Judge Allows Reality TV Sisters’ Suit Over Molestation Report

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (CN) – A national scandal should have been expected when city and county officials in Arkansas released details of a 2006 investigation into claims that reality TV star Josh Duggar sexually abused four of his sisters, a federal judge ruled, declining to dismiss their invasion of privacy claims.

The former reality stars from the canceled TLC show “19 Kids and Counting” – Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar – sued Washington County, the city of Springdale, Ark., its former police chief Kathy O’Kelley, and two other city officials in a May complaint.

The Duggar sisters claimed they were all under the age of 16 when Springdale police began investigating allegations that they had been sexually assaulted by their brother, Josh Duggar. They say police investigators promised them that their statements would remain confidential and not be disclosed to the public, a claim disputed by Springdale.

The statue of limitations barred criminal charges from being filed against Josh, who became a household name by virtue of being the first of the “19 Kids and Counting” celebrated on the TLC reality show of the same name.

According to the sisters’ lawsuit, O’Kelley and Springdale City Attorney Ernest Cate responded to In Touch Weekly’s May 2015 Freedom of Information Act request by “hastily and improperly” determining that the offense report should be released to the public.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks ruled Friday that the Duggar sisters had a “legitimate expectation” of confidentiality and privacy, in a decision released just days after a hearing last week in Fayetteville.

The judge refused to throw out individual-capacity claims against O’Kelley, Cate, and Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“Any reasonable person in the position to make these disclosures would have understood that these disclosures would be published, would cause a national scandal, would be ‘shocking degradation’ or ‘egregious humiliation’ for the plaintiffs, that the plaintiffs had a ‘legitimate expectation’ of confidentiality in these materials, and that disclosing these materials would therefore violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to privacy,” Brooks wrote in a 27-page ruling states.

Brooks rejected the officials’ argument that they are entitled to qualified immunity and that city officials did not violate the sisters’ due-process rights.

However, the judge tossed out official-capacity claims against Cate and former county attorney Steve Zega, finding that they had no policymaking role and acted only as advisers to the policymakers.

Bauer Media Group and its subsidiaries are also named as defendants in the lawsuit, but Brooks’ Sept. 29 ruling focused only on claims against the city and county because of issues of immunity.

Josh Duggar’s identical lawsuit filed in July against the same defendants is still pending in federal court.

A Springdale spokeswoman said the Duggars’ claims are without merit in a statement after the lawsuits were filed.

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