FAYETTEVILLE -- A federal judge dismissed virtually all of Josh Duggar's claims against Springdale and Washington County officials who released decade-old, redacted police investigative reports about Duggar molesting four of his sisters to a celebrity magazine that published the information.
U.S. District Judge Tim Brooks also dismissed Bauer Publishing and its attorneys from both Duggar's case and a case filed by four of his sisters, saying Bauer had a First Amendment right to publish information given to it under a Freedom of Information Act request. Bauer owns In Touch Weekly magazine and related websites.
Brooks said neither Duggar nor his sisters made allegations in their lawsuits that Bauer ever published untruthful information about them. He said the police documents were given to Bauer pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request.
"Even if one assumes that the disclosure failed to comply with Arkansas statutory redaction requirements, it is clear that the Bauer defendants cannot be held liable," Brooks wrote.
Brooks noted there is no liability on Bauer's part for merely giving further publicity to information about a person which is already public.
That leaves only former Springdale Police Chief Kathy O'Kelley, Springdale City Attorney Ernest Cate and Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County sheriff's office in their individual capacities remaining in the sisters' lawsuit.
O'Kelley, Cate and Hoyt are accused of improperly releasing the information to Bauer. Brooks last week denied their motions to be dismissed based on immunity from the sisters' lawsuit. All three have appealed Brooks' ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the case is on hold until those appeals are resolved.
Brooks said that while the claims were almost identical in Duggar's case and the sisters' case against the three individuals, the circumstances were very different.
The judge said Josh Duggar was named in an article by In Touch Weekly magazine prior to the police documents being released, but the sisters were not identified.
"This fact alone is fatal to nearly all of Joshua Duggar's claims against Springdale and Washington County defendants," the judge wrote.
The only defendant left in Josh Duggar's lawsuit is the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which has never been served with the lawsuit.
The four sisters are Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar.
They sued Springdale and Washington County officials and Bauer in May. They claimed the officials improperly released the police documents to the celebrity magazine. The magazine published the information, which the sisters claim allowed them to be identified, the suit says.
Police investigated allegations of sexual abuse against Josh Duggar in 2006, related to incidents in 2002 and 2003, but no charges were filed. The investigation determined that Duggar fondled the sisters and at least one other girl. The statute of limitations had run out, and no charges were filed.
However, a Family in Need of Services petition was filed in Washington County Juvenile Court.
The lawsuits contend that police assured the family that information from the investigation and their interviews would be available only to law enforcement, juvenile court and child services personnel.
The sisters' lawsuit claims their due process rights under the Arkansas Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated by disclosing the reports and details of the investigation to the celebrity magazine.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Brooks refused last month to dismiss the due process claims against O'Kelley, Cate, and Hoyt in their individual capacities, saying the sisters had a reasonable expectation the information wouldn't be released to the public.
Brooks noted that, at the time the information was released, there was a state statute exempting any information created, collected or compiled by or on behalf of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Arkansas State Police or other entities authorized to perform investigations or provide services to children and families from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Brooks dismissed Springdale and Washington County from the sisters' lawsuit as well as former County Attorney Steve Zega and Cate, in their official capacities.
Josh Duggar filed his federal lawsuit in July. The lawsuit claimed his right to due process was violated and his privacy was invaded. It sought $75,000 in damages, lawyer's fees and a jury trial.
Josh Duggar's lawsuit came after an initial attempt to be part of the sisters' lawsuit. He filed a motion to intervene, then withdrew the request, without explanation, in June.
State Desk on 10/14/2017