The Duggar sisters’ lawsuit will face certain hurdles if it makes it to trial, based on jury standards regarding invasion of privacy for their home state. The filing, which appears to have taken place only days before the statute of limitations would have run out, claims that the city of Springdale, Washington County, In Touch magazine’s publishers and owners, and several specific individuals, all invaded the Duggar sisters’ legal right to privacy, costing them their professional reputations.
The claims in the lawsuit, alongside a jury instruction sheet for such claims, give some idea of what the sisters will have to prove in court in order to prevail.
Statute of Limitations
The timing of the lawsuit, shortly before Joy Duggar and Austin Forsyth’s wedding, doesn’t appear to be a coincidence. The lawsuit (PDF hosted here by Arkansas Times) was filed on Thursday, May 18, 2017. On May 21, 2015, three days short of two years earlier, the original report by In Touch was published.
In Arkansas, the statute of limitations on an intentional tort (an intentional act causing harm and liability) is two years, according to legal information site Statute Of Limitation. Thus, the lawsuit appears to have been filed only days before the statute of limitations would have run out.
Types of Privacy
FindLaw lays out the types of case for invasion of privacy. These include
- Intrusion of solitude
- Public disclosure of private facts
- Appropriation of name or likeness
- False light
Of these, the only one not named in the Duggar sisters’ lawsuit is “false light” — a case where true facts are released in a way to imply a false image.
“Intrusion of solitude” is described at the above FindLaw link as including such acts as intercepting phone calls, accessing private records, or peeping in windows. “Appropriation of image” happens when one’s name or image is used in advertising without permission, or when someone impersonates that individual. “Public disclosure of private facts” is exactly what it sounds like: a release of information that may be true but should not have been made public.
Intrusion of Solitude
The Duggar sisters allege that the documents released were private in nature and should not have been made public. They specifically accuse police and the City of Springdale of releasing these documents in a situation where the defendants should have known it was not acceptable to do so. In a statement released in 2015, Mayor Doug Sprouse says Springdale Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley was concerned abut the legality, and therefore, according to 5 News conferred with the Springdale City Attorney, as well as the following.
“…the Arkansas Municipal League, the Arkansas State Police, the Washington County Juvenile Prosecuting Attorney within the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.”
Public Disclosure of Private Facts
The Duggar sisters here allege that private facts, including their identities as assault victims, were released. Though their names were redacted in the police report, the information remaining was enough to lead those familiar with the Duggar family to conjecture. On Twitter, however, Jill Duggar Dillard asserted that the lawsuit was intended to “…send a clear message that releasing the names of juveniles is never ok.”
This has received certain backlash since the victims’ names were redacted. Jill Duggar Dillard and Jessa Duggar Seewald released their own names as victims a short time after the record release and were interviewed on television about Josh Duggar’s actions.
The record of the interviews was not sealed for a few reasons, including that by the time the police learned of the case, Josh Duggar was no longer a minor, though the victims were, and that the case was never pursued further, due to the passing of the statute of limitations.
Appropriation of Identity
The Duggar sisters assert that In Touch inappropriately used their images and other personal information for that publication’s own commercial gain. For this, they are asking compensation in the amount of “the market value” for the use of their images and names for commercial purposes.
According to the Digital Media Law Project, appropriation of identity typically specifically excludes news reporting.
Westlaw has published a set of instructions for juries in cases alleging invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts. It lists seven points that must be proven.
First, that [he][she] sustained damages;
Second, that (defendant) made a public disclosure of a fact about (plaintiff);
Third, that before this disclosure the fact was not known to the public;
Fourth, that a reasonable person would find disclosure of the fact highly offensive;
Fifth, that (defendant) knew or should have known that the disclosed fact was private;
Sixth, that the fact was not of legitimate public concern; and
Seventh, that the public disclosure of the fact was a proximate cause of (plaintiff)’s damages
— Josh Duggar (@joshduggar) May 20, 2015
Meeting these requirements
Some of these will be easier for the Duggar sisters to prove in their lawsuit than others. The publication of Josh Duggar’s police report certainly disseminated information to the public, though it was information that had been rumored and speculated upon before. The Duggar sisters assert in their lawsuit that the release of the record caused them emotional and professional harm. The lawsuit requests a jury to determine that fact.
Not known to the public
According to the Hollywood Gossip, Sherri Townsend, who was familiar with the Duggar family not only by their reality stardom but as a resident of the same town, takes credit for contacting In Touch. She says the matter is common knowledge in the area since Josh Duggar was made to confess to his family’s church after the first round of incidents, and Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar consulted with church elders for a course of action.
The Duggar sisters’ lawsuit will depend on a jury determining whether this qualifies as making a previously private piece of information public.
Legitimate Public Concern
The Duggar sisters assert that the information should have remained private. Tipster Sherri Townsend, in the Hollywood Gossip link above, expressed an opinion that the information needed to be made public, because the Duggar family has taken positions against LGBT+ rights, suggesting that those individuals are dangerous to children. A jury will have to determine whether there is legitimate public concern that would justify the release.
Proof of Intent
The most difficult legal hurdle for the Duggar sisters may be proving that the City and County officials knew the records should not have been made public — since, as mentioned above, police contacted multiple legal resources to be certain of their position before the release.
The Duggar sisters’ lawsuit names certain pieces of evidence: for example, that a user on an online forum correctly guessed the identity of the victims, based on interview details and length of redacted names. They also cite Judge Stacey Zimmerman’s decision to destroy the records, in which she expressed that the Arkansas Juvenile Code could be interpreted to forbid the release.
The Duggar sisters’ lawsuit also states that they have additional evidence that will be used in court to demonstrate their damages.
[Featured Image by Duggar family/Instagram]