An Ohio appeals court has upheld a $25 million judgment for a business that successfully claimed it was libeled by Oberlin College in the aftermath of a shoplifting incident that roiled the historic liberal arts school and music conservatory’s campus outside Cleveland.
The 9th District Court of Appeals in Akron on Thursday rejected 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 in legal fees from the school.
The three judge panel also agreed with Lorain County Judge John Miraldi’s decision rejecting Oberlin College’s motion for a new trial and denied the store owners’ claim that the damage awards did not sufficiently punish the school.
In a statement, Oberlin College officials said they were disappointed by the ruling. They said they were reviewing the court’s 50-page opinion “carefully as we evaluate our options and determine next steps.” Officials acknowledged that issues raised by the case have been challenging “not only for the parties involved in the lawsuit, but for the entire Oberlin community.”
Store owners Allyn Gibson and his son, David Gibson, sued Oberlin College in November 2017 claiming they had been libeled 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 tackled a Black male student he suspected of having stolen a bottle of wine. Two Black female students who were with the male student tried to intervene. All three were arrested and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.