The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled en banc today that claims by four Duggar daughters against three public officials who released police reports about their brother should be dismissed.
A three-judge panel had upheld a lower court ruling saying that the lawsuit could continue against 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.
Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar sued over release of redacted police documents to a magazine, In Touch Weekly. They said this release allowed information about them to be published, though the documents as released didn’t name them. The article said their brother Josh Duggar had been accused of molesting sisters and another girl. No charges were filed.
The defendants claimed qualified immunity for acting in their official capacity. The 8th Circuit today agreed they should be dismissed. The opinion said the plaintiffs had not clearly established a right to “informational privacy.” Judge Timothy Brooks had already dismissed the city and county and publisher of the article as defendants,
There were several opinions concurring or dissenting in various parts from the majority opinion. Judge Jane Kelly dissented on dismissal. She said the women had given information to authorities in 2006 that they expected to be confidential and it was disclosed without their consent eight years later.
The court majority wrote:
To defeat a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity, Plaintiffs must “plead facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the challenged conduct.”
The court concluded that the question of a right to “informational privacy” was murky enough that defendants were entitled to immunity.
The case goes back to district court for an order in line with the ruling. The opinion mentioned the potential for some other claims to be considered further at the district court level.