Petito’s Parents File Lawsuit Against Laundrie’s Parents Over the Murder of their Daughter

North Port (FL) Police Department

A novel lawsuit in Florida has been filed by the parents of Gabby Petito against the parents of Brian Laundrie, Chris and Roberta Laundrie. The lawsuit accuses the parents of hiding their knowledge that Brian Laundrie killed their daughter. I am very skeptical over the basis of this lawsuit, which rests on the assumption that, if the parents knew, they had a legal obligation to disclose that knowledge to Gabby Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt.

The complaint argues that

“Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie exhibited extreme and outrageous conduct which constitutes behavior, under the circumstances, which goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the lawsuit alleges. “As a direct and proximate result of the willfulness and maliciousness of Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt had been caused to suffer pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life experienced in the past and to be experienced in the future.”

Notably, the complaint also alleges that

“In an effort to avoid any contact with Nichole Schmidt, on or about September 10, 2021, Roberta Laundrie blocked Nichole Schmidt on her cellular phone such that neither phone. calls nor texts could be delivered, and she blocked her on Facebook.”

Brian Laundrie reportedly returned to his parents’ home in Florida on Sept. 1 and the Petitos allege that they immediately cut off contact with them. They further allege that they struggled to find the truth about their daughter between August 27, 2021 and September 19, 2021, but received no help from the Petitos. Instead, the complaint states, “[w]hile Gabrielle Petito’s family was suffering, the Laundrie family went on vacation to Fort DeSoto Park on September 6-7, 2021.”

All of that may make a moral case against the Laundrie family, if true, but I do not believe that it makes out a legal case. The question is the duty of the Petitos to share what they knew, even though it would undermine the legal position of their son and (after his death) the family as a whole. The complaint does not clearly establish the legal duty that was breached in failing to come forward.

They insist that the Petitos have a legal obligation to “alleviate” the “mental suffering and anguish by disclosing what they knew” but “repeatedly refused to do so.” In failing to do so, the complaint  alleges that they “acted with malice or great indifference to the rights” of Gabby’s parents. 

This is different from a situation where the parents knew information that would have prevented a death. Such a case was raised in the famous case of Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California, which I teach in my torts class. In the 1974 case, Prosinjit Podder, an Indian Graduate student at Berkeley, fell in love with Tatiana Tarasoff. When she stated that she wanted to date other men, Podder went to counseling at the University Health Service and was treated by psychologist, Dr. Lawrence Moore. When he told Moore that he wanted to get a gun and kill Tarasoff, Moore sent a letter to campus police who interviewed Podder and decided that he was not a risk. Podder then went ahead and murdered Tarasoff.

Justice Mathew O. Tobriner held that “… the confidential character of patient-psychotherapist communications must yield to the extent that disclosure is essential to avert danger to others. The protective privilege ends where the public peril begins.” As a result, the hospital was held liable for the criminal actions of a third party — something that usually (but not always) cuts off proximate causation. It also rejects strong arguments made by doctors that such liability would create a chilling affect on counseling. A large number of patients often express their anger by focusing it on individuals and stating an intent to “kill that guy.” In the vast majority of such cases, the open disclosure is addressed and defused. However, if the patient knows that the doctor will have to tell authorities, such feelings are less likely to be expressed and addressed.

We have discussed decisions applying Tarasoff, including the rejection of its theory in other cases.

In this case, the parents were not in the position of a psychotherapist. They were the family of the accused. Under this theory, the parents of a suspect would have a legal obligation to incriminate their son or daughter to avoid civil liability from a victim’s family. I know of no case establishing such a duty. Indeed, it would undermine or circumvent the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment if they could refuse to speak to the police but could be civilly liable for that failure of disclosure to parents or police.

I understand the frustration and anger of the Petito family. Indeed, this lawsuit may be an effort to force the Laundrie family into discovery and depositions to force out what they knew about the murder. However, they first must prevail in an inevitable motion to dismiss. That motion could be an insurmountable barrier given the threshold legal questions over the alleged legal duty.

Here is the complaint:

 

58 thoughts on “Petito’s Parents File Lawsuit Against Laundrie’s Parents Over the Murder of their Daughter”

  1. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

    – Declaration of Independence, 1776

  2. Men and women, if you are in an abusive relationship, get out now. Life’s too short. You deserve happiness. Both women and men can be abusive and manipulative.

    Let the tragedy of Gabby Petito be a cautionary tale. So often, battered women refuse to press charges, protect their abuser, and make excuses. In extreme cases, it leads to their deaths, or that of their children. Leave.

  3. Great! Kamala says voters got what they asked for when they elected Biden.

    Finally! Kamala and I agree on something.

    You got what you asked for dummies.

    Bend over

    Three more years of it on the way.

    1. Wait! Did you say Kamala?
      ______________________

      “IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO EXCUSE”

      Kamala Harris will NEVER be eligible to be U.S. president.

      Kamala Harris’ parents were foreign citizens at the time of her birth.

      – A mere “citizen” could only have been President at the time of the adoption of the Constitution – not after.

      – The U.S. Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5, requires the President to be a “natural born citizen,” which, by definition in the Law of Nations, requires “parents who are citizens” at the time of birth of the candidate and that he be “…born of a father who is a citizen;…”

      – Ben Franklin thanked Charles Dumas for copies of the Law of Nations which “…has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress, now sitting,…”

      – “The importance of The Law of Nations, therefore, resides both in its systematic derivation of international law from natural law and in its compelling synthesis of the modern discourse of natural jurisprudence with the even newer language of political economy. The features help to explain the continuing appeal of this text well into the nineteenth century among politicians, international lawyers and political theorists of every complexion.” – Law of Nations Editors Bela Kapossy and Richard Whatmore.

      – The Jay/Washington letter of July, 1787, raised the presidential requirement from citizen to “natural born citizen” to place a “strong check” against foreign allegiances by the commander-in-chief.

      – Every American President before Obama had two parents who were American citizens.

      – The Constitution is not a dictionary and does not define words or phrases, such as “natural born citizen,” as a dictionary, while the Law of Nations, 1758, does.

      – The Law of Nations is referenced in Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution: “To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;…”

      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

      Law of Nations, Vattel, 1758

      Book 1, Ch. 19

      § 212. Citizens and natives.

      “The citizens are the members of the civil society; bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. The society is supposed to desire this, in consequence of what it owes to its own preservation; and it is presumed, as matter of course, that each citizen, on entering into society, reserves to his children the right of becoming members of it. The country of the fathers is therefore that of the children; and these become true citizens merely by their tacit consent. We shall soon see whether, on their coming to the years of discretion, they may renounce their right, and what they owe to the society in which they were born. I say, that, in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen; for, if he is born there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country.”

      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

      Ben Franklin letter December 9, 1775, thanking Charles Dumas for 3 copies of the Law of Nations:

      “…I am much obliged by the kind present you have made us of your edition of Vattel. It came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising state make it necessary frequently to consult the law of nations. Accordingly that copy, which I kept, (after depositing one in our own public library here, and sending the other to the College of Massachusetts Bay, as you directed,) has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress, now sitting, who are much pleased with your notes and preface, and have entertained a high and just esteem for their author…”

      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

      To George Washington from John Jay, 25 July 1787

      From John Jay

      New York 25 July 1787

      Dear Sir

      I was this morning honored with your Excellency’s Favor of the 22d

      Inst: & immediately delivered the Letter it enclosed to Commodore

      Jones, who being detained by Business, did not go in the french Packet,

      which sailed Yesterday.

      Permit me to hint, whether it would not be wise & seasonable to

      provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the

      administration of our national Government, and to declare expressly that the Command in chief

      of the american army shall not be given to, nor devolved on, any but a natural born Citizen.

      Mrs Jay is obliged by your attention, and assures You of her perfect

      Esteem & Regard—with similar Sentiments the most cordial and sincere

      I remain Dear Sir Your faithful Friend & Servt

      John Jay

      1. George —. That matter was finally clearly presented this time, although far too long.

    2. Young:

      Could be worse. Biden could pass away or get 25’d, leaving Kamala Harris President. She couldn’t handle the predictable question from reports as to what the US planned to do to help Ukrainian refugees, and laughed nervously, asking Polish President Andrzej Duda for help. Utterly indefensible. The scene was so cringeworthy as to be unbearable. It insults our intelligence that her rebuttal is that criticism must be misogynistic and racist. As if a white man guffawing or talking in circles about Ukrainian refugees would be acceptable. We needed a Nikki Haley and we’re stuck with her.

      1. Kamala Harris was the prosecuting attorney for San Francisco and the Attorney General for the State of California and excelled at both positions. And you, Karen, never went to college, much less graduate school, yet you feel qualified to criticize her. This is so typical of a Fox news devotee: racist and misogynistic uneducated people who sop up the slop served over at Fox like the obedient disciples they are. YOU, Karen, and your ilk are insults to American intelligence. If you don’t believe me, consider this: the nightly broadcasts of one of your pastors over there at Fox, Tucker Carlson, is re-broadcast, with subtitles, on Russian television every night as propaganda. Nikki Haley is a syncophantic joke.

        1. Natacha – you are an educational elitist. However, you have diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain, BTW, Thomas Edison did not either a MA or a BA and look what he produced. College isn’t for everyone.

          1. As to Kamala laughing, Carlson didn’t point out the context: it was an awkward moment in which they both started to speak. Kamala Harris is poised and well-spoken. But, the usual Fox spin machine put a different twist on it, implying her incompetence. Karen is an alt-right media maven who regurgitates everything anti-Democrat, everything anti-“Left” and the other blather and lies that are served up daily on Fox, and yet feels qualified to speak about what insults our collective American intelligence. Karen also tries to give medical advice, tries to comment on infectious diseases, on vaccines and how they work, on masks and how they work and other medical matters she has no educational qualifications to opine about. This is all garbage she heard on Fox and repeats.

            1. Natacha – 1) Kamala cackles. It has been noted long before she became VP. She is not a poised speaker (and I speak as someone who spent years teaching public speaking). 2) You avoided the topic in the rest of your diatribe. You are an intellectual snob.

        2. Camal is an empty suit, but Willy liked it.

          Camal is a deeply troubled, barren woman.

          She rented a nice white family for the election.

          She has absolutely no raison d’être other than the pursuit of power without purpose, for power’s sake; affirmative action could only carry her so far.

          Camal was corruptly and unconstitutionally ensconced by the party bosses in the People’s Republic of California.

          She couldn’t get a dollar or a vote in the presidential primary because she has an empty cranial vault; not to put too fine a point on it.

          The communists stole the election and ensconced her in the vice presidency without rationale or purpose other than the perpetuation of communism.

      2. Karen-“Could be worse. Biden could pass away or get 25’d, leaving Kamala Harris President. ”
        +++

        I think everyone is worried about that, maybe even Kamala.

        I said about a year ago that the procedure is to ‘Agnew’ Kamala and get her out. Appoint someone not stupid and not demented to take her place–a Gerald Ford in essence–and then retire Biden to allow the non stupid/non demented VP to move into the White House.

        The people who stole the last election to put Dumb and Dumber into power put the entire world, and their precious new world order, in danger. Biden is about to buy Iranian oil and in gratitude Iran fired missiles at an American base in Iraq today. Think they would dare do that with President Trump? Not on their lives

        1. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

          – Declaration of Independence, 1776

        2. You speak of “dumb and dumber” in the same sentence that refers to the Big Lie. I ask once again: WHERE’S THE PROOF? But, the big giveaway is the phrase “new world order”. The depth of your discipleship to alt-right news is now finally clear. “Everyone” does not share your views—that’s more of the propaganda you fall for. There’s no “America vs. the “Left” or “America vs. the Democrats”. All part of the discipleship indoctrination you fell for.

            1. No, he doesn’t. What are “signs of dementia”? Do you even know? Biden has had a stuttering problem his entire life, and has never denied it. And, BTW, have you ever seen the “Talk Like Trump” video Jimmy Kimmel shows, in which Trump stutters and mis-pronounces words? Then, there’s the endless mistakes Trump makes because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Those things are far less worrisome than the endless lying and self-aggrandizement.

              I prefer to look to the substance of what people say, rather than HOW they say things.

  4. Off topic.
    The entire news on CNN and MSNBC is about Ukraine.
    What’s going on in America?

    1. Liberty2nd – things are going to hell in a handbasket in America, so it is Wag the Dog time. Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine.

      1. Paul Schulte……….you’re so right.

        “Tonight’s Feature Film at The Bijou: ‘Wag the Dog’ ”

        “Playing exclusively for the next 52 weeks”

  5. Jonathan: It must be a slow Sat. news day when you devote an entire column to the legal travails of the Lanadries and the Pepitos. No exactly household names. So excuse me if I change the subject and alert some of your loyal Trump followers to the latest Trump scam. Last Saturday Trump held a fundraising event for his big donors. Along with this event Trump sent out emails to small donors inviting them to join a contest to have dinner with the ex-president. Small donors were told: “We’ll cover your flight. We’ll cover your very nice hotel. We’ll cover your dinner”. As you can anticipate there was no winner of the contest. A Trump spokesperson said this was due to an “administrative error”. Take the money and run. Trump learned a lot from watching Newman and Redford in “The Sting”. Who knows how much Trump took in from this latest scam but, based on prior scams, it could be in the hundreds of thousands.

    This is not the first of Trump’s many shady fundraising tactics. Last year Trump and the GOP were forced to refund millions because of deceptive emails when donors were charged for recurring payments when the recurring donation box was pre-checked. This occurred when Trump’s “Save America” PAC solicited money to help pay for a new jet for Trump. All I can say to the suckers out there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

    1. Dennis McInttyre – slow news day? At least 6 Youtube lawyers have covered this complaint.

    2. Not at all. “Boring” tort law posts are far more on brand for JT then his political ones. Before Trump JT was mostly plain law posts.

  6. No more noble endeavor abides, than to monetize the death by murder of one’s progeny, amidst the vigorous exertion of prevarication and mendacity.

    1. “No more noble endeavor abides, than to monetize the death by murder of one’s progeny, amidst the vigorous exertion of prevarication and mendacity.”
      ***************
      Love it, George! You are the persistent purveyor of pithy, pugnacious, prescient and provocative proverbs.

  7. Where is the evidence the parents knew their son was guilty? A body yes. A murder? Still not a fact. Eye witnesses are dead. Or was their a written confession. I didn’t follow this close, Sounded like the intersections of varying forms of crazy. Not much to learn.

    1. The parents want revenge, thinking they will find relief.

      The only path to relief is to forgive Brian Laundrie, and his parents. That will open a path to forgive themselves.

    2. Civil suit. Emotional issue. If they get the right jury, they will win. ANd if they don’t, they’ve dragged the people they hold at least partially responsible through a painful and degrading legal process. The process can be the punishment.

  8. Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc. v. Zeltwanger is a 2004 Texas Supreme Court case which dealt with the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The elements of the tort are (1) the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff emotional distress; and (4) the resulting emotional distress was severe. I do not know if Florida has a similar common law cause of action but if so would this not provide an arguable basis for liability of the parents if proven?

    1. In Virginia, we have the tort but it’s disfavored. They’d be thrown out like a dog even if it was provable .

    2. Honestlawyer, I agree with your analysis regarding the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. This was the first issue we faced in law school and I am glad you cited it so perfectly.

    1. Since Margot opened the door to go off topic. The Ukrainians are fighting to keep their Democracy. This is literally their 1776 moment happening over there right here and now. Meanwhile the knuckleheads on this side of the Atlantic who attacked our Capitol living out their own 1776 fantasies were fighting for the guy who not only sided with Putin over there, and based on his historical fanboyish devotion to autocrats very damn likely would have sided with our own King George.

      1. “The Ukrainians are fighting to keep their Democracy.”

        If you’re going to cheerlead for a U.S.-Russia war, at least get the facts right. Ukraine is an *authoritarian* government.

        1. Sam – Canada contends it is a democracy, however we have seen it act as a dictatorship. Words can be slippery.

        2. The current Ukraine president was elected by the people, defeated the incumbent, and was allowed to take office. That does not sound authoritarian to me.

          1. “That does not sound authoritarian to me.”

            Then you are either ignorant or dishonest about the government’s actions since taking control.

            1. Regardless of what one believes about Ukraine’s government, Russia is the clear aggressor here, and Ukraine is defending itself. Russia started this war, and Russia is committing war crimes.

              1. As for war crimes, Ukraine armed their civilians, making them all armed combatants. Legitimate targets. Tens of thousands of molotov cocktails prepositioned on rooftops? If I were a Russian commander, Id be flattening everything in front of me before entering. And those two things the Ukrainians admitted to.

                Nobody not on the ground there knows the truth about all of the rest of the stories. You can’t possibly believe the media of either side.

                1. The pregnant women in the maternity hospital that the Russians bombed were not armed. The children they’ve killed were not armed. The Russians just killed women and children in a humanitarian convoy being evacuated from Peremoha village in pre-approved “green” corridor. It’s BS to claim that all of the civilian targets are just armed civilians.

                2. Rural, I hate when people opposed to certain actions are said to be siding with Putin, but you really are siding with Putin. Claiming that since civilians have arms Putin has the right to bomb maternity hospitals is a new low.

          2. “The current Ukraine president was elected by the people . . .”

            Since when does being “elected by the people” tell you anything about whether a government protects or destroys individual liberty?

            Putin, Maduro, Hitler, and that fascist twit in Canada — they all were “elected by the people.”

          3. They’ve been waging war on the people of the Donbas for 8 years using ultra-right militias. 14,000 dead. Because people there didn’t want to break away from Russia with them.They censor opposition media, jail opposition politicians, pass laws against the Russian-minority population of the country. They were elected after the Madan riots, in which still unknown snipers started shooting to make the protests go from peaceful to violent. They are in no way democratic in the sense you are talking about.

        3. The American Founders established a restricted-vote republic which is a hybrid of authoritarian and representative governance.

          American governance is the same as China’s with the exception of the dominion of the U.S. Constitution.

          States were provided the option to allow or deny the vote to anyone; turnout was 11.6% in 1789 and it should have remained proximate to that level.

          “Democracy” has restricted the vote since inception in Greece and perpetuation in Rome and America.

          The outcome of one man, one vote democracy is known; it is a demand for “free stuff” by dependent parasites.

          “Democracy” is incoherent, irrational and impossible.

          Which sane people would hand their lives, fortunes and nations over to derelicts, vagrants, dependents and parasites?
          ______________________________________________________________________________________________

          “Democracy” is a communist tactic.

          “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”

          – Alexander Tytler
          ______________

          “the people are nothing but a great beast…

          I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.”

          – Alexander Hamilton
          _________________

          “The true reason (says Blackstone) of requiring any qualification, with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons, as are in so mean a situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own.”

          “If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.”

          – Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775
          _______________________________________

          “[We gave you] a [restricted-vote] republic, if you can keep it.”

          – Ben Franklin

    2. Margot, has it occurred to you that in Ukraine, millions have left the country while others have stayed to fight, so it’s no surprise that some Americans (including Republicans and Independents) might do the same? Do you condemn the Ukrainians — many of them women with children and the elderly — who’ve left? I do not condemn them.

    3. Such unmitigated losers. Nothing worse than a coward. Hey, the Chickencrats has a nice ring to it.

  9. We should somehow discourage withholding any pertinent information in these circumstances and it was reported they had Legal Counsel so perhaps waterboarding the Attorney would have helped…. Yep… I’m a parent

  10. “against the parents of Brian Laundrie’s parents,” I understand what you meant but this is the grandparents?

    1. Bad editing. He: ‘parents of Brian Laundrie’ and ‘Brian Laundrie’s parents’ have been put together. He means the parents.

  11. I predict the Complaint will survive the “inevitable Motion to Dismiss”. There is indeed a duty to report a criminal act–“misprision of a felony”– and the federal criminal statute is still on the books.That is not a crime under the law in most states but for civil liability cases it is an easy stretch to find such a common law obligation in these circumstances.

  12. “As a result, the hospital was held liable for the criminal actions of a third party — something that usually (but not always) cuts off proximate causation.”…I am a bit confused, in the Tarasoff case, if Dr. Moore at the campus hospital psych services reported Podder to the campus police how was the hospital held liable? I can understand the suit against The Regents and negligence of the campus police but not where the hospital specifically is liable.

  13. Laundrie’s better hope that the case is dismissed – I would bet that if it goes to trial the plaintiffs would prevail regardless of any instructions. A case custom made to create bad law

  14. I agree there may be a moral case, however not a legal case. The Laundries do not have a duty to the Petitos to rat their son out.

    1. I agree with you and Turley on this one. What happened to Gabby Petito was tragic, but the Petitos didn’t kill her or hide her body. No one knows whether they knew where her remains were, but even if they did, they were not under a legal obligation to disclose that information. Sometimes when something bad happens, people just have to “do something” about it to avenge the wrong. The Petito’s son was the guilty party, but he killed himself, so that should be the end of it.

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