Appeals court upholds $25 million judgment against Oberlin College

CLEVELAND, AP — An Ohio appeals court has upheld a $25 million judgment for a company that successfully claimed it was defamed by Oberlin College following an incident of shoplifting that rocked the historic liberal arts school and music conservatory campus outside of Cleveland.

The Akron 9th District Court of Appeals on Thursday denied all of Oberlin College’s claims and upheld a judge’s ruling that attorneys for the owners of Gibson’s Bakery and Food Mart should receive $6.3 million. dollars in school legal fees.

The three-judge panel also accepted Lorain County Judge John Miraldi’s ruling denying Oberlin College’s motion for a new trial and rejected the store owners’ claim that damages are not had not punished the school enough.

In a statement, Oberlin College officials said they were disappointed with the decision. They said they were carefully considering the court’s 50-page opinion “as we weigh our options and determine next steps.” Officials acknowledged that the issues raised by the case have been difficult “not only for the parties involved in the lawsuit, but for the entire community of Oberlin.”

Store owners Allyn Gibson and his son, David Gibson, sued Oberlin College in November 2017, claiming they had been defamed by the school and their business had been harmed. The lawsuit was filed a year after David Gibson’s son, also named Allyn, chased and attacked a black student he suspected of stealing a bottle of wine. Two black female students who were with the student attempted to intervene. All three were arrested and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.

The arrests sparked protests outside Gibson’s Bakery where flyers were handed out, some by a vice president and dean of students at Oberlin College, accusing the Gibsons of being racist. A Student Senate resolution condemning the Gibsons was emailed to all students and displayed in a display case at the school’s student center, where it remained for a year. Oberlin College officials ordered its on-campus food supplier to stop buying baked goods from Gibson’s.

A Lorain County jury awarded the Gibsons $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages in June 2019 after a five-week trial. Miraldi, the Lorain County judge, then reduced the jury award to $25 million.

David Gibson died in November 2019 at the age of 65. Allyn Gibson died in February. He was 93 years old.

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