Friday, February 22, 2008

federal courts - pleading - Rules 8(a)(2) and 12(b)(6)

Phillips v. County of Allegheny - Third Circuit - February 5, 2008

This case discusses the change in long-established pleading standards, resulting from the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). Prior to Twombly, the courts had applied the "no set of facts" language and held that a "complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-6 (1957).

The Third Circuit found "two new concepts in Twombly" involving a discussion of the language of Rule 8 that a complaint has to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The Court said that this required a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of entitled to relief" and required the pleading of factual allegations that were "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do."

Second, the Twombly Court "disavowed certain language that it had used many times before --the "no set of facts" language from Conley...It is clear that the 'no set of facts' language may no longer be used as part of the Rule 12(b)(6) [] standard...'This phrase is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be support by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.'" The Third Circuit found that "these two aspects of the decision are intended to apply to the Rule 12(b)(6) standard in general."

The Third Circuit also noted that

- while the requirment of a "showing" is new, the Supreme Court also expressly reaffirmed that Rule 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim and its grounds. "Whether and to what extent that 'showing' requires allegations of act will depend on the particulars of the claim." Context will be all-important.

- the Twombly court was "careful to base its analysis on pre-existing principles...The Court emphasized throughout its opinion that it was neither demanding a heightened pleading of specifics nor imposing a probability requirement....Thus, under our reading, the notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2) remains intact, and courts may generally state and apply the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, attentive to context and a showing that 'the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the...claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'"

- like other courts, the Third Circuit found the Twombly decision "confusing" and said that it would "likely be a source of controversy for years to come."

- Twombly may involve a new "plausibility requirement" and require rejection of claims in the there a "mere metaphysical possibility" of a plaintiff proving some facts to support the claim

The court summarized by saying that "all of the foregoing discussion can be reduced to this proposition: Rule 8(a)(2) has it right....This rule requires not merely a short and plain statement, but instead mandates a statement 'showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.' That is to say, there must be some showing sufficient to justify moving the case 'beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation."