Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College – Bakery Files Cross-Appeal Brief to Restore Full $33 Million Punitive Damages
Argues that Ohio punitive damages caps, which reduced the punitive damage award by over $13 million, are unconstitutional as applied to the facts of this case.
Last Friday, Oberlin College and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo filed their Appeal Brief, seeking to overturn the trial verdict. The NAACP also filed a ridiculous Amicus Brief supporting the college. According to the docket, at least one more Amicus Brief will be filed for a coalition of ‘anti-censorship’ groups.
You may recall that there actually are two appeals here. The first is by the defendants trying to overturn the verdict, or at least reduce further the amount of the damages. But the second appeal is by the Gibsons, who are contesting the reduction of punitive damages by the trial court which reduced the ultimate verdict from $44 million to $25 million.
I discussed that cross-appeal last October, Gibson’s Bakery files cross-appeal to restore full $44 million verdict against Oberlin College:
Two weeks ago, Oberlin College and its Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo filed their appeal from the two jury verdicts in favor of Gibson’s Bakery and its owners : $11 million compensatory damages rendered on June 7, 2019, and $33 million in punitive damages rendered on June 13, 2019, after a separate punitive damages trial.
The combined $44 million was reduced by the Court under Ohio’s tort caps to just over $25 million. The Court also awarded over $6.5 million in legal fees and costs against defendants on top of the damages. Defendants were required to post a $36 million bond to secure the judgment pending appeal.
Oberlin College has lawyered-up to fight the appeal, Oberlin College hires high-powered D.C. lawyers to appeal Gibson’s Bakery verdict.
Gibson’s Bakery has just filed its cross appeal, and as previously predicted, Gibson’s has filed a cross appeal to restore the full $44 million verdicts, which added to the attorney’s fee award, would [bring] the total to over $50 million if Gibson’s is successful on appeal. The cross appeal is “conditional” because it’s only a reaction to the appeal; had there been no appeal, there would have been no cross appeal.
The total reduction of punitive damages was 13,125,500.
Here are the issues raised:
ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 1: The Trial Court Erred when it Applied the Punitive Damages Cap Contained in O.R.C. § 2315.21 to the Facts of this Case.
STATEMENT OF THE ISSUES PRESENTED FOR REVIEW
ISSUE NO. 1: Whether the application of a mathematical formula for punitive damages cap is arbitrary or unreasonable as applied to the facts of this case under the due course of law/due process clauses under the Ohio and United States Constitutions.
ISSUE NO. 2: Whether the application of a mathematical formula for punitive damages under the facts of this case unconstitutionally infringed on the Gibsons’ right to trial by jury under the Ohio Constitution.
Here’s the Summary of Argument:
A Lorain County jury unanimously determined Defendants Oberlin College (“Oberlin College” or the “College”)) and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo (“Dean Raimondo”) acted with reckless disregard, hatred, animus, and ill will in damaging the Gibsons2 through their libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury awarded the Gibsons compensatory damages in the total amount of $11,074,500 and punitive damages in the total amount of $33,223,500. The jury determined that a punitive damages award constituting less than 3% of Oberlin College’s more than $1 Billion of assets appropriately responded to the dual purpose of punitive damages: to appropriately punish and sufficiently deter.
The punitive damages cap in R.C. 2315.21(D) is unconstitutional as applied to the facts of this case, because application here would:
• Violate the due course of law/due process clause of the Ohio and United States Constitutions, as the cap does not bear a real and substantial relation to the general welfare of the public and provides no rational connection between the amount of punitive damages and Oberlin College and Dean Raimondo’s wrongful conduct; and
• Violate Ohio’s constitutional right to trial by jury.Therefore, the Gibsons are entitled to the total punitive damage amounts awarded by the jury, without any application of the statutory punitive cap. A mere mechanical application of the punitive cap does not appropriately and reasonably serve the purposes of punitive damages—to punish Oberlin College and Dean Raimondo and also deter them from future tortious conduct.
To rigidly rely upon a simple mathematical formula when setting punitive damages violates due course and due process of law under the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Ohio and also violates the constitutional right to trial by jury. As a result, the trial court erred when it applied R.C. 2315.21’s punitive damages cap to the Gibsons’ punitive damages award under the circumstances of this case.
The Cross-Appeal Brief is a very interesting evidentiary read. It’s a reminder of the hostility the college showed towards the bakery and family. Read the whole thing about the evidence at trial supporting punitive damages.
[Featured Image: The late David Gibson hugs his grandson after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]
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