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Law Prof's 'Grabbing' Case Dismissed

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 23, 2017 7:00 AM

FACTS: A law professor grabs a colleague by the shoulder to talk to him about a dispute with the law librarian.

LAW: A battery occurs when a person acts to cause a harmful or offensive contact, which would offend the ordinary person.

ISSUE: Is this a law exam question or a real case?

U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary probably wishes it were a fictitious case. In Gerber v. Veltri, the Ohio judge said the case was "seemingly ripped from the pages of a first-year torts exam, with the added twist that the parties are, in real life, law school professors."

"We Need to Talk"

The case stemmed from an incident at Ohio Northern University in 2012, when professor Stephen Veltri heard about a dispute between professor Scott Gerber and the law librarian. Veltri saw Gerber in the hallway and stopped him to talk about it.

"Veltri placed his left hand -- his non-dominant hand -- on Gerber's right shoulder and suggested "Scott, we need to talk," the judge said.

At the five-day bench trial, Gerber said his colleague grabbed him in a "strong and tight fashion." He demanded: "Take your hands off me!"

The confrontation soon diffused, but Veltri said Gerber seemed "strangely offended."

Ordinary Person

A year after the incident, Gerber filed a lawsuit for assault, battery, and other claims. He said Veltri had injured his shoulder and caused him mental anguish.

A psychiatrist said that Gerber had been diagnosed with "long-standing" symptoms of adjustment disorder, anxiety, and depression. She said that a person suffering from these conditions "would have more difficulties" coping with situations a reasonable person would be able to handle in everyday life.

The judge said Veltri did not know that grabbing Gerber's shoulder would harm him, and that an ordinary person would not have been offended. It was a simple tort case -- even for law professors.

"This class, and this case, is dimissed," he said.

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