Judge dismisses Duggar sisters' 'invasion of privacy' lawsuit against police, county officials

Duggar women pose with the family Matriarch, photo share Jun 10, 2019
Duggar women pose with the family Matriarch, photo share Jun 10, 2019 | Instagram/Duggarfam

A judge dismissed the 2017 lawsuit filed by Duggar sisters — Jill, Jessa, Jinger and Joy-Anna — stating that the reality TV stars failed to prove that police acted with bad intentions by leaking a report that allowed the sisters to be identified by media as having been molested by their older brother Josh Duggar. 

Arkansas U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks made his ruling on Wednesday, saying the Duggar sisters “have not presented any direct proof or reasonable inference” to prove their claims that authorities intended "to inflict emotional distress."

The case was dismissed with prejudice just a day before the sisters’ Feb. 10 settlement conference was canceled, according to local newsoutlets.

Brooks concluded that the Springdale Police Department didn’t intentionally look to cause the Duggar sisters emotional distress by sharing the report after the information was requested by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by In Touch Magazine.

Instead, they even attempted to conceal the girl’s identities by redacting their names from the police report before being released to the media.

In 2017, Jill, Jessa, Jinger and Joy Duggar filed a lawsuit against officials with the Springdale Police Department and Washington County for releasing private documents in 2015 concerning claims they made as minors against their brother, who had been investigated for child molestation accusations.

In December, Josh Duggar was found guilty by a federal jury in Arkansas of receiving and possessing child pornography and could face up to 20 years in prison. He allegedly had over 200 images of child porn on his electronic devices of children “ranging from about 18 months of age to 12 years of age.” 

In their separate lawsuit against authorities, the sisters argued that when they spoke to investigators in 2006 about the molestations, they were assured their statements were legally protected and would only be shared with police and child protective services officials because they were minors.

As a result of the document leak, the Duggars’ lawsuit argued that In Touch was able to produce eight articles that revealed personal information about the sisters despite a state law barring the disclosure of information related to sexual misconduct involving children. 

The four sisters sued the police department and several other defendants for leaking their private documents. The sister’s lawsuit was first filed on May 18, 2017, claiming that actions were “hastily and improperly” taken.

The claims were made against the defendants, who were narrowed down and listed in the lawsuit as Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Springdale City Attorney Ernest Cate and former Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley.

A court filing shows that the defendants were accused under Arkansas law of outrage, invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion and invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts.

Judge Brooks found that the defendants were “motivated by a belief that they were legally obligated to release these reports, and to do so quickly.”

“By the time Chief O’Kelley from Springdale and Major Hoyt from Washington County discovered the existence of the FOIA requests, the three-day response deadline had already passed,” Brooks stated in the dismissal, according to KNWA

“Chief O’Kelley testified she was’ embarrassed’ that her department had missed the request and deadline, and Major Hoyt testified that his first glimpse at the request revealed ‘we were over our limit of time.’ It is undisputed that Defendants’ actions were motivated by fear of possible legal consequences for a missed deadline. In other words, they worried exclusively about compliance with one part of the FOIA and failed to investigate the other parts (and other relevant state law).”

The judge reasoned that “there is no evidence on which a jury could rely to show that Defendants believed that disclosing the reports would be illegal.” Even though the judge admits that the Duggar sisters “met their evidentiary burden to survive summary judgment,” the claim was dismissed because the “Court is skeptical that a state actor could intend to inflict emotional distress and at the same time believe he was complying with the law.”

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