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Iqbal Task Group

Recognizing the importance of the Supreme Court’s rulings in Ashcroft v. Iqbal and its predecessor, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Pretrial Practice and Discovery Committee formed the Iqbal Task Group to track and evaluate how the courts are interpreting Iqbal. This page is a collection of the task group’s work, case analysis, other articles, case summaries, and resources.


If you wish to know more about PP&D’s Iqbal Task Group or have any questions, please contact Mor Wetzler.


More about the Task Group

Through its landmark decisions in Twombly and Iqbal, the Supreme Court changed the federal pleading standard under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The change began with the Court’s 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and was extended to all civil actions in federal court by the 5–4 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal. Iqbal on May 18, 2009, raising difficult questions about how to properly apply this new federal pleading standard. As lower courts struggled with these new issues, the Pretrial Practice and Discovery Committee formed the Iqbal Task Group to track and evaluate how the courts interpreted Iqbal. The group’s mission was to provide timely, substantive, and objective analysis and reporting on the progeny of Iqbal. For several years, the task group collected and analyzed cases interpreting Iqbal across the country. The group prepared a large, substantive chart of the most significant Iqbal decisions from within each circuit. The chart tracks the legal claims in each case, the outcome of any motion practice, how the court applied Iqbal, whether the plaintiff is pro se, and explains the most interesting aspects of the case relating to Iqbal. This page collects the task group’s chart of cases along with other articles, case summaries, and resources.


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Legal Background

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly. In Twombly, consumers brought a putative class action alleging that regional telephone and Internet service providers engaged in an antitrust conspiracy to stifle competition. 550 U.S. 544, 550–51 (2007). The plaintiffs pleaded the alleged conspiracy on "information and belief" arising from the defendants' parallel pricing and failure to attempt to compete in each other's respective service areas. Id. at 551. The Court held that neither the alleged parallel pricing nor the failure to enter each other’s areas gave rise to a plausible inference of conspiracy. Id. at 553–54, 567–68. The Court discounted the direct allegations that the defendants engaged in a "contract, combination or conspiracy," holding that "these are merely legal conclusions resting on the prior allegations." Id. at 564–65. Thus, the Court found that the plaintiffs failed to state an antitrust conspiracy claim.


Twombly expressly overruled the statement in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), 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." 550 U.S. at 561–63. Twombly held that it was insufficient for a complaint to merely state the legal theory of the claim. Id. at 561. "While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' for his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555 (citations omitted). Thus, a complaint alleging conspiracy must include "enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that an agreement was made." Id. at 556. The Court emphasized the enormous cost of discovery in antitrust suits and the impossibility of alleviating such costs through careful management of discovery or summary judgment. Id. at 557–59.


Post-Twombly. Because of the Court’s discussion on antitrust cases, a number of lower courts read Twombly’s plausibility requirement as applying only to antitrust cases. One of these decisions concluded that Twombly "is not requiring a universal standard of heightened fact pleading, but is instead requiring a flexible 'plausibility standard,' which obliges a pleader to amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification is needed to render the claim plausible." Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 157–58 (2d Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original). The case before the Second Circuit arose from the FBI's investigation of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Following the attacks, the government arrested and detained hundreds of individuals on immigration charges, classifying a subset of these detainees, including Javaid Iqbal, a Muslim Pakistani, as "high interest," and keeping them in highly restrictive conditions. In addition to complaining about the restrictive conditions, Iqbal alleged that he was subjected to a series of abuses, including being beaten and denied medical care. Iqbal pleaded guilty to fraud charges in connection with his presence in the United States and served an 18-month sentence. After he was released and deported to Pakistan, Iqbal brought a Bivens action against officials at various levels of the federal government, from low-level prison staff all the way up to former Attorney General John Ashcroft and current FBI director Robert Mueller. Ashcroft and Mueller moved to dismiss, arguing, inter alia, that the allegations of their involvement were too conclusory to state a claim. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, and the defendants appealed. Applying its interpretation of the newly issued Twombly standard, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff's allegations that Ashcroft and Mueller knew of, condoned, and agreed to a policy of detaining individuals in severe conditions based on discriminatory criteria were not implausible and thus required no further factual enhancement. Accordingly, the court of appeals affirmed. Id. at 166, 175. 


Ashcroft v. Iqbal. In Iqbal, the Court explained that whether a complaint is "plausible," as that term is used by Twombly, turns not on whether the alleged conduct is likely or probable, but on whether the complaint contains sufficient nonconclusory factual allegations to support a reasonable inference that the conduct occurred. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The court’s analysis of whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will be “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. The Court set forth a two-pronged approach, in which a reviewing court can begin by “identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Next, reviewing the “well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Applying this approach, the Court found that Iqbal’s allegation that Ashcroft and Mueller "each knew of, condoned, and willfully and maliciously agreed to" subject him to harsh confinement conditions “as a matter of policy, solely on account of [his] religion, race, and/or national original” was too conclusory to be entitled to the presumption of truth. Id. at 680 (alteration in original). The Court explained:

To be clear, we do not reject these bald allegations on the ground that they are unrealistic or nonsensical. We do not so characterize them any more than the Court in Twombly rejected the plaintiffs' express allegation of a "contract, combination or conspiracy to prevent competitive entry," because it thought that claim too chimerical to be maintained. It is the conclusory nature of respondent's allegations, rather than their extravagantly fanciful nature, that disentitles them to the presumption of truth.


The court explained that the factual allegations of detention in highly restrictive conditions of confinement, taken as true, are “consistent with petitioners' purposefully designating detainees ‘of high interest’ because of their race, religion, or national origin. But given more likely explanations, they do not plausibly establish this purpose.” Id. at 681.

As the Court explained, a claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id., at 556, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'"


Resources

» Download Iqbal Task Group Chart of Cases |

» More resources coming soon


Articles

Do Twombly and Iqbal Apply to Affirmative Defenses?

By Carla R. Walworth, Mor Wetzler, and Jessica Oliva

With little guidance from the courts, the old adage applies: Know your judge.


Twombly-Iqbal and Affirmative Defenses in the Third Circuit

By Jeffrey Soos

In two recent decisions, district courts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have declined to extend the reach of Twombly and Iqbal to affirmative defenses pled pursuant to FRCP 8(c).


Ashcroft v. Iqbal: New Pleading Standards and Motions to Dismiss

By Edward D. Johnson

High Court revisits unresolved issues raised by Twombly.


Courts Extend Twombly and Iqbal Standard to Actual Malice Pleading

By Chad R. Bowman and Shaina D. Jones

Recent court decisions signal that stricter federal pleading standards might permit early resolution of more defamation claims for media defendants.


More articles coming soon.