The civil lawsuit filed by four Duggar sisters over the release of documents with information about Josh Duggar molesting them as children has been dismissed.
U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued the ruling on Wednesday, ending the lawsuit filed by Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo, and Joy Duggar in 2017. Josh Duggar was also part of the initial lawsuit, but the convicted child pornographer later removed himself from his sisters’ suit and filed his own. Josh’s case was thrown out in October of 2017.
The number of defendants and number of claims in the Duggar sisters’ lawsuit were whittled down over time, leaving three claims against Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Springdale city attorney Ernest Cate, and former Springdale Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley. The claims were for invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion, invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts, and outrage.
The judge agreed that the details released to InTouch included information that the Defendants were not required to share under the Freedom of Information Act. However, the judge argued that the Duggar sisters did not present evidence showing that those who released the information were aware that they “lacked the legal authority to disclose these records.” The Plaintiffs also failed to prove that the Defendants intentionally released the information to cause emotional distress.
In addition, the judge ruled that the Defendants in the case were immune from prosecution due to lack of intent.
I have compiled some excerpts from the judge’s ruling in regards to each of the claims.
Duggar Sisters Lawsuit Dismissal Highlights
Invasion of Privacy (Intrusion upon Seclusion)
To prove intrusion upon seclusion, Plaintiffs must present not only evidence of intentional intrusion but also evidence of the tortfeasor’s culpable mens rea. There must be evidence that one or more Defendants had some awareness — whether a mere belief or a substantial certainty — that they lacked the legal authority to disclose these records. Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden. Because there is no evidence on which a jury could rely to show that Defendants believed that disclosing the reports would be illegal, this claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
FULL STATEMENT City of Springdale reacts to the Duggar sisters' lawsuit over Josh Duggar molestation story info: https://t.co/qm1U0upn2k
— Starcasm (@starcasm) May 21, 2017
Invasion of Privacy (Public Disclosure of Private Fact)
It is clear that Plaintiffs have no evidence to demonstrate Defendants’ knowledge that the facts at issue were (legally) private. Plaintiffs have not come forward with evidence to satisfy Arkansas’s definition of an intentional tort…Defendants are immune from civil liability for unintentional torts under § 21-9-301, and for that reason, this claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
We likely wouldn't know about the #JoshDuggar molestation scandal if it weren't for a family friend's unsent letter to her favorite author. Get a full recap of the amazing story of how the scandal became public! #CountingOn #19KidsAndCounting #TheDuggars https://t.co/8tyuomQ86Z pic.twitter.com/nJlscw9LQZ
— Starcasm (@starcasm) February 11, 2022
To establish a prima facie case of outrage, Plaintiffs must meet the following four elements:
(1) the actor intended to inflict emotional distress or knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct;
(2) the conduct was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency, and was utterly intolerable in a civilized community;
(3) the actions of the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff’s distress;
(4) the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.
1. Plaintiffs Have Not Created Triable Questions of Fact
The first element requires evidence that Defendants “intended to inflict emotional distress or knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of [their] conduct.” Id. As discussed above, there is no evidence that Defendants intended to inflict emotional distress. Rather, the evidence shows that Defendants were attempting to conceal (not reveal) Plaintiffs’ identities by redacting their names from the police reports. 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—regardless of how his resulting professional negligence might affect others.
Plaintiffs have also failed to present proof that Defendants’ conduct was “extreme and outrageous.” The second element here is not focused on whether the salacious nature of Plaintiffs’ personally private information in the hands of a tabloid publisher is extreme and outrageous. Instead, the question is whether the Defendants’ conduct along the way was extreme and outrageous. The Defendants’ mistaken release of exempt information –– while attempting to comply with the FOIA laws they were legally tasked to administer –– was profoundly negligent, but negligent conduct is not the sort of conduct that Arkansas law views as “beyond all possible bounds of decency, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” … (Arkansas does not recognize a cause of action for mere negligent infliction of emotional distress, even where the perpetrator is incompetent).
Likewise, Plaintiffs failed to satisfy the fourth element of the tort, which requires proof of unendurable emotional distress. To be sure, Plaintiffs’ deposition testimony (Docs. 141-3–141-6) confirms they all suffered emotional distress as a result of these events, but not to the severe degree necessary to satisfy the tort. See Coombs v. J.B. Hunt Transport, 388 S.W.3d 456, 463 (Ark. Ct. App. 2012) (finding that “discomfort, upset, embarrassment, anxiety, loss of sleep, and depression do not meet the ‘mental distress’ element of the tort of outrage”).
2. Statutory Immunity
Second, assuming there is sufficient evidence on the first element to establish that Defendants “should have known” that emotional distress was the likely result of releasing these police reports, and further assuming there are disputed material facts as to the second and fourth elements, the Defendants are nevertheless entitled to summary judgment because they are immune from liability. The Court refers the reader to and incorporates by reference its earlier discussion of statutory immunity. See supra, Section III.B. This type of negligent conduct fails to satisfy the definition of an intentional tort under Arkansas law, and Defendants are entitled to statutory immunity for their unintentional conduct.
— Starcasm (@starcasm) April 30, 2018
Derick and Jill Dillard respond
Earlier today, Jill and Derick Dillard shared their response to the dismissal of the lawsuit on their blog. “It is unfortunate that bad actors, under the guise of public service, are given a license to intentionally inflict pain without regard for innocent victims,” the post reads. “Immunity exists to protect public servants in the event of human error. It is not to be used as an excuse to cause intentional harm.”
If you read the beginning of this post then you know that the judge determined there was no evidence that the civil servants in question acted intentionally to cause harm.
More from the blog post:
Kathy O’Kelley abused her authority by illegally releasing police reports. This blatant disregard for the law only underscores the need for tougher accountability of our government officials in many regions of the country. The level of immunity allowed in many jurisdictions is unsettling, and it is scary what evil is allowed to go unchecked simply because of a position someone holds and the statutory immunity they can claim.
Public service should not be a haven for individuals seeking to fulfill their own personal vendetta. Civil servants should not be allowed to weaponize their authority by disregarding the rule of law only before claiming immunity. It is imperative that everyone in public service be vetted for their integrity and commitment to the people they serve.
The Dillards were not completely disappointed with the judge’s ruling, however.
We appreciate the hard work the Court has put into our case and feel vindicated by the fact that the Judge recognized that the law was clear that the records never should have been released. As the Court so poignantly put it, “[i]f the question is whether Defendants were ignorant of the law or grossly negligent in its application, the answer is: Absolutely.”
The post later reveals that it was the Duggar sisters’ civil lawsuit that motivated Derick to pursue a law degree. It concludes with some inspirational words in regards to what Derick plans to do with his law degree:
We will continue to fight for victims’ rights. In the pursuit of justice, the impact on victims, especially child sex victims, should not be an afterthought, and they should not be relegated to collateral damage. Victims need to be supported and protected, not hung out to dry simply because the end justifies the means. They have been blamed, shamed, and bullied into silence for too long, so why are we surprised that perpetrators continue to be emboldened while victims are punished for their voice. This needs to change, and only then can victims become survivors.