Four sisters of Josh Duggar have filed a federal invasion of privacy suit against In Touch Weekly, which revealed two years ago that their brother had been investigated for sexual molestation. The original story led to the cancellation of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting.”
The sisters are not contesting the accuracy of the In Touch report — indeed, they themselves subsequently confirmed that they were the victims in the case. Instead, they seem to be following the playbook of Hulk Hogan, who brought down Gawker with an invasion-of-privacy claim.
The sisters — Jill Dillard, Joy Duggar, Jessa Seewald, and Jinger Vuolo — also sued the city of Springdale, Arkansas, and Washington County, Arkansas, which released investigative records to In Touch pursuant to a public records request. The suit alleges that the localities violated state and federal privacy laws in releasing the documents.
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“Plaintiffs had no knowledge that the highly personal and painful details revealed in their confidential interviews would be disclosed to anyone except law enforcement and child services personnel,” the suit states. “Indeed, they were instructed that their statements would remain confidential and not be released to the public.”
According to the suit, local officials provided the sensitive police records just five days after receiving a records request from In Touch’s lawyer. The suit alleges that officials in the small town failed to properly consult with various branches of government before releasing the documents. If they had done so, the plaintiffs allege they would have discovered that juvenile records were not subject to disclosure.
The suit cites speculation within the Springdale Police Department that a department source had leaked information about the case to the media, given that outlets seemed to know exactly which records to ask for. The records did not name the victims, but the suit alleges that online commentators were quickly able to puzzle out the girls’ identities.
“Plaintiffs were subjected to spiteful and harsh comments and harassment on the Internet and in their daily lives,” the suit states. “Some chastised their personal decision to forgive their brother while others used the opportunity to provide unwarranted commentary on all aspects of Plaintiffs’ lives. Others simply reveled in the ad hoc disclosure of the lurid details of Plaintiffs’ suffering.”
Unlike in the Hogan case, the material published by In Touch came from a government proceeding. News organizations are generally given wide leeway in the reporting of governmental conduct.
In Touch has not responded. A spokesman for the city of Springdale told TMZ, which first reported the suit, that the claims are “without merit and false.”