U.S. Supreme Court Adopts a Stricter Standard for Complaints

Kegler Brown Litigation Alert

In a decision released May 18, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a stricter standard for pleading allegation for complaints filed in federal courts. The previous standard stated that a court had to take all allegations as true when deciding whether to dismiss a complaint; if the plaintiff could prove any set of facts to support the allegations in the complaint, then the complaint would survive a defendant's motion to dismiss.

On Monday, the Supreme Court expanded the standard set forth in the 2007 case Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and adopted the higher standard for federal complaints in all areas of law in Ashcroft v. Iqbal.

The Court stated, "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' 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. 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."

The practical effect of the new standard is that plaintiffs will have to include more factual support in their complaints, rather than making bare allegations and waiting until the discovery process to support their claims. For this reason, defendants will be more likely to succeed on motions to dismiss complaints that offer little more than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation."