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Conley, Iqbal, & Twombly Legal Cases

The first step in most civil litigation is to file a complaint.  Generally, the complaint should accomplish three (3) goals: [1] give the judge a favorable tale of events; [2] deliver notice to the defendant what they are being sued for; and [3] establish personal jurisdiction.  In federal court, the standard for drafting a complaint and adequately setting forth claims of relief has changed over time.  

In Conley v. Gibson, the United States Supreme Court was faced with determining whether the plaintiff adequately set forth a claim upon which relief could be granted.  In determining whether the claim was adequately set forth, the Court set forth the principle on sufficient pleadings:  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 other words, if, based on the pleadings, that there is a possibility that the plaintiff is entitled to relief, then the complaint shows a sufficient entitlement to relief and has adequately stated a claim.  

As a result, this requirement was very easy for plaintiffs and ended up being very costly for defendants in the discovery phase of litigation.  Thus, the court was once again faced with what the proper standard was for sufficient pleading a claim in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly.   

In the context of an antitrust law, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the proper standard for pleading an antitrust conspiracy in the context of a corresponding motion to dismiss for the failure to state a claim.  In so doing, the Court held that the factual allegations in the pleadings must rise above the Conley standard and be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level.  In other words, while the standard for relief under Conley requires that the plaintiff show a possibility of relief, the proper standard is that the plaintiff must show that they are plausibly entitled to relief.  

In short, the Twombly court required that the plaintiff, in order to survive a motion to dismiss for the failure to state a claim, must lay out in their complaint with sufficient factual matter that the are plausibly entitled to their claim of relief in the antitrust context.   The Ashcroft v. Iqbal court clarified the application of this standard.  

In Iqbal, the defendant presented the argument that the standard for pleadings laid out in Twombly only applies to the antitrust context, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to address this argument.  Addressing this argument, the Court revisited Twombly, and specifically the fact that the Twombly Court interpreted applied FRCP 8.  Because the Twombly Court interpreted and applied FRCP 8, which FRCP 1 states governs the pleading standard in all civil actions, the Iqbal court denied this argument and held that the Twombly standard applies in all civil actions.  Thus, the standard for sufficiently stating a claim in all civil actions must be that the pleading plausibly states a claim upon which relief can be granted.  

Further interpreting the standard, the Iqbal court held that a claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads sufficient factual content that allows a court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.  

The Ninth Circuit has followed and incorporated the same standard set by Iqbal and Twombly since.  

Thanks to a product liability lawyer with our friends at Eglet Adams for their insight on Conley, Iqbal, & Twombly. If you have been injured by a product, reach out to a lawyer near you to get started on writing your complaint to the courts.