Federal appeals court tosses 'Sister Wives' lawsuit over Utah's polygamy ban

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Federal Appeals Court Tosses 'Sister Wives' Lawsuit Over Utah's Polygamy Ban

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives, declaring that the family did not actually face a threat of prosecution from Utah authorities.

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In a ruling handed down Monday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver sent the case back to a lower court, essentially dismissing it. The effect means that, for now, polygamy once again is "recriminalized" in Utah.

The Brown family's lawyer said in a statement that they were considering their options -- including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The Brown family is obviously disappointed in the ruling but remains committed to this fight for the protections of religion, speech, and privacy in Utah. They respect the panel's consideration of the appeal and the review process afforded their case," Jonathan Turley wrote.

See photos of Brown and his wives:

12 PHOTOS
'Sister Wives': Kody Brown and wives
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Federal appeals court tosses 'Sister Wives' lawsuit over Utah's polygamy ban
FILE - In this file publicity photo provided by TLC, Kody Brown, center, poses with his wives, from left, Robyn, Christine, Meri and Janelle, in a promotional photo for the reality series, "Sister Wives," which aired in March 2011. When the polygamous family learned in December 2013 that a federal judge in Utah struck down key parts of the state's polygamy laws, Brown and his four wives said they cried and felt deeply emotional. The family said they are grateful for the ruling, but said winning the lawsuit they brought against Utah in July 2011 doesn’t ease the pain caused by the significant personal sacrifices they made when they fled the state for Las Vegas under the threat of prosecution. (AP Photo/TLC, George Lange, File)
FILE - In this undated file photo provided by TLC, Kody Brown, center, poses with his wives, from left, Janelle, Christine, Meri, and Robyn in a promotional photo for TLC's reality TV show, "Sister Wives." A lawmaker who says Utah should avoid legislating morality wants to change the law to comply with a federal judge’s ruling striking down key parts of the state’s polygamy laws. (AP Photo/TLC, Bryant Livingston, File)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 03: (L-R) Television personalities Janelle Brown, Kody Brown and Christine Brown from 'Sister Wives' arrive at the show 'RockTellz & CockTails presents Meat Loaf' at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on October 3, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Cast of TLC's 'Sister Wives' Christine Brown, Janelle Brown, Kody Brown, Robyn Brown and Meri Brown attend the Nevada Ballet Theatre's Production of 'The Nutcracker' opening night performance at the Smith Center on December 15, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Marcel Thomas/FilmMagic)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 13: (L-R) Janelle Brown, Meri Brown, Kody Brown and Christine Brown from 'Sister Wives' attend a pre-show reception for the grand opening of 'Dancing With the Stars: Live in Las Vegas' at the New Tropicana Las Vegas April 13, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for AEG Live)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Kody Brown, joined by three of his four wives Meri, Janelle, and Christine (his 4th wife Robyn is too pregnant to travel), talks about their show 'Sister Wives,' .on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, 9/21/11, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images)KODY BROWN, MERI BROWN, JANELLE BROWN, CHRISTINE BROWN
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 14: (L-R) Robyn Brown, Meri Brown, Kody Brown, Christine Brown and Janelle Brown from 'Sister Wives' arrive at the grand opening of Mike Tyson's one-man show 'Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth - Live on Stage' at the Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino April 14, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Kody Brown, joined by three of his four wives Meri, Janelle, and Christine (his 4th wife Robyn is too pregnant to travel), talks about their show 'Sister Wives,' .on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, 9/21/11, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images)GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, KODY BROWN, MERI BROWN, JANELLE BROWN, CHRISTINE BROWN
PLYMOUTH, MA - SEPTEMBER 10: Kody Brown of Sister Wives visits Plymouth Beach on September 10, 2011 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 06: TV personalities Meri Brwon, Janelle Brown, Kody Brown, Christine Brown and Robyn Brown speak duinrg the 'Sister Wives' panel during the Discovery Communications portion of the 2010 Summer TCA pres tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 6, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
PLYMOUTH, MA - SEPTEMBER 10: Kody Brown of Sister Wives visits Plymouth Beach on September 10, 2011 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images)
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"We respectfully disagree with the decision, which in our view departs from prior rulings on standing and mootness. We have the option of seeking the review of the entire Tenth Circuit or filing directly with the Supreme Court. We will be exploring those options in the coming days. However, it is our intention to appeal the decision of the panel."

Kody Brown and his wives, Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn filed a lawsuit against the state challenging its historic ban on polygamy (Utah abandoned the practice of plural marriage as a condition of statehood). They argued that it violated their right to privacy and freedom of religion. The family found itself under investigation in 2011 by Lehi police when they began appearing on their TLC reality-TV show "Sister Wives." In 2012, the Utah County Attorney claimed he would not prosecute the Browns for polygamy alone -- unless there was evidence of other crimes like abuse or fraud.

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In 2014, a federal judge sided with the Browns and overturned part of the state's ban on polygamy. It was no longer illegal to "cohabitate" with multiple people, but it remained illegal to seek multiple marriage licenses. (Ironically, the ruling came a week before another federal judge in Utah struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.)

The state appealed.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Brown family's lawsuit, ruling they "do not face a credible threat of prosecution." They cite the Utah County Attorney's repeated declarations that he would not prosecute polygamy alone, unless it was in concert with other crimes.

"He declared under penalty of perjury that the Browns will not be prosecuted absent evidence of a collateral crime. And the dearth of prior UCAO prosecutions under the Statute—at least for bare violations unconnected to collateral crimes—indicates his position is not mere posturing," the court wrote.

Read the ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here:

Sister Wives ruling by Ben Winslow

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