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The right to pursue and obtain happiness is guaranteed to all by the fundamental law of the state of California. This right by its very nature includes the right to live free from the unwarranted attack of others upon one's liberty, property, and reputation. Any person living a life of rectitude has that right to happiness, which includes a freedom from unnecessary attacks on his character, social standing or reputation.
Appellant, whose maiden name was Gabrielle Darley, was a prostitute and was tried for murder, the trial resulting in her acquittal. After her acquittal, appellant abandoned her life of shame and became entirely rehabilitated. She then married Bernard Melvin and commenced the duties of caring for their home, and thereafter at all times lived an exemplary, virtuous, honorable and righteous life. She assumed a place in respectable society and made many friends who were not aware of the incidents of her earlier life. Years after, the defendant film makers, without appellant’s permission, knowledge or consent, produced a film about appellant’s life. The film used appellant’s maiden name, and advertised that the plot of the film was the true story of the unsavory incidents in the life of the appellant. Appellant filed a complaint against the defendants alleging that she had suffered physical and mental injury as the result of an invasion of her privacy. The superior court granted the defendant’s demurrers. Appellant challenged the decision.
Did the complaint allege facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action for invasion of appellant’s right?
Yes, for invasion of right to pursue and obtain happiness.
On appeal, the court reversed the superior court’s decision. The court held that the complaint did not state a cause of action for violation of a right of privacy in so far as it related to the use of incidents which appeared in the records of appellant's trial for murder, such incidents, being a matter of public record, having ceased to be private. However, the publication by the film makers of the unsavory incidents in the past life of the appellant, after she had reformed, coupled with her true name, was a direct invasion of her inalienable right to pursue and obtain happiness. This right by its very nature included the right to live free from the unwarranted attack of others upon one's liberty, property, and reputation. Accordingly, the court instructed the trial court to overrule defendants’ demurrers to the first cause of action of the complaint and permit them to answer.