Rules governing motion pleadings are found in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure title III. These rules have been modified and limited by two particular cases: Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal. The cases had different fact patterns, however, both concluded similarly regarding pleadings. In Bell Atlantic, it was concluded that a plaintiff had to show plausibility in the pleadings; possible and conceivable were no longer sufficient thresholds to maintain proceedings. In Ashcroft, it was held that a detained prisoner had not pleaded sufficient facts to maintain a claim of discrimination.
The Twombly case involved a class-action lawsuit for anticompetitive behavior under the Sherman Act. With the break up of the Bell’s in the mid 90’s, the telephone communications market was opened to wide competition. The plaintiff’s were subscribers that sued Bell Atlantic under the Sherman Act for engaging in parallel conduct, and agreeing to not compete with each other. The District Court dismissed the case because parallel business alone with insufficient to prove a violation of the legislation. The 2nd circuit reversed the decision, believing that Bell Atlantic had to show that there was no set of facts where parallel operations could be shown to be a result of collusion or coincidence. The Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Courts opinion, agreeing with the District Court citing: Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio, Conley v. Gibson, and Dura Pharmaceuticals v. Broudo, approvingly. In the Iqbal case, a Pakistani national was detained following the September 11 attacks. Iqbal sued the John Ashcroft, and Robert Mueller, the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI, respectively. Basically the complaint stated that he was detained due to his race and nationality. Additionally, the executive branch was engaging in a pattern of discrimination, having Muslim males set up for arrest and harsh treatment. Essentially, the Twombly case was cited positively and a requirement for specific pleadings was affirmed.
It has been said, “These two cases represent in combination the death of notice pleading in the federal court.” These cases have indeed killed the notice pleading. A complaint that simply puts a defendant on notice and is wholly dependent on subsequent discovery is no longer sufficient to maintain an action. Case law since Gibson has basically demanded that a complaint articulate a possible, plausible theory of facts. The legal climate for businesses and individuals alike would be egregious if any pleading that followed a formbook could be accepted to initiate a costly trial against someone. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal points out that the Iqbal case is the most important decision for corporate law in the 2008-2009 term. Requiring complaints to specifically state allegations that are plausible, shields businesses from frivolous lawsuits. Admittedly, every fact pattern is unique and “determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to draw on its experience and common sense.”
This death is most acutely felt in the area of constitutionally protected rights vis a vis the executive. The complication of making pleadings may stymie the flow of constitutional rights cases and lead to injustice. Cases that are difficult to prove or enunciate due to government’s possession of the necessary evidence may now be summarily dismissed rather than reviewed and government held accountable. This deals a startling blow to transparency in government while at the same time making the business environment more predictable.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)
“Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (2010)” Legal Information Institute Cornell University
Law School. accessed Sept 1, 2013,
Peterson, Kristina. “Business Capitalizes On Ruling In Political Case,” Wall Street