XIII, 62-63.”
• Oberlin College filed under seal material it never attempted to introduce at trial documents regarding Allyn Gibson’s private Facebook entries. Allyn, the store clerk who stopped the shopifter, was not a party in the case and didn’t testify. Nonetheless, Oberlin College as part of its post-trial public relations campaign to smear the Gibson’s as really racist, references the material in its Brief. I don’t know what it says, because it’s redacted, but the appeals court judges will see it. This is a shady tactic, put before the appeals court judges inflammatory material you didn’t even bother to offer at trial regarding someone who wasn’t a party and didn’t testify.
Consider this post a work in progress. I’ll add to it over the weekend as I come up with more points. So keep checking back.
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