SPRINGDALE, Ark. (AP) — A lawsuit filed by four reality show sisters can proceed against an Arkansas city that released confidential information about their alleged sexual abuse by a brother, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Jill Duggar Dillard, Jessa Duggar Seewald, Jinger Duggar Vuolo and Joy Duggar had an expectation of privacy when officials from the city of Springdale and Washington County investigated allegations that their brother Josh sexually abused them between 2002 and 2003, when they were minors.
The sisters sued the officials after the city and county released identifying information about them to InTouch Weekly, a celebrity magazine, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The court wrote that although the sisters’ names were redacted in the officials’ report, it contained “other identifying information” such as ages and addresses that the sisters had a legitimate expectation would remain private.
Citing the standard by which the privacy of released information is judged, the court wrote, “The content and circumstances of these disclosures do not just meet the standard of ‘shockingly degrading or egregiously humiliating,’ they illustrate them.”
Officials were appealing after a lower court refused to dismiss them from the lawsuit. They argued that they qualified for immunity from being sued.
The appeals court disagreed, writing that immunity protects officials who respond incorrectly in confusing situations. It does not, however, “protect unreasonable mistakes or plain incompetence,” the court wrote.
The sisters are suing the officials under the state’s Civil Rights Act, alleging violations of their right to privacy.
Neither lawyers for the sisters nor the officials responded to requests for comment.
The Duggar family was on the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting.” It was pulled from the network after allegations surfaced that Josh had abused the four sisters and a babysitter. In 2015, the family posted a statement on their website and on social media in which Josh admitted to hurting “family and close friends,” though he didn’t specify how he hurt them.
He also said he sought forgiveness and received counseling.