Federal Pleading Standards Receiving Congressional Scrutiny

Pleading standards in Federal Courts have been dramatically impacted by two recent United States Supreme Court decisions. These decisions, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, raised the standard that parties bringing a lawsuit must meet to avoid having their cases dismissed.
At issue is how specific a pleading must be under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8 requires that a complaint include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Rule 12 allows for the dismissal of complaints that are vague or that fail to state a claim. Under Iqbal, a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, many courts are now requiring an almost impossible to meet standard demanding specific facts that aren’t often available until the discovery phase.
Congress is now preparing to become involved in this controversy over the pleading standard for civil lawsuits. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., filed legislation Wednesday designed to return the standard to what it was prior to 2007.
Specter has accused the Court’s majorities of making an end run around longstanding precedent with the two recent cases. He issued the following statement.
“The effect of the Court’s actions will no doubt be to deny many plaintiffs with meritorious claims access to the federal courts and, with it, any legal redress for their injuries. I think that is an especially unwelcome development at a time when, with the litigating resources of our executive-branch and administrative agencies stretched thin, the enforcement of federal antitrust, consumer protection, civil rights and other laws that benefit the public will fall increasingly to private litigants.”
Specter has introduced a bill which directs federal courts to interpret the rules as the Supreme Court did in the 1957 decision in Conley v. Gibson. The bill falls within the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee on which Specter sits. The bill is certain to garner strong opposition from big business groups, and, support from consumer groups.
The Supreme Court rulings seem ironic in that the conservative majority claims to embrace precedent, yet was eager to throw it away in these two rulings which are seen as very beneficial to big business.

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