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Plausibility Beyond the Complaint


Joseph Seiner


University of South Carolina School of Law

December 6, 2010

William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 53, p. 987, 2012

Abstract:     
In Twombly v. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. 644 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court announced a new plausibility standard for a plaintiff’s allegations. The decisions may have even broader implications, however, as many federal district courts have already applied this pleading standard to a defendant’s affirmative defenses. This Article attempts – for the first time in the legal literature – to make sense of Twombly and Iqbal in the context of the affirmative defense.

This Article addresses the two possible readings of Twombly and Iqbal for a defendant’s responsive pleadings. The first reading is a narrow case-specific approach, and concludes that the decisions are inapplicable to defendants and must be limited to a plaintiff’s civil complaint. The second approach is much broader, and concludes that a defendant must comply with the Supreme Court’s plausibility standard by pleading enough facts to sufficiently state an affirmative defense. This Article explains why a close textual review of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, combined with numerous policy and practical considerations, support the broader second reading of Twombly and Iqbal for affirmative defenses.

What it actually means to plausibly plead a defense is a much more complicated question. This paper closely examines this issue through the lens of one of the most complex and important defenses in all civil case law – the affirmative defense to a claim of sexual harassment. By way of this example, this Article explains how the plausibility standard would apply more broadly to defend. This Article does not attempt to answer the normative question of whether the plausibility standard was properly established by the Supreme Court. Instead, this Article assumes the validity of the Court’s approach, and describes what this standard would look like if applied to the affirmative defense. The question of whether the plausibility standard should apply to defendants – and if so how it should apply – is likely to create significant controversy in the coming years. This paper establishes a foundation for that debate, and fills the current void in the academic scholarship on this issue.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 52

Keywords: Twombly, Iqbal, Affirmative Defense

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Date posted: December 7, 2010 ; Last revised: March 2, 2012

Suggested Citation

Seiner, Joseph, Plausibility Beyond the Complaint (December 6, 2010). William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 53, p. 987, 2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1721062

Contact Information

Joseph A. Seiner (Contact Author)
University of South Carolina School of Law ( email )
Main & Greene Streets
Columbia, SC 29208
United States
(803) 777-5569 (Phone)
(803) 777-2368 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.sc.edu/faculty/seiner/
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