If like me, you regularly read Legal Insurrection, you’re aware of the Gibson’s case. The media have, for the most part, ignored it. This link, from 06-07-19, tells the story of the favorable verdict and includes links to LI’s complete coverage of the case, but first, a quick background from Professor Jacobson:
The short version of this story is that the day after the 2016 election victory by Donald Trump, a black male Oberlin College student was stopped for shoplifting wine at Gibson’s Bakery and Market in downtown Oberlin, OH. Gibson’s had been in existence since 1885, was frequented by students, and also provided baked goods to the college dining halls. A scuffle ensued that was joined by two black female Oberlin College students accompanying the male shoplifter and apparently acting in concert with him. All three eventually would plead guilty to shoplifting and aggravated trespassing, and would avow that Gibson’s was not engaged in racial profiling.
But before those guilty pleas, students at the college immediately declared that Gibson’s was guilty of racial profiling, and large protests were organized outside the bakery. Flyers were passed out claiming Gibson’s was “racist” and had “a long account of racial profiling and discrimination.” The Oberlin College Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo allegedly participated in handing out the flyers in front of the bakery. The Oberlin College Student Senate also passed a resolution claiming Gibson’s “has a long history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike.” The college administration allegedly helped spread this student senate resolution.
Students started a boycott of the bakery, initially joined in by the college. The college eventually resumed business with the bakery, but then terminated that business after the lawsuit was filed.
Gibson’s and its owners sued the college and Raimondo for libel, tortious interference with business relationships and contracts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespass. Gibson’s alleged long-term damage to its business and reputation for the allegedly defamatory accusations and other torts. The plaintiffs in closing argument asked the jury to award $12.8 million in compensatory damages.
Gibson’s was awarded $11.5 million in compensatory damages, and even more in punitive damages, but more on that shortly.
This is a case that pitted an arrogant, leftist college administration far more interested in vindicating social justice lunacy than teaching students and demanding they behave like civilized semi-adults, against a local business founded in 1885, that survived WW1, the Great Depression, and WWII, representing five generations of the Gibson family and employing many local citizens. Oberlin decided to come down on the side of three black students who shoplifted and brutally assaulted one of the Gibsons who caught them. The textbook SJW tactic of falsely calling anyone they hate racist, for a change, became costly.
The attorneys for Oberlin were as despicable as the faux-adults in charge of the college, as the Professor notes:
I’m still shaking my head at the tone-deafness of the defense in belittling this family business which has sustained five generations of Gibsons, and at the time of the protests sustained three generations: 90-year-old Allyn W. Gibson, his son David Gibson, and his grandson Allyn D. Gibson. There also were almost a dozen employees. After the protests, the Gibsons stopped taking salaries and most of the employees have been laid off. This is real life to these people. To say that the business was worth only $35,000 erases the lives of these people. Maybe it’s just the plaintiff’s lawyer in me coming out, but I’d cross examine this defense expert and college president, and show in closing argument, the tuition, room and board charges at Oberlin College. This business, which has been an important feature of the community since 1885, is worth less than one semester at Oberlin College?
Prof. Jacobson also added information on the punitive damage hearing:
A separate punitive damages hearing is required under the Ohio Tort Reform legislation that passed several years ago. The point is to keep some of the more inflammatory evidence that does not go to liability or compensatory damages away from the jury during the initial deliberations. That additional evidence relevant to punitive damages could include information as to the wealth of the defendants, but also additional information supporting the need for punishment.
In this context, there is nothing more baffling than a statement sent to alumni after the verdict by Donica Thomas Varner, Oberlin College’s Vice President and General Counsel.
The statement was contained in a mass email sent to alumni (and possibly others) criticizing the jury verdict and repeating the same stale defenses that failed at trial (emphasis added):
This is an understatement:
Procedurally, the email is baffling because the trial is not over. The jury will hear more evidence and render a verdict on punitive damages that could add another $22 million to the $11 million compensatory. The objective of any communications at this sensitive stage must be to first do no harm. That’s how Scott Wargo, Oberlin’s spokesman, handled it when contacted by me and other media after the verdict, indicating the college had no comment on the jury verdict. Wargo’s statement was the professional response one would expect in this circumstance, so why are others at the college not heeding that basic corporate communications strategy?
Substantively, the email is infuriating to anyone who has followed the case. Oberlin College and Raimondo were not ‘held liable for the independent actions of their students.’ Rather, the defendants were held liable for their own conduct in aiding and abetting the publication of libelous documents, interference with business, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Let me repeat, it was the college’s and Raimondo’s own conduct that was at issue before the jury. That the General Counsel of Oberlin College doesn’t understand that — even if she disagrees with the jury conclusion — tells me something went very wrong with the way this case was handled internally at Oberlin College.
And this illustrates why Prof. Jacobson is a very good professor of law:
Don’t accuse the jurors of disregarding the “clear evidence,” don’t repeat the same failed claim that the college administrators were simply keeping the peace and protecting free speech when numerous witnesses testified otherwise, and don’t claim the college was held liable vicariously when in fact the college’s own conduct was at issue.
The post-verdict email could be Exhibit A at the punitive damages hearing as to why the compensatory damages are not sufficient to send a message to Oberlin College and its administrators.
I’m sure the good professor was not actually baffled, but employed the word to express amazement at such a dim-witted legal move. When challenged, leftists respond with outrage, name-calling, lies and projection, and so it is at Oberlin. Insulting a jury that had yet to decide punitive damages? They’re non-woke, so they deserve it!
And on 06-13-19, the jury awarded $33 million dollars in punitive damages. Prof. Jacobson reports:
The jury just rendered its verdict on punitive damages in the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College case.
Daniel McGraw, our reporter in the courtroom, reports that in addition to the $11.2 million compensatory damages awarded last Friday, the jury awarded a total of $33 million in punitive damages, which will probably be reduced by the court to $22 million because of the state law cap at twice compensatory (it’s not an absolute cap, but probably will apply here). That brings the total damages to $33 million. We will have the breakdown soon. The jury also awarded attorney’s fees, to be determined by the judge.
The breakdown was:
David Gibson – $17.5 million punitive damages
Allyn W. Gibson — $8.75 million punitive damages
Gibson Bros. Inc. (the Bakery) – $6,973,500 punitive damages
While the judge did not allow the post-verdict e-mail from Oberlin, Gibson’s attorneys were able to get the substance of it before the jury through cross-examination. Apparently, the jury was not amused at being called stupid by Oberlin social justice warriors.
Oberlin was given the opportunity to settle the matter. All they needed to do was admit, as the three shoplifters admitted when they pled guilty, that Gibson’s was not racist, but caught up in their self-imagined infallibility and intellectual and moral superiority, they refused. This kind of jury award is not common. The evidence demonstrated conclusively that the management of Oberlin was not only negligent in failing to demand civilized behavior of its students, but was insanely arrogant and cruel in its treatment of the Gibsons. They actually demanded that whenever an Oberlin student got caught shoplifting, Gibson’s call the college and not the police. In so doing, they tried to put themselves above Gibson’s, the people of the town, and the law. That too did not amuse the jury.
Is this a classic “Town vs. Gown” affair? In a sense, but it stems primarily from the socialist/progressive/leftist/(add which ist you prefer) philosophy of non-falsifiability. It’s a matter I’ve often addressed.
Because socialists, by their education, positions, salaries, residence in exclusive, self-congratulatory bubbles, superior morality and intellect live on an exalted plane of being, far above and beyond normal Americans–AKA “deplorables”–their ideals and policies cannot possibly be wrong. They construct their own deity-like reality and try to force the little people to live in it.
College “students” at such institutions revel in the delusion because they appear to have power over their hated inferiors. College administrators are among the worst of such people, because most have at least a master’s degree and a great many, doctorates. Also, overseeing “higher” education, they are even more exalted than the average self-imagined elite, so their policies and assertions are even more non-falsifiable than those of the average self-imagined elite.
This is why they would not do the right, the moral thing, and admit their students were wrong and race had nothing to do with their confessed crimes. The Gibsons were deplorables, little people far beneath their notice. Their students are self-imagined academic elites in training, so they could not possibly be wrong. This too is why Oberlin’s in-house lawyer released the aforementioned incredibly stupid insult of the jury. Hit by the real reality of the original verdict, they could not possibly admit they were wrong. “Humility” is not in their dictionary. The little people must be wrong. The jury was too stupid to recognize the superior reality of Oberlin, and they voted the wrong way, which is what little people tend to do when allowed the freedom to have a say in their lives. Thus, Oberlin, like so many other contemporary colleges, teaches not, but instead prepares their interns–they’re certainly not students–to live in socialist reality in the progressive utopia to come, the utopia they will help to construct.
I’ll have more on this situation soon. It will take little imagination to know how Oberlin with take the massive damage reward, however, one need not feel too sorry for an institution with an endowment of nearly a billion dollars.
A visit to my favorite Bookworm’s take on Oberlin will be worth your time, and by all means, take the LI links and read about the entire case. One might be tempted to think this verdict might cause Oberlin and others like them to never again mistreat normal Americans. Perhaps they will treat others with a bit of morality and humility, but that is a vain hope, because such people can never be wrong, and nothing can convince them they are. Oberlin will likely hire even more diversity administrators and raise tuition even more than usual.