Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Posted by D. Daniel Sokol
ABSTRACT: On May 18, 2009, in a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided Ashcroft v. Iqbal and continued a trend of toughening federal pleading standards that started with Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly. Until Iqbal,Twombly’s effect had been relatively modest because courts tended to distinguish it, often finding that its teachings applied only to antitrust cases or similar types of cases. In Iqbal, the Supreme Court rejected these attempts to circumscribe holding unequivocally that the pleading standard announced by Twombly applies to all civil actions in federal court.
This development will make it considerably more difficult for plaintiffs armed only with vague factual allegations to launch expensive litigation. At the same time, however, the advent of this new pleading standard complicates the calculus for plaintiffs and defendants alike at the pleading stage of civil cases in federal courts. These complications result in part from the difficult questions that Iqbal and Twombly left unanswered about how properly to apply the new federal pleadings standard. As a result, it may not be possible to definitively assess Iqbal’s impact until the Courts of Appeals have answered some of these questions. What is immediately clear after Iqbal, however, is that district courts have significantly more discretion to manage cases at the pleading stage, and that some cases which would have previously continued to discovery will now end with the pleadings.