Law professors teaching Civil Procedure this fall may have reason to revise their lecture notes covering the pleading standard in federal courts for the first time in a long time. This pleading standard, as articulated in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) Rule 8(a), has presented a very low hurdle for plaintiffs since the Supreme Court addressed the issue in Conley v. Gibson in 1957. That is, perhaps, until Ashcroft v. Iqbal , a Supreme Court detainee case decided this spring that may end up significantly heightening the pleading standard for federal civil courts.
Depending on where you look, you can find members of the legal community making different predictions of where the courts will land on Iqbal. Some are dismissing the significance of the case, and others are declaring it a major obstacle for plaintiffs and a coup for corporate defense.
The federal courts have begun the task of interpreting Iqbal. For instance, a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss based on the Iqbal standard was successful in a lawsuit claiming that a school’s music program violated free exercise and establishment clause by choosing songs that were religious in nature for students to perform. And, Judge Posner recently wrote an opinion that distinguished the case at hand from Iqbal and suggested that didn’t govern, even though it has been believed to apply to all federal civil cases.
It appears Congress is ready to jump into the fray as well. Senator Arlen Specter introduced the Notice Pleading Restoration Act of 2009 in late July, which, in its current state, would reinstate the Conley standard. While at first glance, the proposed legislation does not seem to present a separation of powers problem, it remains to be seen whether or not this bill has legs enough to make it out of committee.
Even if we do not end up with a pleading standard radically different from that established in Conley, we should get used to hearing the name “Iqbal” as part of our common legal vocabulary for a while. In the first two months after the Iqbal decision was handed down, the case was cited 500 times in federal courts. It seems a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief will be granted” citing Iqbal will be on the checklist for the defense counsel of every federal civil case from here on out.
While this appears to be the first post on Marquette Law School’s Faculty Blog discussing the implications of Iqbal and the pleading standard, it is the topic of a healthy discussion in the legal community right now. My interest in Ashcroft v. Iqbal grew out of my final paper assignment for my Law and Rhetoric course in the first summer session and it has been fun to watch the analysis and law begin to develop over the past few weeks. I’ve simplified the case and issues for the sake of presenting in the blog format, but welcome any comments or discussion in the forum below or offline by email if folks are interested.