Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ninth Circuit Sets Pleading Standard for Civil Rights Claims Against Municipalities

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled this week in AE v. Tulare that a civil rights plaintiff suing a municipality under Monell v. Department of Social Services has to allege some concrete facts to satisfy the pleading standard under Ashcroft v. Iqbal.  The ruling reiterates that the pleading rule in a Monell case in the Ninth Circuit now requires some concrete factual allegations--more than the pre-Iqbal rule in that Circuit.

Before Iqbal, the Ninth Circuit didn't require much detail at the pleading phase in a municipal liability case--no more than a bare allegation that goernment officials' conduct conformed to some unidentified government policy or custom.  But the government argued here that that should change under Starr v. Baca, the Ninth Circuit's ruling last year in which the court wrestled with the "perplexing" holdings in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombley, Erickson v. Pardus, and Iqbal and set these pleading principles for civil rights claims:

whatever the difference between these cases, we can at least state the following two principles common to all of them.  First, to be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.  Second, the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.

AE, at 792 (quoting Starr).  The court in AE said that this standard applies to AE's municipal liability claims and remanded the case to allow AE to amend the complaint to try to meet it.


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