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Tennessee Prisoner Libel Proof

The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that a prisoner's conviction resulting
in incarceration for 99 years renders any reputation he may have virtually
valueless," and that he was, in the eyes of the law, libel proof." This
action was filed by a prisoner convicted of aiding and abetting
second-degree murder after a newspaper, The Tennessean, printed an article
about the crime that included a sentence stating the prisoner, rather than
his co-defendant, had shot the victim. The Davidson County Circuit Court
dismissed the action for failure to state a cause of action, finding the
prisoner was libel proof. The prisoner appealed.

The Court of Appeals stated that the basis for an action for defamation,
whether it be slander or libel, is that the defamation resulted in an
injury to the person's character and reputation. The allegedly defamatory
statement must constitute a serious threat to the plaintiff's reputation.
Damages from false or inaccurate statements cannot be presumed; actual
damages must be sustained and proved.

The appellate court held "a notorious person is without a 'good name' and
therefore may not recover for injury to it." The Court of Appeals found the
prisoner participated in the crime which resulted in the murders. His
character reputation with the public was established and could not be
harmed by inaccurate attribution to him of conduct that was part of the
crime in which he participated. Moreover, the long duration of his
incarceration rendered actual damage unlikely. Accordingly, the Circuit
Court's order was affirmed. See: Davis v. The Tennessean, 83 S.W.3d 125.
(Tenn. Ct. App. 2001).

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