South-Western Legal Studies in Business

A Plaintiff with No Reputation to Protect Cannot Sue for Libel
Description Appeals court held that the doctrine of libel-proof plaintiff applies to a prisoner serving multiple life sentences for murder and kidnapping. Newspaper articles about him, alleged to contain false information, could not be the basis of a libel suit as there was no reputation that could suffer damage.
Topic Torts
Key Words Libel; Criminal Acts; Media
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Lamb has served over 30 years of three life sentences for kidnapping and first degree murder. Rizzo wrote newspaper articles about Lamb's criminal career, convictions, and upcoming parole hearing. Lamb sued Rizzo for libel, contending that the articles contained "lies and false information." Rizzo defended that Lamb was libel-proof; that is, his public reputation is so diminished that he could not be further injured by allegedly false statements about his criminal activities. Lamb replied that at the time the articles were published, his reputation had been rehabilitated so he is no longer libel-proof. The district court dismissed the suit. Lamb appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Under the "libel-proof plaintiff doctrine," a plaintiff's reputation is so diminished at the time of publication of the allegedly defamatory material that only nominal damages at most could be awarded because the person's reputation was not capable of sustaining further harm. Hence, the plaintiff is deemed to be libel-proof as a matter of law and is not permitted to burden a defendant with a trial. Given the terrible nature of Lamb's crimes, and his attempted escapes from prison, the passage to time did not repair his reputation to the point that it could sustain harm.

Citation Lamb v. Rizzo, 391 F.3d 1133 (10th Cir., 2004)

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