Over the past few years, the Supreme Court has fundamentally and radically altered the standards by which litigants’ claims are reviewed in federal court. In Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Court created new barriers that keep victims of unlawful conduct from seeking redress in our courts, and immunize lawbreakers from appropriate sanctions. These cases place an unnecessarily heightened burden on the plaintiff during the pleading phase to prove yet-unknown facts.
Prior to these decisions, the Court followed the standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), which liberally interpreted Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This liberal interpretation did not develop accidentally. As Justice Stevens noted in his dissent in Twombly, Rule 8(a)(2), which requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” was a direct response to the Byzantine English special pleading rules. It was crafted with an effort “not to keep litigants out of court but to keep them in.” 550 U.S. at 575 (Stevens, J., dissenting)
Unfortunately, large corporations are using the newly heightened standards to evade liability in a wide range of cases. Just yesterday, The National Law Journal reported that Toyota Corporation cited Iqbal and Twombley in an attempt to dismiss a nationwide class-action lawsuit involving faulty accelerators in Toyota vehicles:
Many of the claims brought by plaintiffs seeking damages for injuries or deaths include negligence, strict product liability, breach of express and implied warranties, fraudulent concealment and misrepresentation. Under heightened pleading standards outlined in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, such claims aren’t plausible, Toyota’s lawyer contend. (Amanda Bronstad, Toyota moves to dismiss MDL claims, National Law Journal, Sept. 16, 2010.)
Alliance for Justice is working to restore the pleading standards in order to protect consumers, civil rights plaintiffs, and a wide variety of other litigants who are having the courthouse door closed to them as a result of the Iqbal and Twombley decisions. We urge readers to join us online and get involved.