Gabby Petito family lawsuit going to trial after Florida judge denies Laundries' motion to dismiss

The Petito family's civil lawsuit against the Laundrie family will go to trial after a Florida judge denied the Laundries' motion to dismiss

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A Florida circuit court judge on Thursday denied the Laundrie family's motion to dismiss the Petito family's civil lawsuit filed in March, meaning the case will go to trial.

The lawsuit alleges that Brian Laundrie's parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, were aware that their son killed Gabby Petito and attempted to help him flee justice while remaining silent about the pair's respective August 2021 and September 2021 disappearances.

"If the facts of this case were truly about silence with no affirmative action 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 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," Judge Hunter Carroll of the Twelfth Circuit Judge of Florida wrote.

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"But they did not stay silent," he added.

The Petito family's civil lawsuit alleges that Brian Laundrie's parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, were aware that their son <u>killed</u> Gabby Petito and attempted to help him flee justice while remaining silent about the pair's respective August 2021 and September 2021 disappearances.

The Petito family's civil lawsuit alleges that Brian Laundrie's parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, were aware that their son <u>killed</u> Gabby Petito and attempted to help him flee justice while remaining silent about the pair's respective August 2021 and September 2021 disappearances. (Michael Ruiz/Fox News Digital)

Laundrie family lawyer Steven Bertolino said in a statement to Fox News Digital he, Chris and Roberta Laundrie "are disappointed with Judge Carroll's decision to deny the motion and allow this lawsuit to proceed."

Petito family lawyer Patrick Reilly said Gabby Petito's parents, Joe Petito and Nichole Schmidt, "are appreciative of the thorough and well-reasoned decision of Judge Hunter W Carroll which denied the motion of Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie to dismiss the complaint filed against them."

"This gives them an opportunity to proceed with their claim for the emotional distress caused by the conduct of the Laundries. Joe and Nichole look forward to discovering the information the Laundries knew about Gabby’s death and her whereabouts, and in particular getting a copy of any correspondence, emails and texts exchanged during the difficult period when Gabby’s whereabouts were unknown," he added.

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The judge's denial focuses on a statement the Laundrie family issued in September 2021 while Gabby Petito was still missing. 

"On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family," Bertolino said at the time. "On the advice of counsel, the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment."

The Petito family issued the following September 2021 statement in response: "The Schmidt and Petito family beg the Laundrie family to not ‘remain in the background’ but to help find who Brian referred to as the love of his life," they said. "How does Brian stay in the background when he is the one person that knows where Gabby is located?"

The judge's denial focuses on a statement the Laundrie family issued in September 2021 while Gabby Petito was still missing. 

The judge's denial focuses on a statement the Laundrie family issued in September 2021 while Gabby Petito was still missing.  (Maciel/Backgrid)

Judge Carroll stated in his decision that if the Petito family's allegations in their civil complaint are true, "the Laundries statement was particularly callous and cruel, and it is sufficiently outrageous to state claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Bertolino noted that Carroll's order points out that his September 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 with the next phase. The Laundries will continue to use all available legal means to preserve their rights." 

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Reilly said Joe Petito and Nicole Schmidt "look forward to going to trial and are confident that ultimately the Laundries will be held accountable."

The initial witness list in the case includes Petito's parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt; her stepparents, Tara Petito and James Schmidt; Brian Laundrie's parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie; FBI representatives; and North Port Police Department representatives. Bertolino previously described the expected witness list as a "wish list" told Fox News Digital that it is "not likely" the Laundries would testify.

Petito and Laundrie were traveling cross-country over the summer of 2021 in Petito's van before her parents reported her missing on Sept. 11. Laundrie had returned to their North Port, Florida, home in Petito's van without her on Sept. 1. He and his parents did not share any information with law enforcement at the time and referred officials to their attorney.

Petito and Laundrie were traveling cross-country over the summer of 2021 in Petito's van before her parents reported her missing on Sept. 11.

Petito and Laundrie were traveling cross-country over the summer of 2021 in Petito's van before her parents reported her missing on Sept. 11. (Thomas O'Neill/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The FBI found Petito's remains at a dispersed campground area within the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19. Teton County Coroner Brent Blue later announced that she had died of homicide by strangulation three to four weeks before her remains were discovered.

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Laundrie was subsequently listed as a person of interest in Petito's killing and the FBI later issued a warrant for his arrest on debit card fraud charges. The FBI and local law enforcement officials focused their search for Laundrie in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park and T. Marby Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve in Florida, where his parents believe he went the last time they saw him on Sept. 13.

The FBI discovered Laundrie's remains and a note in Myakkahatchee Creek park in October. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and admitted to killing Petito in the note, the agency announced months later.

Fox News' Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.