Duggar Sisters' Lawsuit Against Arkansas Police Dismissed
Skip to main content

Judge Dismisses Duggar Sisters’ Lawsuit Against Arkansas Police for Sharing Josh Duggar Molestation Investigation Documents

 

Jill Duggar Dillard and Jessa Duggar Seewald

A 2017 federal lawsuit filed by four of the Duggar sisters against Arkansas law enforcement was dismissed on Wednesday, ending the sisters’ battle over the alleged improper sharing of official reports detailing their molestation by their brother, Josh DuggarJill Duggar Dillard, Jessa Duggar Seewald, Jinger Duggar Vuolo, and Joy Duggar Forsythe sued various city and county officials, claiming that they improperly responded to a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request by providing personal identifying information to InTouch Weekly.

The sisters sued sued Springdale and Washington County officials, including Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Ernest Cate, Springdale city attorney, and former Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley, bringing claims for outrage and invasion of privacy. Those claims were shut down entirely when U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks (a Barack Obama appointee) dismissed the case with prejudice, issuing a detailed 20-page order of his reasoning.

Judge Brooks first recounted the heartbreaking facts that provided context for the plaintiff sisters’ claims:

From approximately March of 2002 until March of 2003, the Plaintiffs were sexually abused by their brother, Joshua. He was 14 years old when the abuse began and 15 years old when it ended. At the time of the abuse, the Plaintffs ranged in age from 5 to 11 years old. Their parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, discovered the abuse but did not report it to the police or any state agency. Instead, they decided to keep it a secret and discipline Joshua privately. Unfortunately, whatever Mr. and Mrs. Duggar tried to do to stop Joshua’s behavior did not work, and by 2003, they turned to their closest friends, Jim and Bobye Holt, for advice and support.

The personal information the Duggars shared with their friends inadvertently ended up in the hands of a fellow church member, then spread among the local community. As a result, the allegations were officially investigated by local police, though no criminal charges were filed in connection with the probe.

The molestation allegations became public in 2015 when the family’s TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting was canceled. At that time, local law enforcement responded to a FOIA request by providing redacted documents pertaining to their investigation to InTouch Weekly. Those documents, which contained personal identifying information, became the basis for the Duggar sisters’ lawsuit.

The claimed that various law enforcement officials violated the law by sharing the documents. The court, however, disagreed. Judge Brooks provided an account of the Arkansas police’s botched response to the FOIA request:

The individual Defendants were seasoned government officials tasked with the responsibility of deciding which governmental records should be publicly released and which should not. Yet all individual Defendants were seemingly ignorant of the privacy rights Arkansas affords to sexual assault victims and to families that are identified as “in need of services.”

Police, reasoned the court, believed they had been doing what the law demanded by responding to the FOIA request promptly, providing redacted documents. In actuality, Arkansas law required withholding of many of these documents to protect the minor children involved.

Whatever the government officials’ mistakes, however, Judge Brooks did not find that law enforcement acted with any ill intent. Rather, he explained, they simply did not understand what they were obligated to do. He began, “If the question is whether Defendants were ignorant of the law or grossly negligent in its application, the answer is: Absolutely.”

“But that is not the question,” Brooks said. “The inquiry focuses on whether Defendants engaged in conduct which they knew (believed) to exceed the boundaries of their authority.” Brooks found that “the proof and all reasonable inferences point to the opposite conclusion.”

Brooks also had some words of frustration for both sets of parties and their inability to accurately present their case to the court:

First, the parties each filed their own, supposedly “undisputed,” statements of fact. Then, they exhaustively responded to one another’s statements of fact. Then, they objected to one another’s statements of fact. Then, they offered clarifications and subtle amendments to one another’s facts, followed by “supplemental” facts in response. They even went so far as to agree with the substance of one another’s facts but disagree as to whether the evidence cited in support of a particular fact was exactly right. All of this was exceedingly tiresome and of little assistance to the Court.

The Duggar sisters’ civil case had been postponed until December 2021 in order to follow Josh Duggar’s child pornography trial. Josh Duggar was found guilty on two counts of knowingly receiving and possessing child pornography. He faces up to 20 years of imprisonment and up to $500,000 in fines.

Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment.

[screengrab via Fox News]

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos