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Gibson Bros., Inc. v. Oberlin College

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  1. Court Access

Case Number: 17CV193761

Court: Court of Common Pleas, Lorain County, Ohio

Clients: WEWS-TV, Advance Ohio, and the Ohio Coalition for Open Government

Motion to Unseal Filed: Oct. 31, 2019

Background: In a case that attracted significant local and national media attention, an Ohio bakery filed a defamation lawsuit against Oberlin College in 2017, alleging that the school aided and encouraged students in publishing allegedly libelous statements accusing the family business of racial profiling.

The parties entered into a protective order in 2018 permitting a party to keep certain documents confidential. Among the discovery documents designated as confidential by the plaintiffs was a forensic image of the Facebook account of the bakery owner’s son. A portion of the Facebook account — which the school argues contains information regarding the son’s views about Gibson Bakery’s alleged racial profiling — was filed under seal as an exhibit to a summary judgment motion.

After a jury found in favor of the bakery in 2019, Oberlin College appealed the verdict. The school moved the court for an order unsealing the exhibit, but the court denied the request, in part, because of the protective order.

WEWS-TV, Advance Ohio and the Ohio Coalition for Open Government then filed a motion to unseal the exhibit, arguing that members of the media and the public have a presumptive right of access to judicial records and documents under the First Amendment, the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Superintendence Rule 45.

Quote: “Based on documents filed with the Court, Exhibit G is believed to contain information directly related to the allegations of racial profiling that spurred the student protest that is at the heart of this Lawsuit and, about which, the public has a right to know.”

Co-counsel: Michael K. Farrell and Melissa D. Bertke of Baker and Hostetler LLP

Update: On April 29, 2020, the court issued an order denying the motion to unseal, stating that individual privacy interests warranted continued sealing of the exhibit. WEWS-TV appealed the order to the Ninth Appellate District of the Ohio Court of Appeals. In June 2021, however, the appeals court dismissed the appeal.


2019-10-31: Motion for access to sealed case document and memorandum of law in support thereof

2019-12-09: Reply to plaintiffs’ opposition to their motion for access to sealed case document

2020-3-11: Media movants’ supplemental briefing on jurisdiction

2020-4-29: Entry and ruling on media movants’ motion to unseal

2020-07-07: WEWS-TV response to magistrate’s order

2020-08-10: WEWS-TV response to magistrate’s 7-20-20 order

2020-09-01: WEWS-TV response to magistrate’s 8-18-20 order

2020-09-15: WEWS-TV opening brief

2020-11-05: WEWS-TV reply brief