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Law School Case Brief

Paul v. Davis - 424 U.S. 693, 96 S. Ct. 1155 (1976)


The words "liberty" and "property" as used in U.S. Const. amend. XIV do not in terms single out reputation as a candidate for special protection over and above other interests that may be protected by state law. There is no constitutional doctrine converting every defamation by a public official into a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment.


A photograph of Edward Charles Davis III 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, Davis brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Petitioner Paul, the Chief of Police of the Louisville, KY, Division of Police, and Petitioner McDaniel who occupies the same position in the Jefferson County, KY., Division of Police. Both Paul and McDaniel had distributed the flyer to area merchants, alleging that their action under color of law deprived Davis of his constitutional rights. The District Court granted the police officers’ motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals reversed, relying on Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433


Did the police officers violate Davis’ constitutional rights when they circulated a flier on which Davis’ mug shot was displayed?




The Court held that Paul’s alleged defamation, a typical state tort claim, was not actionable under the Due Process Clause and § 1983. The procedural guarantees of the Due Process Clause could not be the source for a body of general federal tort law. The Court also found that Davis’ injury to reputation was not specially protected by §1983 and the Due Process Clause. Damage to reputation, alone, apart from some more tangible interests, was not sufficient to invoke the protection of the Due Process Clause. Further, Paul did not deprive Davis of any state-provided right, and Davis' case was not within the constitutional zone of privacy. The Court reversed the judgment.

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