FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Just two days before a scheduled settlement conference ordered by the court, Judge Timothy L. Brooks has dismissed the invasion of privacy lawsuit filed by four Duggar sisters.
In a ruling from the Western District of Arkansas Federal Court, the judge ordered the case “dismissed with prejudice.”
In an attached memo, the judge explained that the defendants had filed two motions for summary judgment on October 6, 2021, and both of those motions were granted.
Judge Brooks cited Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, noting that “the court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
He continued by stating the legal standard that must be met in such a case, and said that “the Court finds that Plaintiffs have not presented any direct proof or reasonable interference…and for this reason, the entire claim must be dismissed.”
Although profoundly wrong about the law, Defendants were motivated by a belief that they were legally obligated to release these reports, and to do so quickly. By the time Chief O’Kelley from Springdale and Major Hoyt from Washington County discovered the existence of the FOIA requests, the three-day response deadline had already passed. Chief O’Kelley testified she was ’embarrassed’ that her department had missed the request and deadline, and Major Hoyt testified that his first glimpse at the request revealed ‘we were over our limit of time.’ It is undisputed that Defendants’ actions were motivated by fear of possible legal consequences for a missed deadline. In other words, they worried exclusively about compliance with one part of the FOIA and failed to investigate the other parts (and other relevant state law).Judge Timothy L. Brooks in his dismissal of the Duggar sisters’ lawsuit
He continued, adding that “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.”
He also noted that “despite the fact that Plaintiffs have met their evidentiary burden to survive summary judgment, this claim is, nonetheless, subject to dismissal due to Defendants’ statutory immunity,” adding that “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.”
The February 9 ruling came down just hours after it was announced that the settlement conference set for February 10 had been canceled. No reason for the cancelation was provided at the time, and there was no mention of the conference in the filing dismissing the lawsuit. There was also no explanation of the duration of time between the filings for summary judgment and today’s ruling.
The parties had been ordered to attend a Settlement Conference with Judge Comstock by no later than February 18, 2022. She was set to preside over the February 10 conference.
The original lawsuit was filed on May 18, 2017, alleging a number of legal causes of action against a host of defendants. The legal claims had been narrowed down, as had the pool of defendants.
The claims, made against remaining defendants Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Ernest Cate, Springdale city attorney and former Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley were made under Arkansas law for outrage, invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion and invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts, according to a court filing.
Judge Brooks specifically addressed each of those allegations in the court document.
The plaintiffs, as named in the lawsuit, were Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar.
The first trial date in December, 2021, was postponed because it conflicted with the child pornography trial of the sisters’ brother, Joshua Duggar. He was found guilty on two counts and is facing up to 20 years in prison and $250K in fines for each count.