A Federal Appeals Court just ruled that the Duggar sisters may proceed with their lawsuit against Springdale, Arkansas, and Washington County officials.
The four sisters— Jill Dillard, Jinger Vuolo, Jessa Seewald and Joy-Anna Forsyth— first sued the city, county and police officials back in 2017, for allowing information in legal documents that detailed the sexual abuse they endured as children at the hands of their brother, Josh Duggar, to be released publicly. The publishers of In Touch Weekly, which released the bombshell report in 2015, was also named in the Duggar girls’ lawsuit, but that part of the lawsuit was dismissed in October 2017.
Although the girls’ names and some info was redacted in the documents before they were released to the magazine in 2015, the girls argued that identifying info and other confidential information was left in-tact and blasted to the world, making it easy for the public to figure out who Josh’s victims were.
Earlier this week, the appeals court ruled that the info left intact on the released documents– such as the victims’ ages and addresses— was info the girls had a “legitimate expectation would remain private.”
The three officials– former Springdale Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley, Springdale City Attorney Ernest Cate and Major Rick Hoyt (of the Washington County Sherriff’s Office)– attempted to have themselves dismissed from the case in October 2017, but a U.S. District Judge denied their request. The three officials argued that they qualified for immunity from being sued— appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied their appeal on Friday.
“The law provided fair notice to the appellants that releasing details of minors’ sexual abuse to a tabloid in a format predictably enabling the victims’ identification was not only inadvisable, but also unlawful. We conclude that it did,” the court’s opinion stated, according to Arkansas Online. “Inexact boundaries are boundaries nonetheless. The particular facts alleged here are not near the periphery of the right to privacy but at its center.”
The appeals court wrote that immunity only protects officials who respond “incorrectly in confusing situations.” The appeals court ruled that this is not what happened in the Duggar sisters’ case.
“[Immunity does not] protect unreasonable mistakes or plain incompetence,” the court wrote.
“The information released by the officials involved ‘highly personal matters representing the most intimate aspect of human affair’ and the[Duggar sisters] had a legitimate expectation of privacy in that information,” according to the opinion. “Not only did police promise the [Duggar sisters] that the information would remain private, but Arkansas law also supported this expectation of privacy. In sum, the information was inherently private and is therefore entitled to constitutional protection.”
In a statement released Friday following the appeal court’s ruling, Springdale officials reminded the public that this is just the beginning stages of the case.
“Today’s opinion concerns whether the allegations of the plaintiffs’ complaint can sustain a cause of action and whether the individual defendants at this early stage of the litigation are entitled to qualified immunity,” the release said. “This is not a decision on the merits of the case.”
The Duggar sisters’ lawsuit will now continue in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Arkansas Online reports.
After the magazine released the documents in 2015, Jill and Jessa appeared on a special and tearfully stated that they were shocked and horrified when they found out the documents were circulating the Internet. (Josh’s fifth victim, a babysitter who is not related to him, has yet to come forward. In the Summer of 2016, it was reported that she was ready to go public, but that never happened.)
Although the Duggar girls’ lawsuit can proceed in court, their brother Josh’s lawsuit was shut down for the last time in April. An Arkansas judge ruled that the former 19 Kids & Counting star is no longer allowed to sue Washington County or the City of Springdale for invasion of privacy, after the disgraced Duggar son tried— and failed—to file multiple lawsuits against the officials.
(Photos: TLC, Instagram)