June 25, 2010
Washington Supreme Court Rejects Twombly/Iqbal
The Washington State Supreme Court decided yesterday to maintain the pleading standard that has long applied in Washington state courts, rebuffing a request to adopt the federal pleading standard that the U.S. Supreme Court embraced in Twombly and Iqbal. The decision is McCurry v. Chevy Chase Bank (No. 81896-7). Here’s an excerpt (footnote and some citations omitted):
Chevy Chase urges this court to reconsider the standard for dismissing a motion under CR 12(b)(6) in light of changes in the United States Supreme Court case law regarding Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Under CR 12(b)(6) a plaintiff states a claim upon which relief can be granted if it is possible that facts could be established to support the allegations in the complaint. See Halvorson v. Dahl, 89 Wn.2d 673, 674, 574 P.2d 1190 (1978) (“On a [CR] 12(b)(6) motion, a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff’s allegations must be denied unless no state of facts which plaintiff could prove, consistent with the complaint, would entitle the plaintiff to relief on the claim.”); see also Christensen v. Swedish Hosp., 59 Wn.2d 545, 548, 368 P.2d 897 (1962) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)).
However the United States Supreme Court has recently revised its dismissal standard under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), permitting dismissal unless the claim is plausibly based upon the factual allegations in the complaint – a more difficult standard to satisfy. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009) (“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Chevy Chase encourages this court to similarly construe CR 12(b)(6). We decline.
The Supreme Court’s plausibility standard is predicated on policy determinations specific to the federal trial courts. The Twombly Court concluded: federal trial courts are incapable of adequately preventing discovery abuses, weak claims cannot be effectively weeded out early in the discovery process, and this makes discovery expensive and encourages defendants to settle “largely groundless” claims. See 550 U.S. at 557-58, 559. Neither party has shown these policy determinations hold sufficiently true in the Washington trial courts to warrant such a drastic change in court procedure.
Nor has either party here addressed countervailing policy considerations. For example, do current discovery expenses justify plaintiffs’ loss of access to that discovery and general access to the courts, particularly in cases where evidence is almost exclusively in the possession of defendants? Could runaway discovery expenses be addressed by better means – perhaps involving more court oversight of the discovery process or a change in the discovery rules?
Although three Justices dissented, they agreed with the majority about the pleading standard. From the dissenting opinion: “My discussion of CR 12(b)(6) should not be confused with the Fed. R. Civ. Pr. 12(b)(6) standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). I do not suggest we modify our rule to align with the federal “plausible” standard in our decision today.”
(Hat Tip: Brooke Coleman)