The Eleventh Circuit Goes Iqbal-Crazy!

Iqbal Iqbal Iqbal.

I'm already sick to death of this opinion, and the mania over it has not yet even started.

As I have written before, Iqbal is the standard of review legal equivalent of flatbread -- inert, tasteless, yet somehow incredibly trendy and inexplicably popular.

Today the Eleventh released its opinion in the closely-followed case of the union organizers who were tortured and killed at a Columbian bottling plant, Sinaltrainal, where claims were being asserted against Coca-Cola under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victims Protection Act.

In an opinion by Judge Black, the Eleventh affirmed the Southern District, and held that the complaints did not state a claim -- probably the right result.

In doing so, however, Judge Black adopted Iqbal (as it must) and attempted to lay out for us the brave new post-Iqbal world:
Although it must accept well-pled facts as true, the court is not required to accept a plaintiff’s legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ---,129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (noting “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions”). In evaluating the sufficiency of a plaintiff’s pleadings, we make reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, “but we are not required to draw plaintiff’s inference.” Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., 416 F.3d 1242, 1248 (11th Cir. 2005). Similarly, “unwarranted deductions of fact” in a complaint are not admitted as true for the purpose of testing the sufficiency of plaintiff’s allegations. Id.; see also Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1951 (stating conclusory allegations are “not entitled to be assumed true”).

A complaint may be dismissed if the facts as pled do not state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (explaining “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss”); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561-62, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1968-69, 1974 (2007) (retiring the prior “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts” standard). In Twombly, the Supreme Court emphasized a complaint “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S. Ct. at 1965. Factual allegations in a complaint need not be detailed but “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555, 127 S. Ct. at 1964-65 (internal citations and emphasis omitted).

More recently, in Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated that although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, it does demand “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. A complaint must state a plausible claim for relief, and “[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. The mere possibility the defendant acted unlawfully is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. The well-pled allegations must nudge the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S. Ct. at 1974.
Again, what the difference is between conceivable and plausible is a mystery and this "test" seems to me completely unhelpful to litigants in the real world.

Indeed, does anyone know what any of that means?

By that I mean, is there any complaint that you would not throw an Iqbal challenge against, given the vagaries of the current formulation?

The new test seems to me to vest a huge amount of discretion in the district court at the initial stages to make a good old-fashioned 3d DCA-styled "gut check" and determine -- without discovery or a sustained effort by counsel to flesh out the allegations -- that the case should be gone forever.

Question -- if Rule 8 did not change, then how come the pleading standard did?

That's why I'm intrigued by Senator Spector -- currently being assailed by misinformed angry white folks who want God to rain justice on his cancer-ridden corpus -- and his efforts in Congress to return Rule 8 to its 1957 Conley-era roots.

You know, the good old days....when people just ate bread.

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