Paul v. Davis

LOCATION:District Court of Lincoln County

DOCKET NO.: 74-891
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 424 US 693 (1976)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1975
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1976

Carson P. Porter – for petitioners
Daniel T. Taylor, III – for respondent

Facts of the case

A flyer identifying “active shoplifters” was distributed to merchants in the Louisville, Kentucky area. The flyer included a photograph of Edward C. Davis III, who had been arrestedon a shoplifting charge. When the charge was dismissed, Davis brought an action against Edgar Paul, the Louisville chief of police. Davis alleged that the distribution of the flyer had stigmatized him and deprived him of his constitutional rights.


Did the distribution of the flyer violate Davis’s right to privacy and liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Paul v. Davis

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 04, 1975 in Paul v. Davis

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 23, 1976 in Paul v. Davis

William H. Rehnquist:

In Paul against Davis, No. 74-891, petitioners are two police chiefs in the Louisville, Kentucky area.

In late 1972, following a longstanding practice in their departments, they worked together to produce a flyer, which contained names and photographs of persons thought to have been active as shoplifters in the Louisville area over the previous two years.

Some 800 of these flyers were then distributed to Louisville area merchants, so that they might instruct their security personnel to be on the alert for those persons during the then upcoming holiday shopping season.

Respondent’s name and photograph appeared on this flyer because he had been arrested and charged with shoplifting in 1971.

That charge was still pending at the time the flyers were distributed, but shortly afterwards the charge was finally dismissed.

Respondent brought an action in the United States District Court in the District of Kentucky under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, claiming that the police chief’s actions had violated his constitutional rights.

The District Court rejected his claims and respondent appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

That Court reversed the District Court in order to the respondent’s complaint against the police chiefs reinstated.

We granted certiorari and we now reverse the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

We agree with respondent that petitioner’s actions were damaging to his reputation and that he probably could have established the elements of a cause of action against them under the common law of defamation, but for reasons stated in opinion filed with the clerk this morning, we believe that one’s reputation standing alone is not an interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against any harm which might be caused by action on behalf of a state.

Thus, we conclude that respondent is not entitled to relieve based upon his claims of constitutional deprivation but instead misrely on whatever remedies the state law made for the citizens whose reputations have been, thus, damaged.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Marshall has joined and in which Mr. Justice White joins in part.

Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.