Overturning Iqbal: If They’re For It

By October 30, 2009General

A news release this week from the American Association of Justice, the trial lawyers’ lobby, cited this impressive list of fellow supporters for their cause:

Alliance for Justice, American Antitrust Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Center for Justice & Democracy, Christian Trial Lawyer’s Association, Committee to Support the Antitrust Laws, Community Catalyst, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Earthjustice, Environment America, Essential Information, The Impact Fund, La Raza Centro Legal, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Association of Shareholder and Consumer Attorneys, National Consumer Law Center, National Consumers League, National Council of La Raza, National Crime Victims Bar Association, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Senior Citizens Law Center, National Whistleblowers Center, National Women’s Law Center, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Southern Poverty Law Center, Taxpayers Against Fraud, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Yikes. That’s one litigous phalanx.

The cause they’re backing is Congressional legislation to ease pleadings standards in federal civil litigation, that is, to allow individuals and groups to file civil suits by just making a claim. A House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on the issue on Tuesday, “Access to Justice Denied – Ashcroft v. Iqbal.” Supporters of the legislation — including a bill sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) — want to reverse U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Iqbal case as well as Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly. Lawyers USA has a good description: “In those cases, the Court rejected the ‘notice pleading’ standard in favor of a standard requiring plaintiffs to put enough facts in a complaint to establish a ‘plausible’ claim in order to withstand a challenge by the defense.”

We did a piece summarizing the hearing at Point of Law, “House bill will overturn Iqbal, restore previous pleading standards.” The Iqbal case concerned a Pakistani arrested after the murderous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; he wanted to sue for his treatment in a Brooklyn detention center. Thus, much of the debate dealt with national security, but the case has broader implications. Business associations are alarmed by the possibility of legislation will throw wide the courthouse doors to frivolous lawsuits. As former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Gregory Katsas testified, proposed legislation “is a recipe for a vast increase in litigation, which would impose huge costs on parties as well as on the already-overburdened federal courts.”

For more, see Walter Olson’s recommendations made at Overlawyered.com: “Overturning Supreme Court’s Iqbal/Twombly pleading jurisprudence emerging as key Congressional objective for trial lawyer lobby [Freddoso, Examiner; recent post of mine at Point of Law, and much other coverage there]”

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