THE IMPACT OF THE NEW PLEADING STANDARD, AND ITS GREATER EXAMINATION
This supplements our prior e-newsletter on the amount of detail required in federal court complaints, the documents filed at the beginning of lawsuits. The Supreme Court’s Ashcroft v. Iqbal decision required complaints to contain greater detail. Under Iqbal, a plaintiff (the party bringing a lawsuit) must set out sufficient facts to show that it is not merely “possible” the defendant acted unlawfully; it is “plausible”.
The decision had a profound impact. According to an empirical study published by the American University Law Review in February 2010, since Iqbal, the odds have more than doubled that a court will grant a motion to dismiss a complaint, albeit with leave to amend it (meaning to change or fix it).
There are 13 federal courts of appeals below the Supreme Court. Each is numbered and covers a region, such as our Third Circuit whose territory covers Pennsylvania,New Jersey and Delaware. The federal trial courts in each region, known as district courts, before whom cases begin, must follow the law as interpreted by their courts of appeals. The courts of appeals, in turn, must follow the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and thus Iqbal. Doing so requires them to interpret Iqbal.
In Iqbal, the Supreme Court instructed that “judicial experience” and “common sense” should be used to determine whether a complaint states a plausible claim. InFowler v. UPMC Shadyside, the Third Circuit warned our district courts not to rely too greatly upon either judicial experience or common sense. As the Third Circuit stated its interpretation of Iqbal: “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts alleged is improbable and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.”
Iqbal and its progeny (meaning the cases following it, such as Fowler) demonstrate the importance of retaining a knowledgeable lawyer. Your attorney should be familiar with these decisions, and should bring that knowledge to bear in either drafting your complaint, or in preparing a motion to dismiss a complaint brought by the other side.