AKRON, OH – The 9th District Court of Appeals in Akron on March 31 “rejected appeals by both Oberlin College and Gibson’s Bakery over the results of a 2019 civil trial,” The Chronicle-Telegram (TCT) reported on April 1.
The court “unanimously upheld all of Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi’s rulings in the bakery’s long-running civil case against the college, stemming from student protests regarding alleged racist behavior by the business on West College Street in Oberlin in November 2016,” TCT reported, adding that “a jury awarded the bakery and its owners, the late David and Allyn W. ‘Grandpa’ Gibson, more than $44 million in damages in June 2019.”
Judge Miraldi “lowered that to $25 million to conform with state law, but he also awarded more than $6.2 million in fees to the Gibsons’ attorneys,” TCT reported, noting that “the monetary award has been stayed pending the appeals process.”
“In a 50-page ruling on the dueling appeals filed by the college and the Gibsons, Judges Donna Carr, Jennifer Hensal and Betty Sutton overruled three arguments made by the college and one by the bakery,” TCT reported, adding that “the court said Miraldi was right to deny the college’s request for a new trial and that his rulings on the amount of damages and attorney fees owed the Gibsons were appropriate.”
“The Gibsons also appealed the damages award, saying it didn’t sufficiently punish the college for its behavior,” TCT reported, noting that “the appeals court also rejected that argument.”
“Through the trial and a more than two-year appeals process and the deaths of both David and Grandpa Gibson, the Gibson family persevered,” Greek-American attorney Lee Plakas said, TCT reported.
“The Gibsons fought the good fight, as the family has done for over 130 years,” he said on March 31, TCT reported. “Somewhere high above us, Grandpa and Dave Gibson are smiling to know that the truth still matters.”
“The unanimous appeals court decision ‘shows that the judges recognized the importance of the case on both a regional and national level and methodically and insightfully dissected the evidence and the record which supported the verdict,’” Plakas told TCT. “I was very impressed with the judges’ command of and reference to specific evidentiary portions of the very large record that confirmed, even to the judges, that in fact truth does still matter.”
In a March 31 statement to TCT, Oberlin College said it was “obviously disappointed that the appeals court affirmed the judgment in its ruling earlier today.”
“We are reviewing the Court’s opinion carefully as we evaluate our options and determine next steps,” the statement continued, TCT reported. “In the meantime, we recognize that the issues raised by this case have been challenging, not only for the parties involved in the lawsuit, but for the entire Oberlin community. We remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the college, the city of Oberlin and its residents, and the downtown business community. We will continue in that important work while remaining focused on our core educational mission.”
“The five-week trial in 2019 was extended by a sixth week for arguing motions, involved 33 witnesses, 32 depositions taken by the college, and 33 motions by the college that the Gibsons and their lawyers had to respond to, according to the bakery’s attorneys,” TCT reported, adding that “the Gibsons’ attorneys spent 14,417 hours on the case, at an average hourly rate of $290, according to testimony in the case, and Miraldi ordered the college to pay them more than $6.2 million in fees.”
“His calculation also was based on the skills of the attorneys involved, the time and labor involved and the difficulty of the issues in the case, he said, and the appeals court agreed,” TCT reported.
“Plakas said David Gibson, who died in November 2019 after battling cancer, had worried the college would wait him and his father out until they died,” TCT reported, adding that “Grandpa Gibson died Feb. 12.”
“Plakas said he also was concerned but ‘recognized that for the judges to give it the attention it deserved, it would take longer than usual’ for a decision to be made on the appeals,” TCT reported.
“Ultimately the decision of a court generally outlives all of us and I think the Gibsons, as I indicated, are looking at this decision somewhere from a place high above us. In that regard, I’m glad the judges took the time the case deserved,” Plakas told TCT.
The court’s 50-page ruling is available online: https://bit.ly/3Kbtrdu.