It’s that time of year again. The United States Supreme Court, the least productive court in the nation, is back on summer recess until October. Let’s review what they imposed upon us over the past nine months.

I’ve written before about the problems with the Supreme Court. They change the rules of their own

One of the nice things about the being a Justice of the United States Supreme Court is that you never have to explain yourself. You don’t have to ask questions at oral argument. You don’t have to read the briefs filed by the parties, not really, because you can interpret the facts stated and arguments

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: ignorance of the law is no excuse. Didn’t see the speed limit sign? Too bad. Not sure if you could deduct the cost of that cell phone used for personal and business purposes? Tax fraud. The law doesn’t really care what you think about it: if you break the law, you suffer the consequences, whether in civil liability or in criminal punishment. That’s what the rule of law means.

With an exception.

John Thompson had a bad couple of years, as summarized by the Supreme Court’s Connick v. Thompson opinion released earlier this week:

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office now concedes that, in prosecuting respondent John Thompson for attempted armed robbery, prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that should have been turned over to the defense under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 (1963). Thompson was convicted. Because of that conviction Thompson elected not to testify in his own defense in his later trial for murder, and he was again convicted. Thompson spent 18 years in prison, including 14 years on death row. One month before Thompson’s scheduled execution, his investigator discovered the undisclosed evidence from his armed robbery trial. The reviewing court determined that the evidence was exculpatory, and both of Thompson’s convictions were vacated.

Oops! Turned out that, in the investigation of the first attempted robbery, a blood test performed by the crime laboratory showed that the perpetrator had a different blood type, but no one ever bothered to tell Thompson that. Even before that fact came out, one of the former assistant district attorneys had revealed to a colleague that he had “intentionally suppressed blood evidence” in the trial, but neither of them bothered to reveal it until after everything else cannot.

Can’t the District Attorney’s Office just tell Thompson “my bad” and then we’ll let bygones be bygones?


Continue Reading Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse, Unless You’re A Prosecutor

As you’ve probably already read (see, e.g., WSJ Law Blog), yesterday the Supreme Court held in Synder v. Phelps that the First Amendment precluded Synder, father of deceased soldier Matthew Synder, from suing Fred Phelps, a hate-monger who protests funeral’s soldiers with a variety of bigoted and incoherent slogans, for intentional infliction of emotional

Big news in yesterday’s Bruesewitz v. Wyeth Supreme Court decision. In short, the Court was asked:

Whether Section 22(b)(1) of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 ["NCVIA"]— which expressly preempts certain design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers “if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the

Becoming a doctor is not easy, cheap or quick. Work hard in college, four years of medical school, and then you’re shuttled through a blatantly illegal* residency matching program into an apprenticeship with long hours and low pay. If you’re lucky, three years of that apprenticeship and you’re out. If you’re not, hang on for

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:

10-263
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). 

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