TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A circuit court judge has denied Christopher and Roberta Laundrie’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Gabby Petito’s parents which alleges that they knew Brian Laundrie had killed their daughter.
Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter W. Carroll ruled the Petito family, at this stage, had a valid claim against the Laundries and allowed the lawsuit to advance.
Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito were traveling together on a cross-country van trip in July 2021. Authorities said Petito died three to four weeks before her body was found in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. After an exhaustive search, Laundrie’s remains were found in the Carlton Reserve in North Port.
Before Petito’s body was found, the Laundries released a statement through their attorney, saying it was their “hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.”
Petito’s parents claim the Laundries put out a false statement, and at the time knew Petito was dead and where her body was located.
Pat Reilly, the attorney for Joe Petito and Nichole Schmidt, says the ruling doesn’t guarantee a trial next year, but it significantly increases the likelihood of the lawsuit reaching the trial phase.
“I’d say it’s more than 50%,” Reilly told NewsNation affiliate WFLA.
In their motion to dismiss the suit, the Laundries claimed they had “fundamental constitutional rights to silence.”
But it was not “necessary or appropriate in this case to resolve these constitutional claims on a motion to dismiss,” the court ruled.
The court order stated, “The contours of the facts are not sufficiently distilled to apply those important guarantees. Those claims are more appropriately addressed, if at all, at the summary judgment stage.”
In a statement, Petito and Schmidt said “they are appreciative of the thorough and well-reasoned decision.”
The parents said in the statement they look forward to going to trial and “in particular getting a copy of any correspondence, emails and texts exchanged during the difficult period when Gabby’s whereabouts were unknown.”
The Laundries issued a statement through their lawyer, Steven Bertolino, saying they are disappointed with the judge’s decision.
The statement read, in part, “Judge Carroll points out that the September 14, 2021 statement, standing alone, does not suggest outrage, but within the context of the other allegations in the case, the plaintiffs have met the threshold to go forward to the next phase.”
According to the statement, the Laundries “will continue to use all available legal means to preserve their rights.”
The court documents stated, “If the facts of this case truly were about silence with no affirmative act by the Laundries, the Court would have resolved this case in the Laundries’ favor on the concept of legal duty, or more precisely, the lack of any legal duty for the Laundries to act. Had the Laundries truly stayed silent, the Court would have granted the motion to dismiss in the Laundries’ favor.”
“As alleged by the Plaintiffs, the Laundries made their statement knowing that Gabby was dead, knowing the location of her body, and knowing that her parents were frantically looking for her. If this is true, then the Laundries’ statement was particularly callous and cruel, and it is sufficiently outrageous to state claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress,” the court order said.
The Laundries made additional arguments in their motion to dismiss the suit and argued that denying the motion would result in an “avalanche of litigation” for people in similar situations. The court order said the argument missed the mark.
“There will be no avalanche of litigation based on denying the Laundries’ motion to dismiss,” the court order said. “None [of the additional arguments] are sufficient to preclude the Court at the motion to dismiss stage from concluding that the Amended Complaint states causes of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.”