Supreme Court ignores Iqbal and relaxes pleading standards

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on the right of criminal defendants to sue to get access to DNA that might prove their innocence. The case is Skinner v. Switzer, Case No. 09-9000 (3-7-2011). Before the Supreme Court got to the DNA issue, it first had to review the standards under which it would allow a complaint to be dismissed. On page 7 of the majority opinion (p. 11 of this PDF file), Justice Ginsburg explains the rule as follows:

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible “short and plain” statement of the plaintiff’s claim, not an exposition of his legal argument.

That means, "a complaint need not pin plaintiff’s claim for relief to a precise legal theory." The opinion cites as authority a respected treatise, Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure §1219, and Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U. S. 506, 514 (2002), but it does not cite the Supreme Court’s most recent and controversial opinion on this subject, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). I wrote here before about how dangerous the Iqbal decision could be for whistleblowers. Now, even the Supreme Court itself is declining to cite the decision as a general standard for pleading. Even the dissent in Skinner agreed with the majority’s statement about the pleading standard. The Court went on to find that Skinner stated a valid claim, even though, "Skinner’s complaint is not a model of the careful drafter’s art." When whistleblowers face motions to dismiss based on Iqbal, their opposition should now cite to Skinner and argue that Skinner states the most recent and better statement of the standard of pleading.

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