Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976)

2012-08-14 08:35:31

Title 42 U.S.C. } 1983 provides a federal cause of action against governmental officials who subject another to the deprivation of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiff filed a claim against a chief of police for the distribution of an ‘‘active shoplifters’’ flyer. The plaintiff claimed a Fourteenth Amendment due-process violation in that the flyer defamed his reputation and deprived him of a ‘‘liberty’’ as well as invaded his privacy. Although the plaintiff had been arrested for shoplifting, thus leading to the distribution of the flyer with his name and picture, the shoplifting charges were subsequently dismissed without any conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, holding that damage to reputation as alleged in the complaint was not a violation of any liberty or privacy interest protected by the due process clause. Noting that damage to reputation claims are generally state defamation actions, the Court’s majority reasoned that damage to reputation alone, without any other tangible loss, simply did not rise to the level of constitutional protection. The dissenters argued that a person’s interest in a good name and reputation qualifies as a liberty interest under the Constitution and statute.

This case is significant on two levels. It is an example of the Court’s efforts to find a limit to constitutionally protected interests. Also, as noted in the recent decision in Conn. DPS v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003), regarding sex offender reporting, the Davis case stands for the proposition that reputation is not a protected interest.


Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003)
  • Title 42 } 1983. Civil action for deprivation of rights (R. S. } 1979; Dec. 29, 1979, P.L. 96-170, } 1, 93 Stat. 1284)

See also Due Process; Due Process of Law (V and XIV); Fourteenth Amendment; Privacy