A Theory of Pleading

William H. J. Hubbard

University of Chicago Law School

July 22, 2014

University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 663
U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 446

The plausibility pleading regime of Twombly and Iqbal has generated continuing controversy and concern over its effects on the ability of plaintiffs, particularly certain categories of civil rights plaintiffs, to bring cases in federal court. I assess the effects of plausibility pleading by undertaking a novel thought experiment: What would a plaintiff’s filing and pleading decisions look like in a world with no pleading standard at all? In other words, what if there were no motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and every filed case could reach discovery? I show that in this hypothetical world, with few exceptions plaintiffs file factually detailed, plausible complaints or do not file at all. In short, pleading standards rarely matter. Perhaps most surprisingly, this is true even for cases in which asymmetries of information favor the defendant. Plaintiffs’ attorneys, not judges, are the gatekeepers to court, and pleading practices are driven not by doctrine but by settlement strategy. This analysis generates empirical predictions, which find support in a wide range of qualitative (though hardly conclusive) evidence. Further, this thought experiment may turn the normative critique of Twombly and Iqbal on its head: plausibility pleading may advance, rather than undermine, the “liberal ethos” of the Federal Rules.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: Pleading, Litigation, Settlement

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Date posted: November 29, 2013 ; Last revised: August 7, 2014

Suggested Citation

Hubbard, William H. J., A Theory of Pleading (July 22, 2014). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 663; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 446. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2360723 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2360723

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William H. J. Hubbard (Contact Author)
University of Chicago Law School ( email )
1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
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