Citation Edit

Melvin v. Reid, 112 Cal.App. 285, 297 P. 91 (1931).

Factual Background Edit

Appellant Melvin was at one time a prostitute who was tried for murder and later acquitted. According to the Appellant she abandoned her former life in 1918, rehabilitated herself, and married her husband a year later. In 1925 the defendants released a movie about Melvin's life entitled "The Red Kimono" using the facts from the record of Melvin's murder trial and using her maiden name.

The film was billed as a true story accurately depicting the facts of her life. Melvin alleged that this caused her harm and ridicule and exposed her to obloquy. She brought this suit raising four causes of action; the first based on a violation of her right to privacy and the others on a theory of property rights in her life story and maiden name.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The trial court dismissed all four claims and refused to recognize a right to privacy or a property interest in one's life story or name in the state of California.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

Declining to find a specifically named "right to privacy" or a property right in one's life at all, the appellate court answered this case of first impression in California using the California Constitution's right to "pursu[e] and obtain[] safety and happiness".

The court held that had the defendants only used the facts from Melvin's trial for murder then there would have been no cause of action as those facts were public record. It was unnecessary, however, in the court's view to use appellant's real name in conjunction with the facts of the case.

"One of the major objectives of society as it is now constituted, and of the administration of our penal system, is the rehabilitation of the fallen and the reformation of the criminal." The court stressed the importance of an individual's ability to rehabilitate and felt that the unnecessary use of Melvin's real name inhibited this right.

Section 1 of article 1 of the Constitution of California did not, however, provide a basis for a finding of a property right in Melvin's life story or maiden name. The appellate court reversed the dismissal of our first claim for a violation of a right to privacy and affirmed the dismissal of claims 2 through 4.