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:

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). 

Continue Reading Another Twombly/Iqbal Victory for Plaintiffs: SCOTUS Denies Certiorari for Digital Music Price-Fixing Case

Tomorrow, July 15, 2010, I’m giving the plaintiff’s perspective in a webinar CLE titled: Pleadings Standards Post-Iqbal: Meeting Tougher Plausibility Standards in Commercial Litigation.


If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of litigating the heck out of Iqbal v. Ashcroft, this CLE is a good opportunity to get some case cites and perspective.

If you have litigated the heck out of it, you might still find some use in it (e.g., my part of the presentation cites 16 plaintiff-friendly cases interpreting Iqbal, including opinions from the Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits) and you’ll get 1.5 hours CLE credit from the comfort of your home or office.

The reviews for last year’s presentation were quite positive (there’s some quotes on the linked website), and one of the highly-informative slides from my part is embedded in this post.

Alternatively, if you’re not up for a 1.5 hour CLE, you can spend a few hours perusing some poor, poor federal clerk’s nearly 300-page summary of all the recent decisions on Iqbal for the Federal Rules Committee, or perhaps the Administrative Office’s statistical analysis of motions to dismiss since Iqbal.

Last week, Prof. Edward A. Hartnett (of Seton Hall University School of Law) posted Responding to Twombly and Iqbal: Where Do We Go from Here?

Hartnett’s idea was eminently reasonable:

I also offer my own proposal, which focuses on the core issue at stake in debates about Twombly and Iqbal: should a plaintiff be able to obtain discovery in an effort to uncover evidence without which he or she cannot prevail?

Hartnett proposes amending Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to include:

Rule 12(j): Allegations Likely To Have Evidentiary Support After a Reasonable Opportunity for Discovery

If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c) that has not been deferred until trial, the claim sought to be dismissed includes an allegation specifically identified as provided in Rule 11(b)(3) as likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for discovery, the court must either (1) assume the truth of the allegation, or (2) decide whether the allegation is likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for discovery. In deciding whether an allegation is likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for discovery, the court must consider the parties‘ access to evidence in the absence of discovery and state on the record the reason for its decision.

If the court decides that the allegation is likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for discovery, it must allow for that discovery, under the standards of Rule 26, and deny the motion to dismiss. If the court decides that the allegation is not likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for discovery, the court must treat the motion as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, and provide all parties a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.

Again, eminently reasonable. Such an addition would immediately focus litigation on the real issues, thereby (1) enabling plaintiffs to conduct discovery into the most important areas while also (2) empowering defendants to have cases dismissed—prior to full discovery—if the plaintiff won’t be able to prove an essential element of their case.

How could anyone think that was unfair?

The defense bar champions at Drug and Device Law tried to manufacturer an objection, but the argument degenerated into blather and insults. They barely even mention the details of Hartnett’s proposal. Instead, they summarily dismissed him with:

Most of these proposals (except Professor Burbank’s) actually go far beyond Twombly/Iqbal and would overrule all or most of the prior precedent we cited above. That strikes us as facially overkill and indicative of unexpressed (and in some cases, ulterior) motives at work.

We understand that a lot of academics feel that they have to help their students get jobs, or else eventually they won’t have jobs either.  Thus, they tend to support anything and everything that results in more, rather than less, litigation.

Oh, snap.

Then again, an accusation of "ulterior motives" probably would have meant more if it didn’t come from someone paid by the hour to ensure corporations pay as little as possible to the people and families they hurt.

Frankly, reading through the post, I can’t help but wonder if Beck et al. indeed have some "ulterior motive" in misrepresenting how defense lawyers use Ashcroft v. Iqbal in their practice:

So when we get a complaint, we look to see whether, there’s at least one actual fact pleaded that supports each essential element of a cause of action.  A plaintiff can plead more if s/he so pleases, but there has to be at least one – otherwise we’ll probably file a Twombly/Iqbal motion.

The implied concession there—that they won’t file a motion to dismiss if "there’s at least one actual fact pleaded that supports each essential element of a cause of action"—is rubbish. They don’t run a charity over there at Dechert: if you file a case against one of their clients, they will come up with any argument they can to get it dismissed.

And that’s where the problem with Twombly / Iqbal—really, just Iqbal—comes in. Every time a case is filed today, the defendant inevitably files a motion to dismiss claiming that the "actual facts" plead aren’t "facts" at all, they’re "conclusions," and so are not, under Iqbal, entitled to an assumption of truth.

What’s the difference between a "fact" and a "conclusion?" Merriam-Webster says:

fact: an actual occurrence

conclusion: a reasoned judgment

Let me ask you, Dear Reader: who really won more votes in Florida in 2000, Bush or Gore?

Is your answer a "fact" or a "conclusion?" Do you know it as an actual occurrence, or did you make a reasoned judgment?

The problem with Iqbal is that it instructs courts—at the very beginning of the lawsuit, when they have nothing in front of them but a "short and plain" complaint—to perform a wildly subjective analysis about which allegations are merely "conclusions" and which of the non-conclusory allegations are "plausible." 

There’s nothing new about that problem. It’s the same problem that prompted Rule 8—the Rule supposedly interpreted by Iqbal—to be enacted in the first place:

You used to have the requirement that a complaint must allege the “facts” constituting the “cause of action.” I can show you thousands of cases that have gone wrong on dialectical, psychological, and technical argument as to whether a pleading contained a “cause of action”; and of whether certain allegations were allegations of “fact” or were “conclusions of law” or were merely “evidentiary” as distinguished from “ultimate” facts. In these rules there is no requirement that the pleader must plead a technically perfect “cause of action” or that he must allege “facts” or “ultimate facts.”

Rules of Civil Procedure for the District Courts of the United States: Hearings Before the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 75th Cong. 94 (1938) (statement of Edgar B. Tolman, Secretary of the Advisory Committee on Rules for Civil Procedure Appointed by the Supreme Court); quoted by p.4 of Professor Stephen Burbank’s testimony before the Senate.

The whole point of Rule 8 was to ensure that the right to civil justice didn’t turn on metaphysical word games.

And yet we’re supposed to come full circle because, as Beck et al. continue,

Twombly/Iqbal are about reining in the cost of litigation; we might feel differently about Professor Hartnett’s proposal if it required payment of all a defendant’s costs of “appropriate” (the Article’s term) discovery – should designated allegations nonetheless turn out to be unfounded.  But under the proposal as offered, there’s no penalty for over-designation.  If it’s one thing that the fifty-year life span of Conley established, it’s that unrestrained pleading imposes huge discovery costs on defendants.  Even Professor Burbank (who really tried hard) was reduced to relying upon a single study of tiny cases in which even then 25% of the parties believed the process was too expensive.  The excessive cost of modern discovery is simply not a issue capable of dispute any longer.

At least Burbank actually cited something. Defense lawyers think they’re entitled to assert the cost of discovery—a cost due primarily to their own practice of relentlessly frustrating discovery at every turn—is "excessive" through sheer ipse dixit.

Sounds like a "conclusion" to me, not an "actual fact."

Oh, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, will we ever stop blogging about you?

The newest online debate pits the class action defense lawyers at Drug & Device Law against University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Stephen Burbank at PENNumbra, the online supplement to UPenn’s Law Review.

Beck and Herrmann open with a defense of Iqbal on several grounds, including:

[C]ourts have no legitimate basis for favoring plaintiffs when interpreting pleading standards. A just system does not pick sides in advance, but instead establishes neutral rules. We reject the normative view that it is somehow “better” to let unmeritorious cases proceed than to risk that meritorious cases will be dismissed. Either way represents error, and neither error is inherently better than the other. Indeed, given the enormous transaction costs that litigation entails, Type II errors (false negatives) are probably preferable to Type I errors (false positives) from a purely economic perspective.

From a "purely economic perspective" it is better if corporations stop wrongfully causing damage in the first place, which they will only do if they have an economic incentive like the threat of legal liability.

But there’s a bigger problem with Beck and Herrmann’s argument.

It is an "error" when a court dismisses a meritorious case. It is a particularly unjust, unfair, and avoidable "error" when a court dismisses a meritorious case prior to any discovery.

It is not, however, an "error" for a court to refuse to dismiss a case that may be unmeritorious.

Why not? Because the case may be meritorious and, if it is not, the defendant has four more opportunities to resolve the case favorably by testing the merits of plaintiff’s claim: judgment on the pleadings, summary judgment, trial, and post-trial relief. That is to say, even after the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff’s claims will be assessed, re-assessed, re-re-assessed, then re-re-re-assessed. Then there’s an appeal to re-re-re-re-assess each and every element of plaintiff’s claims and each and every element of plaintiff’s damages.

When a court declines to dismiss an unmeritorious case, there is ample room for error-correction down the road to ensure plaintiff’s claims have merit. It’s why we have a civil justice system: to provide a thorough airing and evaluation of disputes.

When a court dismisses a meritorious case, however, the only error-correction is a single appeal that will be evaluated under the same unfair anti-plaintiff standard established by Iqbal.

Beck and Herrmann have it exactly backwards: there is "no legitimate basis" for not favoring plaintiffs when interpreting pleading standards. Their "neutral" interpretation of pleading rules is not "neutral" at all, but rather a "normative view" that plaintiffs are not entitled to the same error-correcting procedures to which defendants are entitled.

A "just system" wouldn’t pick defendant’s side in advance.

Not too long ago, I argued that Ashcroft v. Iqbal was not nearly as important as commentators thought, and that the sky had not fallen on plaintiffs. Instead, Iqbal merely put into words the standard that numerous courts had already applied to large-scale litigation without saying as much. I also argued that Iqbal in particular involved a very unique circumstance — a Bivens suit against top-level official — and so was easily distinguishable from the vast majority of civil litigation.

For a while, it seemed no one agreed with me. Every week there was another "[pharmaceutical manufacturing defect / establishment clause / whatever] case dismissed under Iqbal" story.

It’s not easy being green.

But I’m no longer alone.

Drug & Device Law has more news, referencing a law review article and a post by a law professor who, like me, but in a more scholarly fashion, reject the argument that six paragraphs of Iqbal radically re-rewrote the rules of civil procedure.

"They’re just professors," the defense bar nay-sayers will nay-say, "Iqbal has nonetheless overruled centuries of precedent, making it nearly impossible to file a lawsuit against anyone anymore."

I, of course, disagree. So how about I up the ante with recent opinions from two of the most respected conservatives judges in the federal appellate courts?

Like Judge Frank Easterbrook:

Lusby contends that Rolls-Royce defrauded the United States about the quality of the turbine blades in the T56 engine. The complaint alleges that five contracts between Rolls-Royce and the United States require all of the engine’s parts to meet particular specifications; that the parts did not do so (and the complaint describes tests said to prove this deficiency); that Rolls-Royce knew that the parts were non-compliant (not only because Lusby told his supervisors this but also because audits by Rolls-Royce’s design and quality-assurance departments confirmed Lusby’s conclusions); and that Rolls-Royce nonetheless certified that the parts met the contracts’ specifications. The complaint names specific parts shipped on specific dates, and it relates details of payment. Simple breach of contract is not fraud, but making a promise while planning not to keep it is fraud, see Wharf (Holdings) Ltd. v. United Int’l Holdings, Inc., 532 U.S. 588, 121 S. Ct. 1776, 149 L. Ed. 2d 845 (2001), and this complaint alleges the promise, the intent not to keep that promise, and the details of non-conformity. What else might be required to narrate, with particularity, the circumstances that violate 31 U.S.C. §3729(a)(1)?

Rolls-Royce’s answer is: the specific request for payment. Lusby has not seen any of the invoices and representations that Rolls-Royce submitted to its customers. He knows about shipments and payments, but he does not have access to the paperwork. The district court held that, unless Lusby has at least one of Rolls-Royce’s billing packages, he lacks the required particularity. Since a relator is unlikely to have those documents unless he works in the defendant’s accounting department, the district court’s ruling takes a big bite out of qui tam litigation.

We don’t think it essential for a relator to produce the invoices (and accompanying representations) at the outset of the suit. True, it is essential to show a false statement. But much knowledge is inferential–people are convicted beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy without a written contract to commit a future crime–and the inference that Lusby proposes is a plausible one

United States ex rel. Lusby v. Rolls-Royce Corp., No. 08-3593, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 14119, at *10–11 (7th Cir. Jun. 30, 2009)(reversing dismissal of qui tam / false claims act complaint).

And Judge Richard Posner:

In our initial thinking about the case, however, we were reluctant to endorse the district court’s citation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007), fast becoming the citation du jour in Rule 12(b)(6) cases, as authority for the dismissal of this suit. The Court held that in complex litigation (the case itself was an antitrust suit) the defendant is not to be put to the cost of pretrial discovery–a cost that in complex litigation can be so steep as to coerce a settlement on terms favorable to the plaintiff even when his claim is very weak–unless the complaint says enough about the case to permit an inference that it may well have real merit. The present case, however, is not complex. Were this suit to survive dismissal and proceed to the summary judgment stage, it would be unlikely to place on the defendants a heavy burden of compliance with demands for pretrial discovery. The parties did not negotiate face to face over the termination agreement, and though some of the negotiations were over the telephone rather than in letters or emails, Smith recorded those and the transcripts are attached to his complaint. So almost all the potentially relevant evidence is already in the record.

But Bell Atlantic was extended, a week after we heard oral argument in the present case, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)–over the dissent of Justice Souter, the author of the majority opinion in Bell Atlantic–to all cases, even a case (Iqbal itself) in which the court of appeals had ‘promise[d] petitioners minimally intrusive discovery.’ Id. at 1954. Yet Iqbal is special in its own way, because the defendants had pleaded a defense of official immunity and the Court said that the promise of minimally intrusive discovery ‘provides especially cold comfort in this pleading context, where we are impelled to give real content to the concept of qualified immunity for high-level officials who must be neither deterred nor detracted from the vigorous performance of their duties.’ Id. (emphasis added).

So maybe neither Bell Atlantic nor Iqbal governs here. It doesn’t matter. It is apparent from the complaint and the plaintiff’s arguments, without reference to anything else, that his case has no merit. That is enough to justify, under any reasonable interpretation of Rule 12(b)(6), the dismissal of the suit.

Smith v. Duffey, No. 08-2804, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 17211, at *11–13 (7th Cir. Aug. 3, 2009).

Neither Easterbrook nor Posner are bleeding hearts, and neither has shown much sympathy for plaintiffs in the past. Yet, even they believe the Twombly and Iqbal chatter is overblown.

Chalk two victories up for plaintiffs. It seems the battle over pleading standards is far from over.

UPDATE III: The most thorough critique I’ve read of Iqbal is Professor Burbank’s Senate testimony, available here (PDF). As an empirical matter, Iqbal has had a significant effect, particularly on constitutional rights plaintiffs:

The statistical analysis of 1,039 cases shows that 49% of 12(b)(6) motions were granted (with or without leave to amend) in the cases selected (from May 2005 to August 2009). Further, the rate of granting such motions increased from 46% of motions decided under Conley, to 48% of motions decided under Twombly, to 56% of motions decided under Iqbal. A multinomial logistic regression indicates that under Twombly/Iqbal, the odds of a 12(b)(6) motion being granted rather than denied are 1.5 times greater than under Conley, holding all other variables constant.

Moreover, the largest category of cases in which 12(b)(6) motions are filed was constitutional civil rights. Motions to dismiss in constitutional civil rights cases were granted at a higher rate (53%) than in cases overall (49%), and the rate of granting 12(b)(6) motions in constitutional civil rights cases increased in the cases selected from Conley (50%) to Twombly (55%) to Iqbal (60%).

Personally, I think the powers that be understated the degree to which cases were dismissed before, and now overstate the degree to which Iqbal will increase their likelihood of being dismissed. The odds are indeed worse now, but they’re still generally 50/50.

UPDATE IIJudge Posner weighs in, wondering if Twombly and Iqbal are limited to complex cases or those with other compelling interests, such as ensuring high-level officials are not distracted from their duties by suits of doubtful merit. I have a new post referencing Posner’s opinion and a separate opinion by Judge Easterbrook that throw cold water on those who believe Iqbal has doomed all but the sharpest of complaints.

UPDATE: The NYTimes has an article on the case as well, also believing it to be a death-knell for plaintiffs, noting that federal judges "have cited it more than 500 times in just the last two months." As I wrote below, citation is not the same thing as impact. The standard is not any different from what courts have been practically applying for years, except to add the word "plausible."

Indeed, you don’t have to go far to see the limits of Iqbal; just last month the District Court in Padilla v. Yoo, a similar suit against a high-ranking government official, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, quoting Iqbal as follows:

“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.”Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (brackets omitted))

To reiterate: the sky is not falling on plaintiffs. They need only plead "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully," something lawyers have been doing for centuries.]

Drug and Device Law points us to an article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, released in May, will make it harder to bring a lawsuit without specific factual evidence, raising the threshold for moving a case into expensive litigation and possibly saving companies millions of dollars in legal fees. The case was overshadowed by other business rulings on consumer lawsuits, environmental and employment law and other matters in a term set to end Monday, but legal experts said it may be the most important.

"It’s the case that will be cited more than any other by a factor of 100," said Tom Goldstein, partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and founder of the Scotusblog Web site. He called the ruling "an unexpected gift for the business community."

In the case, a Pakistani named Javaid Iqbal sued government officials over his detainment after Sept. 11, 2001. The Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Iqbal didn’t have sufficient factual evidence to proceed with his discrimination claims.

"While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 5-4 opinion. He cited the 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, an antitrust case that outlined what plaintiffs must assert to make it through initial court proceedings.

As a result of the Iqbal ruling, businesses may find it easier to fend off lawsuits by persuading courts to dismiss complaints early in litigation.

I disagree. Maybe a handful of cases at the fringes with no factual allegations will be dismissed (most of these cases were already dismissed even prior to Twombly), but that’s it. Iqbal‘s casual reference to pleading standards does not change the narrow focus of the actual opinion, which relates to the very specific issue of how "qualified immunity" applies to high-ranking officials in suits against the federal government for deprivations of constitutional rights.

Tom Goldstein is right that the Ashcroft v. Iqbal opinion will be cited all of the time by defendants’ motions to dismiss, and will be cited by court opinions evaluating motions to dismiss, but that doesn’t mean defendants will get much mileage out of it.

Rather than argue the details why, let me show you what will probably become my standard draft response to such motions:

Defendant’s heavy reliance on Iqbal is misplaced. Iqbal was a Bivens action brought by a Pakistani national who alleged ethnically and racially discriminatory treatment in the post-September 11, 2001, period by numerous federal officials while he was detained for charges of defrauding the United States with regard to identification documents, charges to which he plead guilty, prompting his deportation. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ___; Slip op. 1. There was no dispute that the facts alleged by Iqbal stated a Bivens claim against all individuals directly and indirectly involved in his treatment. Id.

The narrow question in Iqbal was whether Bivens liability — which indisputably does not extend to supervisors through respondeat superior (see Monell) — attached where the complaint alleged "a supervisor’s mere knowledge of his subordinate’s discriminatory purpose." Slip op., 13. The Supreme Court reiterated that Bivens creates a unique, disfavored and limited cause of action disconnected from normal tort doctrines and reaffirmed that, "[a]bsent vicarious liability, each Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct." Id.

Such a Bivens-specific holding bears no relationship to the business lawsuit sub judice. Importantly, though, and contra defendant’s arguments, the Supreme Court reiterated in Iqbal that "a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint" and that a plaintiff need only "state[] a plausible claim for relief [to] survive[] a motion to dismiss." Slip op. 14-15. Plaintiff has clearly done that here; defendants’ heavy reliance on an irrelevant Bivens opinion reveals the lack of any support in existing case law for their request to throw plaintiff out of court entirely. The Supreme Court has always instructed, and continues to instruct, District Courts to assume the facts in the complaint to be true, to make reasonable inferences on behalf of plaintiff’s allegations, and to deny dismissal where plaintiff has a "plausible" claim.

Finally, again contra defendants, Iqbal was specifically remanded to the Circuit Court to consider whether the plaintiff there should be permitted to amend his complaint to cure the deficiencies. Such is consistent with this Circuit’s precedent, in which leave to amend is to be freely granted prior to dismissal unless such amendment is clearly futile or inequitable.

So there you go. Iqbal soundly rejects Bivens liability for high-ranking government officials merely potentially aware of misdeeds much further down the chain of command (and it reiterates the appealability of an order on qualified immunity), but that’s it.

The sky has not fallen on business plaintiffs.

Earlier today, the Democratic National Committee filed a massive lawsuit against almost everyone arguably associated with the hack on the DNC’s servers, including the Russian Federation, Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency (GRU), the hacker known as “Guccifer 2.0,” Wikileaks, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, and others who have been, in press reports or in filings from the Special Counsel, alleged to have served as conduits between Russia and the Trump campaign. (Notably, Donald Trump was not himself named.) The complaint raises a host of claims ranging from the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and a couple of state law tort claims too.

I’ve discussed almost all of these types of claims on this blog before (see, e.g., CFAA here and here, SCA here, RICO here, DMCA here), so the archive is rich with information if you want to learn more. For our purposes here, we’ll break everything in this lawsuit down into manageable chunks:

  1. Why Now
  2. Why The Complaint Alleges Those Causes Of Action
  3. Whether Russia And Its Agents Have “Sovereign Immunity”
  4. The “Plausibility” Pleading Requirement For The Case To Go Forward
  5. The Potential Role Of The U.S. Government (Next Post)
  6. The Role Of Parallel Criminal Prosecutions (Next Post)
  7. The First Amendment Issues (Next Post)
  8. What This Lawsuit Can Actually Accomplish (Next Post)

If you’ve already read the below, click here for my follow-up post.
Continue Reading The Who, What, Where, When, & Why of the DNC Lawsuit

Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing for his nomination to the United States Supreme Court begins today. He has been called “an originalist and a textualist,” someone with a “strong commitment to textualism.” He is repeatedly compared to the late Justice Scalia, a comparison that seems to have merit.
I am no fan of “originalism” or “textualism.” In practice, being an “originalist” or a “textualist” is a lot like being “gluten-free” except when it comes to pasta and bagels. There’s no consistent logic to these approaches and, just as bad, there’s no consistent application of them. I have yet to see a single judge or legal scholar in the United States who rigorously applies “textualism” to every case they see. Instead, most “textualists” are happy to apply these concepts rigorously when it will produce the result they want — but they’ll gladly relax them or ignore them if it produces a politically-inconvenient outcome. Continue Reading Is Judge Gorsuch Really Committed To Legal Textualism?

If you don’t think you can win fair and square, then change the rules. That’s been the modus operandi of the United States Chamber of Commerce (a private lobbying group with a misleading name) and the wealthy interests it represents, like the nation’s major insurance companies and product manufacturers. That’s why there’s been such a push for “tort reform” in the states over the past generation: because those same interests have realized that, in a fair court system, they will be held accountable for the full human and economic damage that they cause.


In the federal system, those wealthy interests have had such success in re-writing civil justice law in their favor — to those who doubt a slant in the Supreme Court, consider how the Chamber of Commerce wins every time, from Dukes to Behrend to Concepcion to Mensing to Barlett to Italian Colors — that they have moved on to re-writing federal civil procedure itself in their favor. This effort had its first big victory back with Twombly and Iqbal, which encouraged lower courts to start arbitrarily tossing out claims and cases on metaphysical grounds like whether an expert’s analysis was a “fact” or a “legal conclusion.”


Since then the effort to effectively grant civil immunity to a host of wealthy interests by way of supposedly neutral procedural changes has been gathering steam, culminating this year in proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by the Federal Judicial Conference’s Committee on Practice and Procedure. The two biggest issues relate to proposals (1) to preclude plaintiffs from obtaining evidence, including evidence held by defendants (back in June, I wrote about the “proportionality” changes) and (2) to give corporations a blank check to destroy evidence without any consequences.  Continue Reading Judge Kozinski Vs. The Proposed Federal Civil Procedure Amendments


It’s October, which means the Supreme Court is back in session, ready to continue its pro-big-business charge. It also means it’s time for me to get back to a recurring theme on my blog: if past sessions are any indication, then no matter what the Supreme Court decides this year, it’s likely that it won’t have a clue what it’s talking about, and its opinions will be littered with dubious factual conclusions.


This problem seems to be getting worse in the era of the Roberts Court, which has taken judicial activism to a new level. Back in 2009, I recommended the Supreme Court circulate draft opinions publicly — the same way that bills are proposed in Congress and regulatory changes are proposed in agencies — before making them the law of the land. In February 2012, Alli Orr Larsen wrote about “Confronting Supreme Court Fact Finding,” perhaps by way of an agency analogous to the Congressional Research Service, which I discussed here.


But it’s important we recognize that the problem of Supreme Court “fact finding” isn’t just a matter of the Court not understanding cable television markets or how plaintiff’s lawyers are compensated differently from defense lawyers. The Supreme Court’s factual misunderstandings intrude very deeply into some of the Court’s core doctrine.


Take, for example, qualified immunity in civil rights lawsuits. It would make sense if people could sue State governments to recover damages when their constitutional rights are violated — like when police officers literally break someone’s face for back talking — but the Supreme Court has erected tall barriers against such relief. It’s not enough to prove constitutional rights were violated; the plaintiff also has to jump through a variety of hoops, such as suing the police officer individually, rather than the municipality or county, for the violation, and then they have to show that their right was “clearly established” and that the violation “shocks the judicial conscience,” which is so ambiguous that it’s really just code for giving federal judges a way to get rid of civil rights lawsuits they don’t think should succeed.  Continue Reading The Depth Of The Supreme Court’s Factual Misunderstandings