Thursday, June 16, 2011
Proficient in Italian? Now on SSRN is an article by Professor Antonio Gidi (University of Houston), Twombly e Iqbal: Il Ruolo Della Civil Procedure Nello Scontro Politico-Ideologico Della Società Statunitense (Twombly and Iqbal: The Role of Civil Procedure in the Political and Ideological Battle in American Society). It was recently published in Int’l Lis (Int’l Lis 104 (2010) (Italy)). Here’s the abstract:
L’autore indaga le sentenze “Twombly” (2007) e “Iqbal” (2009) della Suprema Corte federale degli Stati Uniti sotto un angolo visuale socio-politico, mettendo in evidenza il pericolo di una loro lettura strettamente tecnico-processuale e storico-comparata.
Con il conoscimento della struttura processual-giudiziaria e anche della sua complessità sociale e politica dell’ordinamento statunitense, si puó mettere in risalto da un lato, la prevedibilità delle due sentenze “Twombly” e “Iqbal” nel quadro politico attuale degli Stati Uniti e dall’altro, le significative e preoccupanti conseguenze del nuovo orientamento della suprema giurisprudenza federale statunitense sulla tutela, nel processo, delle parti meno abbienti e socialmente più deboli.
The author analyses the “Twombly” (2007) and “Iqbal” (2009) decisions from a socio-political perspective, highlighting the danger of a merely technical-procedural and historical-comparative analysis.
Only an in-depth knowledge of U. S. procedural and judiciary system as well as of its social and political complexity, highlights on the one hand, the foreseeability of the “Twombly” and “Iqbal” decisions in the present U. S. political situation and on the other hand, the meaningful and worrisome consequences of the U. S. Supreme Court’s new trend on the judicial protection of the poor and the weak.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Professor Dustin Benham (Texas Tech) has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Twombly and Iqbal Should (Finally!) Put the Distinction Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Fraud Out of Its Misery, which is forthcoming in the SMU Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
The proliferation of digital evidence and discovery has raised serious questions about litigation fraud in recent years. Legal tabloids are often headlined with the latest example of discovery abuse that resulted in multi-million dollar sanctions. But what about the cases of serious discovery abuse or perjury that neither the opposing party nor the court ever catch? These abuses may very well lead to judgments that do not reflect a result based on the true merits of the case. If a party seeks relief based on fraud within one year from the entry of judgment, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) gives the trial court plenary power to vacate the judgment. For fraud discovered outside of one year, however, the district court’s powers are more limited, and relief is often contingent upon whether the fraud is deemed intrinsic or extrinsic. Indeed, a majority of the circuits hold that after one year a party cannot obtain post-judgment relief based on perjury or discovery abuse because these frauds are intrinsic. This article contends that the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic fraud should be abolished because Twombly and Iqbal have created an effective pleading-stage screening mechanism to prevent the meritless re-litigation of cases.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Professor Charles Sullivan (Seton Hall) has published Plausibly Pleading Employment Discrimination, 52 William & Mary L. Rev. 1613 (2011). Here’s the abstract:
The Supreme Court’s unanimous 2002 decision in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., which took a very permissive approach to pleading discrimination claims, may or may not remain good law after Ashcroft v. Iqbal. As is well known, Iqbal took a restrictive approach to pleading generally under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and its application to employment discrimination cases could pose serious problems for plaintiffs attempting to get into federal court. In addition, there is certainly a tension between Swierkiewicz and Iqbal. This is in part because the former is a strong reaffirmation of notice pleading as it has traditionally been understood whereas the latter makes clear that “plausible pleading” is something very different. But it is also because Iqbal was, after all, a discrimination case, albeit brought under the Constitution rather than a federal statute, and its finding that the discrimination alleged there was not plausibly pled could easily be applied to statutes such as Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Numerous scholars have analyzed Iqbalgenerally and several have addressed the application of plausible pleading to claims under the antidiscrimination laws. A respectable view is that Swierkiewicz remains good law, although the commentators recognize legitimate questions about its continued vitality. This Article, while agreeing that readings of both Swierkiewicz and Iqbal would permit this result, nevertheless explores the contrary possibility: supposing Iqbal sub silentio overruled Swierkiewicz and applies plausible pleading to discrimination claims, what must a plaintiff plead to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim?
The most obvious response is that the plaintiff should plead a prima facie case of discrimination under the traditional McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green standard. Although Swierkiewicz held that pleading a prima facie case was not necessary, in part because there are other ways of proving discrimination, it did not suggest that such pleading would be insufficient. There are, however, complications with pleading a traditional prima facie case that should be explored. Further, there are at least three alternatives for attorneys who cannot, consistent with Rule 11, allege such a prima facie case. First, the Article proposes that the plaintiff might survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion by pleading “direct evidence” of discrimination. Although the term has a checkered history in discrimination jurisprudence, the pleading context suggests a new look at an old concept. Second, the Article addresses the possibility of pleading the existence of a “comparator” whose more favorable treatment than the plaintiff may make the claim of discrimination plausible.
Third, and perhaps most radically, the Article argues that plaintiffs should be able to take the Supreme Court at its word in Iqbal that, in deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must take as true all facts, as opposed to legal conclusions, alleged in the complaint. The Article proposes that plaintiffs plead the existence of social science research showing the pervasiveness of discrimination. Taken as true, this body of literature may well nudge a particular claim across the border drawn by the Supreme Court between a “possible” claim and a “plausible” one.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Over at Prawfsblawg, Howard Wasserman has been examining the recent decisions by U.S. District Judge James Beaty in civil lawsuits brought by former members of the Duke lacrosse team against the City of Durham, District Attorney Michael Nifong, and numerous other defendants.
His most recent post (Pleading in the Duke lacrosse opinions) looks at what Judge Beaty's decisions have to say about pleading, including his application of Iqbal.
Monday, March 28, 2011
The Federal Judicial Center has released a Report to the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules entitled Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim After Iqbal, authored by Joe S. Cecil, George W. Cort, Margaret S. Williams & Jared J. Bataillon. Here’s the executive summary:
This report presents the findings of a Federal Judicial Center study on the filing and resolution of motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The study was requested by the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules. The study compared motion activity in 23 federal district courts in 2006 and 2010 and included an assessment of the outcome of motions in orders that do not appear in the computerized legal reference systems such as Westlaw. Statistical models were used to control for such factors as differences in levels of motion activity in individual federal district courts and types of cases.
After excluding cases filed by prisoners and pro se parties, and after controlling for differences in motion activity across federal district courts and across types of cases and for the presence of an amended complaint, we found the following:
• There was a general increase from 2006 to 2010 in the rate of filing of motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim (see infra section III.A).
• In general, there was no increase in the rate of grants of motions to dismiss without leave to amend. There was, in particular, no increase in the rate of grants of motions to dismiss without leave to amend in civil rights cases and employment discrimination cases (see infra section III.B.1).
• Only in cases challenging mortgage loans on both federal and state law grounds did we find an increase in the rate of grants of motions to dismiss without leave to amend. Many of these cases were removed from state to federal court. This category of cases tripled in number during the relevant period in response to events in the housing market (see infra section III.B.1). There is no reason to believe that the rate of dismissals without leave to amend would have been lower in 2006 had such cases existed then.
• There was no increase from 2006 to 2010 in the rate at which a grant of a motion to dismiss terminated the case (see infra section III.B.1).
(Hat Tip: Lonny Hoffman)
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion (per Justice Sotomayor) in Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano (No. 09-1156), affirming the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that the plaintiffs’ complaint adequately stated a claim for securities fraud. The Court rejects the arguments by the defendant Matrixx (manufacturer of the cold remedy Zicam) that “[plaintiffs’] complaint does not adequately allege that Matrixx made a material representation or omission or that it acted with scienter because the complaint does not allege that Matrixx knew of a statistically significant number of adverse events requiring disclosure.” [Slip Op. at 1.] Although the case involves securities-fraud claims in particular, the opinion contains several references to Twombly and Iqbal and may have a bearing on pleading standards more generally. Here's a quick summary:
The Court begins its discussion [Slip Op. at 3] by stating that the plaintiffs’ complaint “alleges the following facts, which the courts below properly assumed to be true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U. S. ___, ___ (2009).” It recounts over the next four pages events relevant to plaintiffs’ securities fraud claims.
Analyzing the issue of materiality, the Court states [Slip Op. at 17]: “Assuming the complaint’s allegations to be true, as we must, Matrixx received information that plausibly indicated a reliable causal link between Zicam and anosmia.” In footnote 12, the Court rejects Matrixx’s argument that certain studies relied on by the plaintiffs were unreliable with the following discussion:
Matrixx contends that Dr. Jafek and Linschoten’s study was not reliable because they did not sufficiently rule out the common cold as a cause for their patients’ anosmia. We note that the complaint alleges that, in one instance, a consumer who did not have a cold lost his sense of smell after using Zicam. More importantly, to survive a motion to dismiss, respondents need only allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U. S. 544, 570 (2007).
Here’s the Court’s conclusion on whether the complaint adequately pleaded the materiality requirement [Slip Op. at 18]:
We believe that these allegations suffice to “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” satisfying the materiality requirement, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U. S. 544, 556 (2007), and to “allo[w] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged,” Iqbal, 556 U. S., at ___. The information provided to Matrixx by medical experts revealed a plausible causal relationship between Zicam Cold Remedy and anosmia. Consumers likely would have viewed the risk associated with Zicam (possible loss of smell) as substantially outweighing the benefit of using the product (alleviating cold symptoms), particularly in light of the existence of many alternative products on the market. Importantly, Zicam Cold Remedy allegedly accounted for 70 percent of Matrixx’s sales. Viewing the allegations of the complaint as a whole, the complaint alleges facts suggesting a significant risk to the commercial viability of Matrixx’s leading product.
As to whether the complaint adequately pleaded scienter, the Court uses the PSLRA’s heightened pleading standard, which requires a plaintiff to “state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind.” 15 U. S. C. § 78u–4(b)(2)(A). Citing Tellabs, the Court explains [Slip Op. at 20]:
This standard requires courts to take into account “plausible opposing inferences.” Tellabs, 551 U.S., at 323. A complaint adequately pleads scienter under the PSLRA “only if a reasonable person would deem the inference of scienter cogent and at least as compelling as any opposing inference one could draw from the facts alleged.” Id. at 324.
The Court holds [Slip Op. at 21] that “[t]he inference that Matrixx acted recklessly (or intentionally, for that matter) is at least as compelling, if not more compelling, than the inference that it simply thought the reports did not indicate anything meaningful about adverse reactions.” After summarizing the key allegations in the complaint, the Court concludes [Slip Op. at 22]:
These allegations, “taken collectively,” give rise to a “cogent and compelling” inference that Matrixx elected not to disclose the reports of adverse events not because it believed they were meaningless but because it understood their likely effect on the market. Tellabs, 551 U. S., at 323, 324. “[A] reasonable person” would deem the inference that Matrixx acted with deliberate recklessness (or even intent) “at least as compelling as any opposing inference one could draw from the facts alleged.” Id. at 324.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Last week Judge Jerome B. Simandle (U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey) issued an opinion addressing whether the approach to pleading articulated by the Supreme Court in Twombly and Iqbal applies to the pleading of affirmative defenses. He concludes:
“This Court joins the two other Districts in this Circuit that have addressed this issue by holding that the heightened pleading standard of Twombly and Iqbal does not apply to affirmative defenses.”
Monday, March 14, 2011
We covered earlier the Supreme Court's discussion of federal pleading standards in its Skinner v. Switzer opinion, issued last week. Howard Wasserman has some additional commentary over at PrawfsBlawg in a post entitled "Some hints (or further confusion) about the state of pleading?"
Monday, March 7, 2011
Readers following federal pleading standards after Twombly and Iqbal may be interested in a snippet from today's Supreme Court opinion in Skinner v. Switzer. The opinion cites neither Twombly nor Iqbal but does cite the Court’s pre-Twombly pleading decisions Scheuer and Swierkiewicz. Here’s the relevant paragraph:
Because this case was resolved on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the question below was “not whether [Skinner] will ultimately prevail” on his procedural due process claim, see Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U. S. 232, 236 (1974), but whether his complaint was sufficient to cross the federal court’s threshold, see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U. S. 506, 514 (2002). Skinner’s complaint is not a model of the careful drafter’s art, but under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint need not pin plaintiff’s claim for relief to a precise legal theory. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible “short and plain” statement of the plaintiff’s claim, not an exposition of his legal argument. See 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure §1219, pp. 277–278 (3d ed. 2004 and Supp. 2010).
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Last month, the Seventh Circuit decided an appeal of a district court’s refusal to grant a defendant’s motion to dismiss an antitrust complaint. The case is In re Text Messaging Antitrust Litigation (No. 10-8037), ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 5367383, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 26299 (Dec. 29, 2010), and Judge Posner’s opinion addresses both pleading standards under Twombly/Iqbal, and whether 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) allows an immediate appeal of a district court’s denial of a Twombly/Iqbal-based motion to dismiss. The court concludes that 1292(b) is a proper means for appellate review, and then affirms the district court’s conclusion that the complaint passed muster. Detailed excerpts from the opinion (which include a reference to Paradise Lost, a discussion of child-run lemonade stands, and a recognition that "pleading standards in federal litigation are in ferment after Twombly and Iqbal") follow after the jump.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Prof. Joseph Seiner (South Carolina) has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Twombly, Iqbal, and the Affirmative Defense. Here’s the abstract:
In Twombly v. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. 644 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court announced a new plausibility standard for a plaintiff’s allegations. The decisions may have even broader implications, however, as many federal district courts have already applied this pleading standard to a defendant’s affirmative defenses. This Article attempts – for the first time in the legal literature – to make sense of Twombly and Iqbal in the context of the affirmative defense.
This Article addresses the two possible readings of Twombly and Iqbal for a defendant’s responsive pleadings. The first reading is a narrow case-specific approach, and concludes that the decisions are inapplicable to defendants and must be limited to a plaintiff’s civil complaint. The second approach is much broader, and concludes that a defendant must comply with the Supreme Court’s plausibility standard by pleading enough facts to sufficiently state an affirmative defense. This Article explains why a close textual review of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, combined with numerous policy and practical considerations, support the broader second reading of Twombly and Iqbal for affirmative defenses.
What it actually means to plausibly plead a defense is a much more complicated question. This paper closely examines this issue through the lens of one of the most complex and important defenses in all civil case law – the affirmative defense to a claim of sexual harassment. By way of this example, this Article explains how the plausibility standard would apply more broadly to defendants in all civil cases. This Article does not attempt to answer the normative question of whether the plausibility standard was properly established by the Supreme Court. Instead, this Article assumes the validity of the Court’s approach, and describes what this standard would look like if applied to the affirmative defense. The question of whether the plausibility standard should apply to defendants – and if so how it should apply – is likely to create significant controversy in the coming years. This paper establishes a foundation for that debate, and fills the current void in the academic scholarship on this issue.
Friday, November 19, 2010
This week’s New York Times contains an article by Adam Liptak titled Justices Are Long on Words but Short on Guidance. From the article:
The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is often criticized for issuing sweeping and politically polarized decisions. But there is an emerging parallel critique as well, this one concerned with the quality of the court’s judicial craftsmanship. In decisions on questions great and small, the court often provides only limited or ambiguous guidance to lower courts. And it increasingly does so at enormous length.
Among the examples provided are Twombly and Iqbal:
In a pair of civil procedure decisions in 2007 and 2009 that have been cited many thousands of times, the court gave trial judges more authority to throw out cases early based on, in the words of the later decision, their “experience and common sense.” That standard, Arthur R. Miller wrote last month in The Duke Law Journal, is “shadowy at best” and has caused “confusion and disarray among judges and lawyers.”
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Prof. Suzanna Sherry (Vanderbilt) has posted on SSRN a draft of her forthcoming article, Foundational Facts and Doctrinal Change, to be published in the University of Illinois Law Review (January 2011). Here’s the abstract:
Doctrine is at the center of law and legal analysis. This Article argues that we have fundamentally misunderstood its nature. The conventional approach to legal doctrine focuses on theory and applications. What is the doctrine designed to do and how does it function? But many doctrines cannot be adequately understood or evaluated under the conventional model because they contain an additional, hidden element. They are built on foundational facts: potentially contested factual assumptions embedded in the doctrinal structure itself. Foundational facts are judges' generalized and invisible intuitions about how the world works. Whether a defendant acted in a particular way out of a particular motive are decisional, rather than foundational, facts. But the likelihood of actors in defendant's position acting that way or having that motive are foundational facts, and doctrinal rules - including burdens of proof and standards of review - will be structured differently depending on whether judges assume a high or low likelihood. Foundational facts thus drive doctrine. Without an understanding of a doctrine's foundational facts, we cannot adequately understand the doctrine and its changes over time. Foundational facts only come to light when doctrine shifts, seemingly inexplicably and often without judicial acknowledgment that anything has changed. That doctrinal shift serves as a cue to look for changed foundational assumptions that might be driving the doctrinal change. Identifying those foundational facts, in turn, allows us to better understand and evaluate both the doctrine and its underlying assumptions.
Our readers may be particularly interested in Professor Sherry’s discussion of changes in summary-judgment doctrine (the 1986 trilogy) and pleading doctrine (Twombly/Iqbal).
Friday, October 29, 2010
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued a significant opinion on federal pleading standards in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Twombly and Iqbal. The case is Speaker v. U.S. Dept of Health & Human Servs. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), No. 09-16154, 2010 WL 4136634 (11th Cir. Oct. 22, 2010). If that caption rings a bell, it’s because the plaintiff is Andrew Speaker, whose quarantine by the CDC in 2007 garnered considerable media attention. Relying on Twombly and Iqbal, the district court dismissed Speaker’s complaint. The 11th Circuit reversed, concluding that Speaker had adequately alleged a violation of the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a).
One element of Speaker’s claim was that the CDC, by disclosing Speaker’s medical information, failed to fulfill its record keeping obligation under the Privacy Act. As to this element, the 11th Circuit reasoned (emphasis in original):
Plaintiff Speaker has pleaded enough factual content to “nudge [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S. Ct. at 1974. Importantly, Speaker’s allegations are not barren recitals of the statutory elements, shorn of factual specificity. See id. at 555, 127 S. Ct. at 1964-65 (stating that “a plaintiff’s obligation to provide grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do” (quotation marks and brackets omitted)).
Rather, Speaker alleges what the CDC disclosed; namely, “personally identifiable information,” including information relating to his “medical history and his testing and treatment for tuberculosis.” Am. Compl. 13 ¶ 81. Moreover, he alleges when the CDC disclosed this information: namely, “during the time frame of said public press conferences.” Am. Compl. ¶ 83. Speaker’s Amended Complaint narrows the time frame of the CDC’s initial disclosures to a short period in late May 2007. Speaker also expressly identifies one news organization to whom disclosure was made; namely, the Associated Press, which he claims received the leaked information between May 29 and May 31. Id.14 Importantly, Speaker has also alleged with factual specificity how the CDC came into possession of this information. Even the CDC does not dispute that it had the information that Speaker alleges was impermissibly disclosed. And there is no doubt that some entity, or its employees, disclosed Speaker’s identity, since not even the CDC contends that Speaker himself revealed this information before the AP’s May 31 article.
Another element of Speaker’s claim was that the CDC intentionally disclosed his information. The 11th Circuit found that Speaker’s allegations on this element were sufficient because:
Speaker expressly alleges that the CDC’s “unauthorized disclosure” was “intentional” Am. Compl. ¶ 1; see also id. ¶ 82 (stating that improper disclosures were “a result of the deliberate actions of the CDC and its employers or agents”); id. ¶ 83 (alleging that CDC’s disclosures were “part of a media campaign directed toward Mr. Speaker”); id. ¶ 111 (stating that “[a]t all times relevant herein, the CDC acted wilfully and intentionally in connection with the aforementioned disclosures”); id. ¶ 112 (referring to CDC’s unauthorized disclosure as “intentional”).
(Hat Tip: Marjorie Silver)
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Prof. Charles Sullivan (Seton Hall) has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Plausibly Pleading Employment Discrimination, which is forthcoming in the William & Mary Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
The Supreme Court’s unanimous 2002 decision in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., which took a very permissive approach to pleading discrimination claims, may or may not remain good law after Ashcroft v. Iqbal. As is well known, Iqbal took a restrictive approach to pleading generally under the Federal Rules, and its application to employment discrimination cases could pose serious problems for plaintiffs attempting to get into federal court. Further, there is certainly a tension between Swierkiewicz and Iqbal. This is in part because the former is a strong reaffirmation of notice pleading as it has traditionally been understood while the latter makes clear that “plausible pleading” is something very different. But it also because Iqbal was, after all, a discrimination case (albeit brought under the Constitution rather than a federal statute), and its finding that the discrimination alleged there was not plausibly pled could easily be applied to Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Numerous scholars have analyzed Iqbal generally and several have addressed the application of plausible pleading to claims under the antidiscrimination laws. A respectable view is that Swierkiewicz remains good law although the commentators recognize legitimate questions about its continued vitality. This Article, while agreeing that there are readings of both Swierkiewicz and Iqbal that would permit this result, nevertheless explores the contrary possibility: supposing Iqbal sub silentio overrules Swierkiewicz and applies plausible pleading to discrimination claims, what must a plaintiff plead to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim?
The most obvious response is that plaintiff should plead a prima facie case of discrimination under the traditional McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green standard. Although Swierkiewicz held that this was not necessary (in part because there are other ways of proving discrimination), it did not suggest that such pleading would not be sufficient. There are, however, complications with this approach that should be explored. Further, there are at least three alternatives for attorneys who cannot, consistent with Rule 11, allege such a prima facie case. First, the plaintiff might survive a 12(b)(6) motion by pleading “direct evidence” of discrimination. While the term has a checkered history in discrimination jurisprudence, the pleading context suggests a new look at an old concept. Second, the article addresses the possibility of pleading the existence of a “comparator” whose more favorable treatment than plaintiff may make the claim of discrimination plausible.
Third, and perhaps most radically, the article argues that plaintiffs should be able to take the Supreme Court at its word in Iqbal that, in deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must take as true all facts (as opposed to legal conclusions) alleged in the complaint. It proposes that plaintiffs plead the existence of social science research showing the pervasiveness of discrimination. Taken as true, this body of literature may well nudge a particular claim across the border drawn by the Supreme Court between a “possible” claim and a “plausible” one.
Monday, October 18, 2010
The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd (10-98), limited to questions 1 and 2:
(1) Whether a former government official is entitled to absolute immunity from a claim that he used the material witness statute as a “pretext” to preventatively detain terrorism suspects;
(2) Whether the former government official is entitled to qualified immunity from the pretext claim based on the conclusions that (a) the Fourth Amendment prohibits an officer from executing a valid material witness warrant with the subjective intent of conducting further investigation or preventively detaining the subject; and (b) this Fourth Amendment rule was clearly established at the time of the respondent’s arrest.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision below was one of the first appellate opinions to apply the Supreme Court’s pleading decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, and it garnered considerable attention at the time for that reason (see, e.g., here and here). It’s not clear how much of a role pleading standards will play in the questions the Court will decide in Al-Kidd.
SCOTUSblog’s case file is available here, which contains links to the lower court opinion and the cert-stage briefs.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Alex Reinert (Cardozo School of Law) has posted The Costs of Heightened Pleading to SSRN.
In Conley v. Gibson, 355 U. S. 41 (1957), the Supreme Court announced its commitment to a liberal pleading regime in federal civil cases, and for decades thereafter was steadfast in resisting ad hoc heightened pleading rules adopted by lower courts. Thus, from 1957 until a few years ago, most litigants could count on surviving a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim so long as their pleading provided some minimal notice to the defendant of the nature of their claim. Enter Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Iqbal and Twombly, on many accounts, two-stepped the Court from notice to heightened “plausibility” pleading for all civil cases. And it garnered applause and withering criticism. No one seems willing to defend the process that the Court used to abandon fifty years of pleading law — shorn as it was of any attention to the procedures contemplated by the Rules Enabling Act — but as a substantive matter, heightened pleading has many adherents. For heightened pleading advocates, it promises to reduce crowded dockets, make discovery available only to worthy litigants, and generally improve the quality of litigation to which attorneys and federal courts devote their attention. And at the bottom of it all lies a fundamental assumption — notice pleading lets in too many worthless cases and heightened pleading will keep them out. Despite this assumption, however, there has been almost no empirical analysis of the connection between merit and pleading.
This Article critically intervenes in this discussion by providing empirical data to question the widespread assumption about the benefits and costs of heightened pleading. The data reported here show that pleadings that would get by under a notice pleading standard but not a heightened pleading standard — what I refer to as “thin” pleadings — are just as likely to be successful as those cases that would survive heightened pleading. Indeed, the research summarized in this Article, gathered through a novel retrospective analysis of appellate and trial court decisions from 1990-1999, suggest that there is no correlation between the heft of a pleading and the ultimate success of a case.
This Article certainly does not end the debate, but it is better to begin on solid empirical footing than on supposition alone. Although there are limitations to the data reported here, they are more than we have had before, and they call attention to the costs of heightened pleading even as they suggest avenues for further research. As Congress, the judiciary, and the academy are engaged in a critical discussion as to how to respond to the Supreme Court’s most recent alteration of pleading jurisprudence, relevant empirical data should be part of the conversation.
Hillel Y. Levin (University of Georgia School of Law) has posted Iqbal, Twombly and the Lessons of the Celotex Trilogy to SSRN.
This Essay compares the Twombly/Iqbal line of cases to the Celotex trilogy and suggests that developments since the latter offer lessons for the former. Some of the comparisons are obvious: decreased access and increased judicial discretion. However, one important similarity has not been well understood: that the driving force in both contexts has been the lower courts rather than the Supreme Court. Further, while we can expect additional access barriers to be erected in the future, our focus should be on lower courts, rather than other institutional players, as the likely source of those barriers.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Now in print in the latest issue of the Duke Law Journal is an article by Professor Arthur Miller (NYU) entitled From Conley to Twombly to Iqbal: A Double Play on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 60 Duke L.J. 1 (2010). Here’s the abstract:
This Article discusses the effects of the recent Supreme Court decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal on the model of civil litigation established by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in 1938. Those Rules created a procedural system giving a litigant, using plain language and presenting the essential elements of a claim for relief, an opportunity to pursue discovery and have his or her rights adjudicated on the merits. This Article discusses the basic values underlying that system and its importance in promoting broad citizen access to our federal courts and enabling the private enforcement of substantive public policies.
The Article then discusses how Twombly and Iqbal have destabilized both the pleading and the motion-to-dismiss practices as they have been known for over sixty years. The cases are seen as the latest in a sequence of increasingly restrictive changes during the last quarter century. These have created expensive and time-consuming procedural stop signs that produce earlier and earlier termination of cases, thereby increasingly preventing claimants from reaching trial—particularly jury trial. This Article contends that there has been too much attention paid to claims by corporate and other defense interests of expense and possible abuse and too little on citizen access, a level litigation playing field, and the other values of civil litigation. Much fine-grained empirical research is needed to separate fact from fiction.
This Article finds that setting significantly higher and more resource-consumptive procedural barriers for plaintiffs and moving to the ever-earlier disposition of civil suits—now exacerbated by the two Supreme Court decisions—runs contrary to many of the values underlying the Federal Rules. Concluding that the Court’s preoccupation with defense costs is misplaced and its belittlement of case management as a way of cabining those costs is unpersuasive, the Article offers several proposals that the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (or Congress) might consider to reverse recent developments and ameliorate some of their negative aspects.
Ultimately, the Article asks a basic question: after Twombly and Iqbal, is our American court system still one in which an aggrieved person, however unsophisticated and under-resourced he may be, can secure a meaningful day in court? Finding that the important values of civil litigation are in jeopardy, this Article urges that the egalitarian, democratic ideals espoused by the original Federal Rules not be subordinated to one-dimensional claims of excessive litigation costs and abuse that have not been validated.
PS: Miller writes that his title “seeks to evoke the image of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, Hall of Fame Chicago Cubs infielders in the early years of the twentieth century, whose remarkable double-play skills were immortalized in a poem by Franklin Pierce Adams in the New York Evening Mail on July 12, 1910.” Particularly timely as we gear up this week for baseball’s post-season (exactly 100 years later).
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Prof. Suja Thomas (Illinois) has posted on SSRN her forthcoming essay, Oddball Iqbal and Twombly and Employment Discrimination, to be published in the University of Illinois Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
This brief Essay argues that Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly was an oddball case, a massive antitrust action with significant costs, much different than the vast majority of cases in the federal courts. While the Supreme Court and some scholars including Professor Richard Epstein have largely justified the new plausibility standard in Twombly on the basis of these costs, they have not shown why the new standard should apply transsubstantively to cases without these same costs, including typical employment discrimination cases. This Essay further argues that Ashcroft v. Iqbal like Twombly was also an oddball case, though with different types of costs than Twombly. Finally, contrary to Professor Epstein, this Essay argues that the standard under Iqbal and Twombly is likely to be procedurally revolutionary in employment discrimination cases. Indeed, the new standard could lead to a revolution due to the convergence of the new motion to dismiss standard with summary judgment and the effective death of Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Now available on SSRN are several contributions to the Penn State Law Review's symposium on Ashcroft v. Iqbal. They include:
Kit Kinports, Iqbal and Supervisory Immunity
Victor C. Romero, Interrogating Iqbal: Intent, Inertia, and (a Lack of) Imagination
Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Business as Usual: Immigration and the National Security Exception
Nancy Welsh, I Could Have Been a Contender: Summary Jury Trial As A Means to Overcome Iqbal's Negative Effects Upon Pre-Litigation Communication, Negotiation and Early, Consensual Dispute Resolution