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Commencing a Civil Action and Responding to it
Pleadings, unlike motions that ask for a specific thing, don’t ask a judge to do anything in particular. Pleadings just kick off a process. Pleadings include complaint, answer, cross-claim and counterclaim.
The Complaint—Tightening Standards for Pleading a Federal Question: Twiqbal
Rule 8: Complaint requires a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and a demand for the relief sought. Failure to state a claim is grounds for 12(b)(6) dismissal.
E&E says: Complaint need not prove any facts or allege them in detail, just needs to allege the elements of a proper claim.
Conley v Gibson (standard raised substantially in subsequent cases)
FRCP does not require detailed claim, all they require is a short and plain statement of claim. Sets very low threshold for 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 support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.”
Notice pleading—idea is that you just give the defendant enough facts that he knows what the claim is and the basic facts on which it rests, and he’ll learn more through discovery. The purpose of pleadings is just to facilitate a proper decision on the merits.
Bell Atlantic v Twombly: Raises the standard from plausibility to probability.
Twombly alleges that the baby bells’ parallel conduct in staying out of each other’s territory violates the Sherman Act. But it is not illegal to act noncompetitively, its just illegal to collude. So court would have to figure out whether this is illegal collusion. Antitrust discovery is lengthy and costly. The facts must “nudge the claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Court also distinguishes between legal conclusions and allegations about facts. A few stray statements that speak directly of an agreement are merely legal conclusions. Well-pleaded complaint must state facts that make claim plausible.
Ashcroft v Iqbal—further tightens standard
Question here was whether the plaintiff plead a factual matter that, if taken as true, states a claim that defendants deprived him of his constitutional rights.
Plausibility is not probability. But it is more than possibility.
Conclusory allegations are not entitled to be assumed true, and do not constitute sufficient facts to cross the Twombly line from conceivable to plausible.
Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that he was designated a suspect b/c of his race, but not that Ashcroft intentionally discriminated because of his race.
Twombly is not limited to antitrust., but is it limited to cases with expensive discovery?
Souter dissent: Facts are there, majority just chooses not do address them. Facts must be taken as true, with the sole exception for allegations that are “sufficiently fantastic to defy reality as we know it: claims about little green men, or the plaintiff’s recent trip to Pluto.”
If we make it harder for private citizens to bring these claims, who will do the policing?
Efficiency concerns. Stevens dissent in Twombly wants defendants to at least have to answer complaints, thinks Sherman Act included a private remedy for a reason, and this holding thwarts efforts at private enforcement.
Responding to the Complaint
Rule 8: A response must include
Admit or Deny
If denying in part, must specify which part. Can also deny generally
If a responsive pleading is required and defendant fails to answer, that is akin to an admission
Must state its defenses to each claim asserted, including
Assumption of risk, fraud, failure of consideration, res judicata, statute of limitations, et al, and as in Burnham, statutory med mal caps
Must respond within 21 days of receiving summons and complaint, or within 60 days of waiving service
The following defenses can be made by motion: lack of subject-matter or personal jurisdiction; improper venue; insufficient process; insufficient service of process; failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and failure to join a party
The following defenses are waived if not included in the pleading or motion
Fuentes v Tucker
Tucker admitted liability in his answer. Fuentes argued evidence that he was intoxicated to the jury, Tucker wants that evidence excluded. Court says you cannot introduce evidence that is material only to a moot point. If someone admits liability, the liability ceases to be an issue of fact, so it doesn’t need to be tried. Court makes exception here because there’s no evidence that the evidence unjustly influenced the jury, so doesn’t want to go back and try the case all over. Rule 61 Harmless error does not result in a new trial.
Zielinski v Philadelphia Piers
Plaintiff injured in a forklift accident, sued the wrong company b/c didn’t know that his former employer had sold the company.
A party that does not intend to deny all the allegations must either specifically deny designated allegations or generally deny all except those specifically admitted—defendant failed to specify which parts of the complaint he was denying. Should have denied the part that alleged he owned the forklift. Instead of replying with general denial, reasonable person should have denied specific allegations and corrected plaintiff’s error.
Now since the statute of limitations has passed, plaintiff can’t sue anyone, but he would have been able to had defendant answered properly.
Court will not let the burden of defendant’s error fall on the plaintiff. Ruling for plaintiff largely falls on justice/injustice grounds. Chase questions it b/c poor complaint is partly the plaintiff’s lawyer’s fault. Philadelphia Piers also sent a letter to insurance company that implied they knew Zielinski was suing the wrong company.
Ingraham v US: key take-away is that you must plead all defense up front in order to avoid surprise to other party
Med mal case against US on behalf of Air Force docs. US did not plead statutory limit of ex delicto damages of $500,000 as defense, tried to...
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