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

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U.S. Supreme Court

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

Paul v. Davis

No. 74-891

Argued November 4, 1975

Decided March 23, 1976

424 U.S. 693


A photograph of respondent bearing his name was included in a "flyer" of "active shoplifters," after he had been arrested on a shoplifting charge in Louisville, Ky. After that charge had been dismissed, respondent brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner police chiefs, who had distributed the flyer to area merchants, alleging that petitioners' action under color of law deprived him of his constitutional rights. The District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals reversed, relying on Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U. S. 433. Held:

1. Petitioners' action in distributing the flyer did not deprive respondent of any "liberty" or "property" rights secured against state deprivation by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 424 U. S. 699-710.

(a) The Due Process Clause does not ex proprio vigore extend to a person a right to be free of injury wherever the State may be characterized as the tortfeasor. Pp. 424 U. S. 699-701.

(b) Reputation alone, apart from some more tangible interests such as employment, does not implicate any "liberty" or "property" interests sufficient to invoke the procedural protection of the Due Process Clause; hence, to establish a claim under § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment, more must be involved than simply defamation by a state official. Wisconsin v. Constantineau, supra, distinguished. Pp. 424 U. S. 701-710.

(c) Kentucky law does not extend to respondent any legal guarantee of present enjoyment of reputation that has been altered by petitioners' actions, and the interest in reputation alone is thus quite different from the "liberty" or "property" recognized in such decisions as Bell v. Burson, 402 U. S. 535, and Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U. S. 471, where the guarantee of due process required certain procedural safeguards before the State could alter the status of the complainants. Pp. 424 U. S. 710-712.

2. Respondent's contention that petitioners' defamatory flyer deprived him of his constitutional right to privacy is without

Page 424 U. S. 694

merit, being based not upon any challenge to the State's ability to restrict his freedom of action in a sphere contended to be "private," but on a claim that the State may not publicize a record of an official act like an arrest. Pp. 424 U. S. 712-713.

505 F.2d 1180, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, and in which WHITE, J., joined in part, post, p. 424 U. S. 714. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Primary Holding

Due process does not protect reputation as a property or liberty right.


During the Christmas season in 1972, police chiefs Paul and McDaniel distributed flyers to warn stores about possible shoplifters in the area. They included information on people who had been convicted of shoplifting or had been involved in other criminal activities in shopping areas over the previous two years. One of the people whose name and photo were included in the flyer was Davis, who had pleaded not guilty to a shoplifting charge in 1971, which remained outstanding because his guilt or innocence had not been determined. However, his charges were dismissed shortly after the police released the flyers.

Davis argued that his liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment had been infringed because the flyer had inaccurately labeled him as an active shoplifter, which prevented him from entering certain stores under the fear that he would be accused of shoplifting. He also argued that his appearance in the flyer would undermine his future employment opportunities.



  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.

In contrast to Goss v. Lopez (1975), which concerned a state law that entitled students to an education, this case does not concern a state law that entitles citizens to a favorable reputation. The remedies for damage to one's reputation may be obtained through tort laws, which are enacted at the discretion of the states. Individuals then can seek compensation for such damage in state court.


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Byron Raymond White

The police officers abused their power by labeling an individual as a criminal before a trial had occurred. Criminal defendants are entitled to certain procedural safeguards, which also should apply in this context. Law enforcement is required to act fairly and refrain from arbitrarily labeling people as criminals, since this could lead to unjust penalties. Ruling that reputation is not a protected interest is too narrow an interpretation of the Bill of Rights.


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

Case Commentary

There was no compensable harm in this situation because the police officer's list was not an official criminal record and would not affect his ability to shop at the stores or his future employment prospects.

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