U. S. Supreme Court Clarifies Pleading Standards

Chris Gilreath, Esq.

Recently, attorneys have been plagued with the dual Supreme Court decisions of Iqbal and Twombly, which seem to require that plaintiffs plead their complaint with particular specificity, or face having their case dismissed. Put simply, they aren’t just a legal hoop to get through, they’re more like a wall.

Often referred to as the Twombly-Iqbal standard, its result was that it became much more difficult for plaintiffs–the ones seeking justice in court–to even get through the door. This especially affected anyone with a discrimination claim, which is generally more difficult to prove with specific details early on.

In general, it can be tough to bring enough facts to satisfy the court under these rules at the pleading stage (before trial)–that’s what the trial process is for! You simply haven’t had the opportunity to investigate more just yet. Still, even if you have a valid claim and a good amount evidence–like important names, dates, and events–the court could still turn you away and say its not enough.

In this new case of Johnson, the U.S. Supreme Court takes a step back from that suggestion, overruling a lower court’s dismissal of a civil rights case based on how it was pled.

The Court found that since the plaintiffs had given a direct, plain statement of the factual basis for their case, they need only make a short plain statement of their legal cause of action. This decision will be relevant for any attorney filing a lawsuit in federal court, and is a positive step in the right direction. For example, in Johnson, Mississippi police officers alleged that they were fired for exposing a member of city council. Now, they will have the opportunity to have their case heard–and so might many other people.

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