Monday, September 16, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
The Eighth Circuit's decision last week in Horras v. American Capital Strategies, Ltd. (No. 12-3886), __ F.3d __, 2013 WL 4711389, includes a partial dissent by Judge Colloton that is worth a read for his approach to pleading standards after Iqbal and Twombly. (Hat tip to Ryan Koopmans, who covers the case in this post.) The majority in Horras affirms the district court's dismissal of Horras’s complaint. Judge Colloton dissents as to Horras's claim for breach of fiduciary duty.
Judge Colloton writes that while the Supreme Court's approach to pleading in Iqbal and Twombly is an “important development,” courts “must be careful not to embellish it.” Citing Erickson, Swierkiewicz, Form 11, and articles by Judge, Dean, and chief drafter of the original FRCPs Charles E. Clark, he concludes: “Under the simplified pleading standard of Rule 8(a), I think the complaint here was sufficient to give ACS fair notice of the fiduciary duty claim that Horras has amplified in his briefing.”
Here are some excerpts from Judge Colloton's opinion:
Saturday, July 27, 2013
David Freeman Engstrom of Stanford Law School has posted on SSRN his essay, "The Twiqbal Puzzle and Empirical Study of Civil Procedure."
This essay, written for a Stanford Law Review issue exploring “The Empirical Revolution in Law,” offers a critical assessment of the large body of empirical scholarship examining the effect of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal on judicial and litigant behavior and then uses the critique to make some broader observations about the past, present, and future of empirical study of civil procedure.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Luke Meier of Baylor University Law School has posted on SSRN a new article in his probability/confidence series, entitled "Probability, Confidence, and Twombly's Plausibility Standard."
This Article offers a fresh perspective on the pleading standard of plausibility. The consensus regarding plausibility is that it requires a judge to determine the probability of the plaintiff’s allegations. This perspective has led to much of the criticism of the plausibility standard. In reality, plausibility requires a judge to perform an analytically distinct inquiry, which I term a confidence analysis. Recognizing this fact does not immunize plausibility from all of the criticism it has received. It does, however, clarify the analysis required under the standard, which should alleviate many of the concerns associated with plausibility.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Victor Abel Pereyra and Benjamin Sunshine, of University of Illinois College of Law, have posted on SSRN their paper Access-to-Justice v. Efficiency: An Empirical Study of Settlement Rates After Twombly and Iqbal.
A party’s decision to settle may be affected by the plausibility pleading standard required by Twombly. While previous empirical studies have focused on motions to dismiss, this study attempts to find a relationship between settlement rates and the pleading standard. Our data and analysis show that the probability of settling after Twombly has decreased while the rates of settlements themselves are increasing. In particular, IP and civil rights cases are especially likely to settle and "meritorious" claims settle at a higher rate than "non-meritorious" claims. These findings question the current arguments that the Twombly pleading standard may be inhibiting access to justice and/or improving efficiency. The goal of conserving judicial resources may have been circumvented by litigant behavior as more cases are going on to litigation rather than settling. The access to justice arguments may have also been challenged in that more cases are being adjudicated after Twombly instead of less.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Brooke Coleman (Seattle) entitled Celebrating Civil Rulemaking. It reviews a recent article by Lonny Hoffman (Houston), Rulemaking in the Age of Twombly and Iqbal, which will appear in the U.C. Davis Law Review.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Raymond H. Brescia and Edward J. Ohanian, both of Albany Law School, have posted on SSRN their new paper, "The Politics of Procedure: An Empirical Analysis of Motion Practice in Civil Rights Litigation Under the New Plausibility Standard."
civil procedure political? In May of 2009, the Supreme Court issued its
decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, which explicitly extended the
“plausibility standard,” first articulated in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly
two years earlier, to all civil pleadings. That standard requires that
pleadings, in order to satisfy Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, must state a plausible claim for relief. For many, these
rulings represented a sea change in civil pleading standards. Where
prior Supreme Court precedent had provided that a pleading should not be
dismissed “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove
no set of facts in support of his claim,” the new standard requires that
judges utilize their own “judicial experience and common sense” to
determine whether claimants have set forth facts sufficient to “nudge
their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” In the
years since their issuance, this standard has provoked many questions.
One such question, which lurks behind all otherwise neutral rules of
procedure is the following: could this apparently neutral principle of
procedure be subject to political manipulation?
After Twombly, and again after Iqbal, many expressed fears that the new plausibility standard offered judges too much discretion; a judge could dismiss a case where a plaintiff’s claims did not comport with that judge’s experience and common sense. There was a particular fear that this discretion would have a disparate and adverse impact on civil rights cases: i.e., if members of the federal bench were predisposed to disfavor such claims, they might use these precedents to dismiss civil rights cases too readily. Several years have now passed since the Court issued these decisions, and the district courts have compiled a body of thousands of decisions citing these precedents. As a result, it is now possible to assess the impact of these decisions on practice in the lower courts, particularly their effect on civil rights cases. The study described here attempted to do just that by looking at outcomes and trends in motions challenging the specificity of the pleadings in over 500 employment and housing discrimination cases over a period of six years (including decisions issued both before and after Twombly and Iqbal). This research reviewed the outcomes in such cases based on a number of metrics, including, most importantly, the political affiliation of the president who appointed the judge issuing each decision reviewed.
The study revealed a statistically significant relationship between the outcomes in civil rights cases and time period (i.e. pre-Twombly, post-Twombly but pre-Iqbal, and post-Iqbal) where the political affiliation of the president who appointed the judge reaching the decision in each case was Republican. For cases decided by judges appointed by Democrat-affiliated presidents, no such relationship was observed. This paper reports on the findings of this study and discusses their implications.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Now available online is an article by Arthur Miller (NYU) entitled Simplified Pleading, Meaningful Days in Court, and Trials on the Merits: Reflections on the Deformation of Federal Procedure, 88 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 286 (2013). Here’s the abstract:
When the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were promulgated in 1938, they reflected a policy of citizen access for civil disputes and sought to promote their resolution on the merits rather than on the basis of the technicalities that characterized earlier procedural systems. The federal courts applied that philosophy of procedure for many years. However, the last quarter century has seen a dramatic contrary shift in the way the federal courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, have interpreted and applied the Federal Rules and other procedural matters. This shift has produced the increasingly early procedural disposition of cases prior to trial. Indeed, civil trials, especially jury trials, are very few and far between today.
The author examines the significant manifestations of this dramatic change, and traces the shift in judicial attitude back to the three pro-summary judgment decisions by the Supreme Court in 1986. Furthermore, he goes on to discuss the judicial gatekeeping that has emerged regarding (1) expert testimony, (2) the constriction of class action certification, (3) the enforcement of arbitration clauses in an extraordinary array of contracts (many adhesive in character), (4) the Court’s abandonment of notice pleading in favor of plausibility pleading (which, in effect, is a return to fact pleading), (5) the intimations of a potential narrowing of the reach of in personam jurisdiction, and (6) a number of limitations on pretrial discovery that have resulted from Rule amendments during the last twenty-five years.
All of these changes restrict the ability of plaintiffs to reach a determination of their claims’ merits, which has resulted in a narrowing effect on citizen access to a meaningful day in court. Beyond that, these restrictive procedural developments work against the effectiveness of private litigation to enforce various public policies involving such matters as civil rights, antitrust, employment discrimination, and securities regulation.
Concerns about abusive and frivolous litigation, threats of extortionate settlements, and the high cost of today’s large-scale lawsuits motivate these deviations from the original philosophy of the Federal Rules, but these concerns fail to take proper account of other systemic values. The author argues that these assertions are speculative and not empirically justified, are overstated, and simply reflect the self-interest of various groups that seek to terminate claims asserted against them as early as possible to avoid both discovery and a trial. Indeed, they simply may reflect a strong pro-business and pro-government orientation of today’s federal judiciary. The author cautions that some restoration of the earlier underlying philosophy of the Federal Rules is necessary if we are to preserve the procedural principles that should underlie our civil justice system and maintain the viability of private litigation as an adjunct to government regulation for the enforcement of important societal policies and values.
Friday, December 7, 2012
Scott Dodson of University of California Hastings College of the Law has posted on SSRN his paper, “A New Look: Dismissal Rates in Federal Civil Cases,” forthcoming in 96 Judicature.
In the wake of Twombly and Iqbal, a number of studies have been conducted to determine the decisions' effects on dismissal practice in federal civil cases. However, those studies have tended to code whole cases rather than claims -- leading to the ambiguous coding category of “mixed” dismissals and to problems in characterizing the nature of the dispute -- and have failed to distinguish between legal sufficiency and factual sufficiency, potentially masking important detail about the effects of the pleadings changes.
This paper begins to fill in that detail. I compiled an original dataset of district court opinions and coded each claim -- rather than whole case -- subject to an adjudicated Rule 12(b)(6) motion. For each claim, I also determined whether the court resolved the motion on grounds of legal or factual sufficiency. This methodology opened an unprecedented level of granularity in the data.
The data reveal statistically significant increases in the dismissal rate overall and in a number of subsets of claims. I also find an increase in the relative prevalence and efficacy of factual-insufficiency arguments for dismissal. Perhaps surprisingly, I find a decrease in the relative prevalence and efficacy of legal-insufficiency arguments for dismissal. These data and insights on the rationales of dismissals are new to the literature and suggest that Twombly and Iqbal are affecting both movant strategy and judicial reasoning.
Friday, October 5, 2012
To be published in Texas Tech Law Review and posted on SSRN: Are Twombly & Iqbal Affecting Where Plaintiffs File? A Study Comparing Removal Rates by State, by Jill Curry and Matthew Ward.
This article originated from a 2010-11 study the Federal Judicial Center conducted to examine the impact, if any, of the Supreme Court decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal on civil litigation in the United States federal courts. To examine this impact, we compared removal rates of cases to federal courts between states using notice pleading standards and states using fact pleading standards. We predicted that heightened pleading standards in federal courts would encourage plaintiffs in cases with federal and state claims, especially plaintiffs alleging a violation of their civil rights, to file in
state courts to benefit from the liberal notice pleading standard. Therefore, defendants would be more likely to remove such cases filed in notice pleading state court to federal courts to take advantage of the newly announced heightened pleading standard. After reviewing existing commentary and existing empirical research about the impact of Twombly and Iqbal, we explain the methodology for our removal study, present the results of a preliminary study to examine removal rates of four states, and subsequently present the results of our expanded examination of removal rates of all fifty states and the District of Columbia. However, the results demonstrate that these expectations were not met. There was no systematic increase in the rate of removal after Twombly and Iqbal and the effect was not more pronounced in notice pleading states compared to fact pleading states, questioning the assertion that cases are being diverted from federal court to state courts due to heightened pleading standards.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Lonny Hoffman has just posted on SSRN the above-titled paper.
In this article I am essentially trying to answer one critical question: Faced with the controversy triggered by the Supreme Court’s decisions in Bell Atlantic Co. v. Twombly (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009), particularly over access to the courts, why have judicial rulemakers not proposed rule reforms to address the concerns raised? This question is particularly puzzling when one realizes that over the last seventy-five years the rules committees have consistently rejected proposals to stiffen pleading requirements along lines similar to what the Court decreed in Twombly and Iqbal. It is as if Congress had repeatedly voted against amending a statute that had been on the books for years only to have the Court through judicial interpretation effectively rewrite the law as though it had been amended. While we reasonably might predict that at least some in Congress would call for a legislative response if this happened, five years after Twombly no proposals for rule reform have been forthcoming and there is no momentum on the rules committees in favor of reform. Why? In this paper I argue that uncovering what has kept rulemakers from acting in the past permits us to interrogate whether those reasons can justify the same course in the future. Ultimately, I conclude that the justifications of the past are no longer sufficient and that the case for immediate rule reform is strong. Beyond its immediate relevance to the unresolved pleading problem, the added perspective gained by examination of the rulemakers’ deliberations can also deepen our understanding of the rulemaking process generally, providing new insights about how the process of making new rules and evaluating existing ones may be improved.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Prof. Suzette Malveaux (Catholic University) entitled Plausibility Pleading and Employment Discrimination. It reviews a recent article by Prof. Charles Sullivan (Seton Hall), Plausibly Pleading Employment Discrimination, 52 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1613 (2011). The review begins:
In a sea of law review articles analyzing the potential impact of the more rigorous federal pleading standard of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, Charles Sullivan’s Plausibly Pleading Employment Discrimination stands out for a number of reasons. As an initial matter, Sullivan grapples with an important question plaguing the civil rights community and the employment bar: does Swierkiewicz v. Sorema—the unanimous 2002 opinion that took a lenient approach to pleading discrimination cases—remain good law post-Iqbal? Sullivan argues that Iqbal did not overturn Swierkiewicz, leaving intact the ability of plaintiffs to plead employment discrimination without alleging a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas test.
But Sullivan then considers the alternate view: assuming arguendo that Iqbal did overrule Swierkiewicz, what should plaintiffs do to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim under this more rigorous pleading regime? Sullivan offers a variety of approaches, each with strengths and weaknesses. This willingness to explore the proverbial edge of the envelope makes this article a compelling read. It combines pragmatism, creativity, and boldness at a time when many are struggling to make sense of the impact of the new federal pleadings standard in the civil rights arena. Given the importance of pleadings as an access to justice issue, this article provides an invaluable perspective.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Conference on Summary Judgment, Iqbal, and Employment Discrimination (New York Law School, Apr. 23, 2012)
Monday, March 19, 2012
Joe S. Cecil, the primary author of the Federal Judicial Center’s empirical study of the impact of Iqbal, just posted (on SSRN) a response to concerns expressed about that study (including criticisms by Professors Lonny Hoffman, Ray Brescia, Jonah Gelbach, and me). I have not had the opportunity to read it closely, having just received it, but it appears to be a thoughtful and gracious response. The abstract reads:
This paper responds to comments regarding the Federal Judicial Center’s recent studies of the resolution of motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Those studies, undertaken at the request of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, found a statistically significant increase in the rate at which defendants file motions to dismiss following the Supreme Court decisions in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal. The studies also found no statistically significant increase in the rate of grants of motions to dismiss without leave to amend, except in cases involving challenges to financial instruments such as mortgages, and no statistically significant increase in cases terminated by such motions. Several scholars have expressed reservations regarding these findings and raised a number of specific issues regarding the research. This paper responds to the following issues:
• Professor Hoffman’s concerns about our use of statistical analysis in general, and the use of multinomial statistical models in particular;
• Professor Moore’s concerns about the exclusion from our study of pro se cases and cases asserting affirmative defenses, and the findings of her most recent study of the outcome of motions to dismiss;
• Professor Brescia’s recent study finding an increase in grant rate of motions to dismiss in employment and housing discrimination cases; and
• Professor Gelbach’s incorporation of our findings into an economic model of pretrial litigation that attempts to estimate the overall effect on settlement and access to discovery.
I continue to believe that our findings represent the most accurate statement of the federal district courts’ response to these Supreme Court decisions, but acknowledge that this response has continued to evolve since we conducted our study. I propose a study of all dispositive motions that will, among other things, examine the interaction between motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim and motions for summary judgment.
Mr. Cecil and I had numerous communications back and forth in which we clarified our respective positions. Some of his points on my study are well-taken, although I do not agree with them all. For me, the bottom line is that the FJC has taken the concerns about its study very seriously, and I am glad to have participated in this debate.
As noted in the abstract, Mr. Cecil anticipates that the FJC will soon launch another empirical study dealing with dispositive motion practice generally. A very rough timeline envisions a report by 2013.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Professor Lonny Hoffman's article, "Twombly and Iqbal's Measure: An Assessment of the Federal Judicial Center's Study of Motions to Dismiss" has just been published at 6 Fed. Cts. L. Rev. 1 (2012), available here.
The abstract reads:
This paper provides the first comprehensive assessment of the Federal Judicial Center’s long-anticipated study of motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal. Three primary assessments are made of the FJC’s study. First, the FJC’s findings do not indicate that the Court’s decisions have had no effect on dismissal practice. To the contrary, the FJC found that after Iqbal, a plaintiff was twice as likely to face a motion to dismiss. This sizeable increase in the rate of Rule 12(b)(6) motion activity represents a marked departure from the steady filing rate observed over the last several decades and means, among other consequences, added costs for plaintiffs. Similarly, the data regarding orders resolving dismissal motions demonstrates the consequential impacts of the Court’s cases, as in every case type studied there was a higher likelihood after Iqbal that a motion to dismiss would be granted. Second, due to the inherent limitations of doing empirical work of this nature, the cases may be having effects that the FJC researchers were unable to detect. Comparing how many motions were filed and granted before Twombly with after Iqbal does not indicate whether the Court’s cases are deterring some claims from being brought, whether they have increased dismissals of complaints on factual sufficiency grounds, or how many meritorious cases have been dismissed as a result of the Court’s stricter pleading filter. Finally, the data the FJC researchers gathered may be incomplete, particularly as to the filing rate. As a result, the study may be providing an incomplete picture of actual Rule 12(b)(6) activity.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
In its March 2011 study of the possible effect of Twombly and Iqbal on the resolution of 12(b)(6) motions, the FJC noted that it would look further at the eventual outcome of cases in which a 12(b)(6) motion was granted, but with leave to amend.
That updated study has just been posted here.
Thanks to Joe Cecil at the FJC for alerting me to the posting.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Conference at New York Law School on Summary Judgment, Iqbal, and Employment Discrimination on April 23, 2012
New York Law School Law Review has announced the following symposium:
The New York Law School Law Review and The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute For Law & Policy (“The Institute”) are pleased to present Trial by Jury or Trial by Motion? Summary Judgment, Iqbal and Employment Discrimination, a symposium that will examine the high failure rates of plaintiffs on pre- and post-trial motions in employment discrimination cases and explore potential strategies to reverse this growing trend.
The reality today is that motions for dismissal and for summary judgment are filed in nearly every case. Originally conceived as an efficient means to help plaintiffs in debt collection cases, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 allowed judges to resolve quickly claims where material facts were not genuinely in dispute and the defendant could not mount a defense. Today, the drafters of Rule 56 would not recognize its expanded application, particularly in employment cases.
Encouraging this movement towards pre-trial adjudication of employment discrimination cases are the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, through which the Supreme Court appeared to raise the quantum of facts that a plaintiff must plead to avoid successfully a motion to dismiss. As summary judgment is the accepted mechanism for evaluating the factual sufficiency of complaints, these rulings raise interesting questions as to whether the Court has blurred the line between motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment.
The increasing prevalence of pre- and post-trial dispositive motions has had a demonstrably unique effect in cases alleging violations of employment discrimination laws. A substantial and growing body of evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, shows that civil rights cases, and in particular those alleging employment discrimination, are disproportionately susceptible to dismissal before trial as well as to unfavorable JNOV motions after trial.
Papers will be published in a forthcoming issue of the New York Law School Law Review.
For further information, click here.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Forthcoming in the Kentucky Law Journal and posted on SSRN, Raymond Brescia has completed an empirical study of Iqbal's effect that, unlike past studies, attempts to focus solely on motions to dismiss going to the specificity of the pleadings.
The abstract for "The Iqbal Effect: The Impact of New Pleadings Standards in Employment and Housing Discrimination Litigation" follows.
Abstract: In May 2009, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a case brought by an immigrant of Pakistani descent caught up in the worldwide investigation that followed the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. In that decision, the Court extended the “plausibility test” first introduced two years earlier, in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, to all civil pleadings in federal court. That test requires that, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, a complaint must allege a plausible set of facts. But what is plausible in a given case may be in the eye of the beholder.
In the two years since the Court reached its decision in Iqbal, that opinion has been cited roughly 25,000 times. The empirical analysis contained in this study attempts to gauge the impact of Iqbal on civil rights cases, specifically cases involving allegations of employment and/or housing discrimination. While several other studies have attempted to answer similar questions, to date, no study has analyzed this impact with reference solely to motions based on the specificity of the pleadings: which is, of course, the central issue in Twombly and Iqbal. In addition, other studies looked exclusively at quantitative results, with no assessment of the manner in which the plausibility standard was being applied by the lower courts. This empirical study attempts to fill that gap in the empirical research.
This study identified over 1850 reported decisions on motions to dismiss in employment and housing discrimination cases filed in federal district court covering the years prior to and after the Court’s decision in Twombly. From this group of cases, a smaller sub-set, totaling 634 cases, was identified by excluding those decisions—included in previous studies—that bore no relation to the issue of the specificity of the pleadings. Furthermore, despite this winnowing process, the sample size for this study was still considerably larger than those analyzed in previous studies.
This detailed study yielded the following results. Surprisingly, the dismissal rate in this class of cases during a set time-period immediately prior to the Twombly decision was actually slightly higher than the dismissal rate of decisions issued in the time period between issuance of the Twombly and Iqbal decisions, but then the rate increases considerably after Iqbal. The dismissal rates for all cases pre-Twombly was 61%; between Twombly and Iqbal, it was 56%; but then after Iqbal, it was 72%, an 18% increase from the pre-Twombly period analyzed.
In addition, even more troubling, plaintiffs were far more likely after Iqbal than either before Twombly or immediately thereafter to face a motion to dismiss challenging the sufficiency of the pleadings in the cases analyzed. Indeed, decisions on such motions were generated only 12 times in the first quarter of 2004 (the first quarter analyzed in this study), but then 61 times in the third quarter of 2010 (the last full quarter analyzed): a greater than 500% increase.
Moreover, when it comes to the substance of these decisions, something else appears to be happening. Despite the increased dismissal rate following Iqbal, oddly, in a class of cases analyzed for this study, courts rarely invoked the plausibility standard in the same manner it was utilized by the Court in Twombly and Iqbal; that is, courts rarely found that dismissal was warranted if there was an arguably more plausible, and entirely legal, basis for the challenged conduct. Finally, and similarly, judges rarely, if ever, appear to invoke their own “experience and common sense,” as urged to by the Court, when ruling on motions to dismiss in these cases.
These outcomes yield three conclusions. First, district courts are using the Iqbal precedent, though not necessarily Twombly, to dismiss employment and housing discrimination cases at an accelerated rate. Second, although courts may be invoking the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard in assessing the sufficiency of the pleadings in employment and housing discrimination cases, they are certainly not relying on or utilizing the plausibility standard as articulated in these two precedents. This suggests that the subjective elements of the plausibility standard may be infecting these outcomes. That is, if district court judges are dismissing cases at a higher rate post-Iqbal, yet are not relying on the guidance the Court has given such lower courts in how to deploy the plausibility standard, it would seem that such courts may feel emboldened to dismiss cases that might have survived such a motion had that motion been decided pre-Iqbal. Finally, regardless of whether there is a dramatic Twombly or Iqbal effect on outcomes, motions to dismiss challenging the sufficiency of the pleadings are much more common since Iqbal, which means that even if some plaintiffs are defeating such motions, it still comes at a price: it increases transactions costs in these cases, and may, as a result, have a chilling effect on lawyers contemplating bringing them in the first place.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
I have finally finished my revisions made after the March 2011 Federal Judicial Center study, and, with some trepidation, just posted the revised manuscript on SSRN.
Any and all comments and criticisms gratefully accepted.
--Patricia Hatamyar Moore
Monday, August 15, 2011
Distinguishing Iqbal, Seventh Circuit holds allegations against Donald Rumsfeld adequately state a Bivens claim
In Vance v. Rumsfeld, 2011 WL 3437511 (7th Cir. Aug. 8, 2011), plaintiffs, who are American citizens and civilians, alleged that they were detained and tortured by U.S. military personnel in Iraq for several months in 2006, then were released without ever being charged with a crime. Plaintiffs had worked for a privately-owned Iraqi security services company and began whistle-blowing when they became suspicious that the company was involved in corruption and other illegal activities. Their detention by the U.S. military followed.
Plaintiffs filed a Bivens claim alleging Fifth Amendment substantive due process violations (Count I) against Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense, and others, for torture and cruel, inhuman treatment, among other claims. Defendant Rumsfeld filed a 12(b)(6) motion based in part on the asserted failure of plaintiffs’ complaint to allege his personal responsibility for their treatment and on qualified immunity.
The district court denied the motion to dismiss Count I, and the Seventh Circuit (hearing the appeal under Sections 1291 and 1292(b)) affirmed:
To proceed with their Bivens claims, plaintiffs must allege facts indicating that Secretary Rumsfeld was personally involved in and responsible for the alleged constitutional violations. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948–49 . . . “Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948. As the Supreme Court said in Iqbal, “[t]he factors necessary to establish a Bivens violation will vary with the constitutional provision at issue.” Id. Unlike in Iqbal, which was a discrimination case, where the plaintiff was required to plead that the defendant acted with discriminatory purpose, the minimum knowledge and intent required here would be deliberate indifference, as in analogous cases involving prison and school officials in domestic settings. . . . .
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure impose no special pleading requirements for Bivens claims, including those against former high-ranking government officials. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A ., 534 U.S. 506, 513–14, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002). The notice pleading standard under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure applies, and a plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it meets the “plausibility” standard applied in Iqbal and Twombly. . . . .
We agree with the district court's observation in this case: “Iqbal undoubtedly requires vigilance on our part to ensure that claims which do not state a plausible claim for relief are not allowed to occupy the time of high-ranking government officials. It is not, however, a categorical bar on claims against these officials.”
The court then summarized the complaint’s extensive and detailed allegations of Rumsfeld’s involvement, concluding:
We agree with the district court that the plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to show that Secretary Rumsfeld personally established the relevant policies that caused the alleged violations of their constitutional rights during detention. . . .
We agree with the district court that plaintiffs have articulated facts that, if true, would show the violation of a clearly established constitutional right. In fact, the defendants' argument to the contrary evaporates upon review. The plaintiffs have pled that they were subjected to treatment that constituted torture by U.S. officials while in U.S. custody. On what conceivable basis could a U.S. public official possibly conclude that it was constitutional to torture U.S. citizens?
--Patricia Hatamyar Moore