Another Twombly/Iqbal Victory for Plaintiffs: SCOTUS Denies Certiorari for Digital Music Price-Fixing Case
If you’re a reader of this blog, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Bell Atlantic v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a pair of Supreme Court cases which altered the pleading standards applicable to civil cases filed in federal court.
Defense lawyers have jumped all over those two opinions in an attempt to dismiss lawsuits — particularly complex commercial class actions, like antitrust cases — before any discovery can be taken. Every lawsuit, they claim, no matter how detailed and compelling, is "implausible" under Twombly and Iqbal. I taught CLEs to help other trial lawyers defeat those arguments.
Back when the Iqbal opinion first came out, I wasn’t impressed. Sure, the Supreme Court added the word "plausible" to the Rule 8 standard, but frankly I didn’t think Twombly or Iqbal would make Rule 8 and Rule 12(b)(6) any more dispositive than they already were. Before either of those cases were decided, if a judge read a plaintiff’s complaint and thought that the claim was "implausible," they would dismiss it under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Twombly and Iqbal simply codified a practice that was already widespread in the federal judiciary.
That’s not to say I think the opinions do nothing — by way of their vague, ambiguous and amorphous language, they confuse a lot of judges into arbitrarily deeming certain allegations to be "conclusions" instead of "facts" (and even Judge Posner can’t figure out the "plausibility v. probability" distinction) — but the underlying legal principles are the same.
I said as much at the time. Time has proven me correct.
Almost exactly a year ago I posted Second Circuit Revives Digital Music Price-Fixing Case, Takes A Bite Out Of Twombly, noting a Second Circuit opinion which held:
Although the Twombly court acknowledged that for purposes of summary judgment a plaintiff must present evidence that tends to exclude the possibility of independent action, 550 U.S. at 554, and that the district court below had held that plaintiffs must allege additional facts that tended to exclude independent self-interested conduct, id. at 552, it specifically held that, to survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiffs need only “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that an agreement was made,” id. at 556; see also 2 Areeda & Hovenkamp § 307d1 (3d ed. 2007) (“[T]he Supreme Court did not hold that the same standard applies to a complaint and a discovery record . . . . The ‘plausibly suggesting’ threshold for a conspiracy complaint remains considerably less than the ‘tends to rule out the possibility’ standard for summary judgment.”).
Defendants next argue that Twombly requires that a plaintiff identify the specific time, place, or person related to each conspiracy allegation. This is also incorrect. The Twombly court noted, in dicta, that had the claim of agreement in that case not rested on the parallel conduct described in the complaint, “we doubt that the . . . references to an agreement among the [Baby Bells] would have given the notice required by Rule 8 . . [because] the pleadings mentioned no specific time, place, or person involved in the alleged conspiracies.” 550 at 565 n.10. In this case, as in Twombly, the claim of agreement rests on the parallel conduct described in the complaint. Therefore, plaintiffs were not required to mention a specific time, place or person involved in each conspiracy allegation.
The Second Circuit’s opinion was significant. The case was right up Twombly‘s alley — an allegation of an illegal agreement in violation of antitrust laws, the details of which were still known only to the defendants — and so the Second Circuit’s reinstatement of the case dealt a powerful blow to the defense lawyers who had been arguing that Twombly and Iqbal had slammed the courthouse shut on plaintiffs who couldn’t prove their whole case before even filing it.
The record companies in that case weren’t inclined to throw in the towel, so they filed a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court arguing, as you would imagine, that the Second Circuit failed to follow Twombly and Iqbal.
A funny thing happened yesterday. Tucked in among pages and pages of summary orders at the Supreme Court was this:
SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT, ET AL. V. STARR, KEVIN, ET AL.
The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. The Chief Justice and Justice Sotomayor took no part in the consideration or decision of this petition.
The Second Circuit’s opinion thus stands firm. Even after Twombly and Iqbal, all a plaintiff needs to allege, even in a complex antitrust case, is “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" the elements of the claim.
That’s the same as the Third Circuit recently held in In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010) and later applied to all cases, including complex cases, in W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys. v. UPMC, No. 09-4468, (3d Cir. November 29, 2010)(precedential).
In short, the Circuit Courts have taken a hard look at Twombly and Iqbal and have rejected the numerous attempts by big corporations to slam the courthouse doors shut on meritorious cases, and the Supreme Court hasn’t stopped those Courts from setting the record straight.
In celebration, below the fold are some plaintiff-friendly precedential opinions over the last year in various Courts of Appeals (in addition to the Second Circuit and Third Circuit opinions above).
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"[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must ‘state[ ] a plausible claim for relief’ that ‘permit[s] the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct’ based upon ‘its judicial experience and common sense.’ Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). In this regard, while a plaintiff is not required to plead facts that constitute a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss, see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-15, 122 S. Ct. 992, 152 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2002), ‘[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level,’ Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). See also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009)."
Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187 (4th Cir. 2010).
"Prior to Iqbal and Twombly, it was clear that ‘a plaintiff [was] free on appeal to give us an unsubstantiated version of the events, provided it is consistent with the complaint, to show that the complaint should not have been dismissed.’ Dawson v. General Motors Corp., 977 F.2d 369, 372 (7th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted). The question now is whether Iqbal and Twombly narrowed the pleading standard such that this after-the-fact hypothesis of facts is no longer permissible.
We conclude that the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, while raising the bar for what must be included in the complaint in the first instance, did not eliminate the plaintiff’s opportunity to suggest facts outside the pleading, including on appeal, showing that a complaint should not be dismissed. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 (‘[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.’); McZeal v. Sprint Nextel Corp., 501 F.3d 1354, 1356 n.4 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Therefore, although the plaintiff is required to plead more than bare legal conclusions to survive a motion to dismiss, once the plaintiff pleads sufficient factual material to state a plausible claim–that is, sufficient to put the defendant on notice of a plausible claim against it–nothing in Iqbal or Twombly precludes the plaintiff from later suggesting to the court a set of facts, consistent with the well-pleaded complaint, that shows that the complaint should not be dismissed."
Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146–47 (7th Cir. 2010).
"Although Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009), require that a complaint in federal court allege facts sufficient to show that the case is plausible, see, e.g., Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008), they do not undermine the principle that plaintiffs in federal courts are not required to plead legal theories. See Aaron v. Mahl, 550 F.3d 659, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2008); O’Grady v. Village of Libertyville, 304 F.3d 719, 723 (7th Cir. 2002). Even citing the wrong statute needn’t be a fatal mistake, provided the error is corrected in response to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and the defendant is not harmed by the delay in correction. Ryan v. Illinois Dept. of Children & Family Services, 185 F.3d 751, 764 (7th Cir. 1999)."
Hatmaker v. Mem’l Med. Ctr., 619 F.3d 741, 743 (7th Cir. 2010).
"Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.’ Twombly and Iqbal did not abrogate the notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2). Rather, those decisions confirmed that Rule 8(a)(2) is satisfied ‘when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949; see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 167 L. Ed. 2d 1081 (2007). However, ‘to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’ Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. A pleading that merely pleads ‘labels and conclusions,’ or a ‘formulaic recitation’ of the elements of a cause of action, or ‘naked assertions’ devoid of factual enhancement will not suffice. Id., quoting Twombly. Determining whether a claim is plausible is a ‘context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.’ Id. at 1950."
Hamilton v. Palm, 621 F.3d 816, 817–18 (8th Cir. 2010).
"In Twombly, the Supreme Court distinguished ‘plausible’ claims from allegations that were merely ‘conceivable,’ and stated that the Court ‘[did] not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ Id. at 570, 127 S. Ct. at 1974. The Supreme Court explained that a complaint ‘does not need detailed factual allegations,’ but the allegations ‘must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.’ Id. at 555; 127 S. Ct. at 1964-65. Furthermore, ‘a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.’ Id. at 556, 127 S. Ct. at 1965 (quotation marks omitted).
Subsequently, in Iqbal the Supreme Court clarified that ‘[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ Id. at , 129 S. Ct. at 1949; see also Watts v. Fla. Int’l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295-1296 (11th Cir. 2007) (‘The Court has instructed us that the rule ‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,’ but instead ‘simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’ the necessary element.’) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S. Ct. at 1965)."
Speaker v. U.S. HHS CDC, 623 F.3d 1371, 1380 (11th Cir. 2010).