Officials: Dismiss Duggar lawsuit
FAYETTEVILLE — Springdale officials have asked a judge to throw out a federal lawsuit over the release of documents arguing they have immunity and claiming the lawsuit fails to state a claim.
Four daughters of the Jim Bob Duggar family sued Northwest Arkansas officials in May, claiming they improperly released police investigation documents to a celebrity magazine, which published the information. The investigation determined Josh Duggar fondled the girls and at least one other girl. The statute of limitations had run and no charges were filed.
The sisters’ lawsuit was filed in federal court in Fayetteville. Claims include invasion of privacy, outrage and violation of the right to due process. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial.
The daughters are Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar.
Defendants include Springdale, Washington County, former Springdale Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley, Springdale
City Attorney Ernest Cate, Maj. Rick Hoyt with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, former Washington County Attorney Steve Zega and Bauer Media Group, which published In Touch Weekly magazine and related social media sites. The lawsuit also lists 10 unidentified “Doe” defendants, believed to be employees of the defendants.
The motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of O’Kelley, Cate and Springdale, collectively referred to as the Springdale defendants. It contends O’Kelley and Cate are entitled to qualified and statutory immunity from being sued.
“In their complaint against the Springdale defendants the plaintiffs use such turns of phrase as “contrary to the bounds of human decency” and “basic notions of civility and personal dignity” and “horrible and blatant re-victimization” in order to advance claims for damages,” according to a brief. “The allegations of fact in the complaint, rather than the hyperbolic turns of phrase, are assumed to be true at this stage, yet a close examination of the alleged facts reveals that individual Springdale defendants acted not outrageously, but well within the protection provided by the doctrine of qualified immunity.”
The motion argues the lawsuit fails to make a constitutional claim against the city and fails to allege intentional conduct on the part of the defendants as required for tort claims. A tort is an act injuring someone and the injured person may sue the wrongdoer for damages.
“Because there are substantial legal doubts as to whether Cate and O’Kelley violated a constitutional right, and even more doubts as to whether their actions violated clearly established law, the claims against them should be dismissed,” the motion says. “Further, such allegations are deficient to establish liability under the tort theories claimed by the plaintiffs and should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Lastly, the individuals are entitled to tort immunity from all claims.”
The Springdale defendants also want all pretrial proceedings in the case put on hold until a judge resolves the statutory
and qualified immunity issues and to allow time for any subsequent appeals.
“The Supreme Court has ‘stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation,’” according to a supporting brief. “One of the purposes of immunity, absolute or qualified, is to spare a defendant not only unwarranted liability, but unwarranted demands customarily imposed upon those defending a long drawn out lawsuit.”
The sisters allege the officials released documents to In Touch under a Freedom of Information Act request in violation of state laws prohibiting releasing such information to protect juveniles and victims of sexual abuse. In Touch published the information — despite a judge’s order to seal the documents — for financial gain and to embarrass the Duggars, according to the lawsuits.
O’Kelley and Cate improperly decided the offense report should be released to the public, the lawsuit claims. They claim O’Kelley and Cate supervised the Police Department’s redaction and release of the offense report in violation of the Arkansas juvenile code, the Arkansas code and the Arkansas and U.S. constitutions.
The Duggars were on the TLC cable channel show “19 Kids and Counting,” which drew 3.6 million viewers as recently as May 2015. Reruns
of the show were pulled after In Touch released a report May 21, 2015, that the family’s oldest child, Josh, had been the subject of a Springdale police investigation that he fondled young girls in his home. TLC later canceled the show.
Duggar, then 14, revealed in March 2002 to his parents he had run his hands over young girls in the family home as they slept, the parents said in an interview aired June 3, 2015, by Fox News. The parents told the girls, disciplined their son and took precautions, but didn’t seek outside assistance, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said.
“Plaintiffs endured harsh and unwarranted public scrutiny,” the sisters’ lawsuit alleges. “Defendants’ actions forced plaintiffs to relive painful memories and experiences that occurred almost ten years prior, resulting in plaintiffs suffering severe mental anguish and distress,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit asks a judge to order In Touch to hand over profit it made by commercially exploiting the situation and order them to stop publishing the identifying information.