Twombly, Pleading Rules, and the Regulation of Court Access
87 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2008 Last revised: 2 Dec 2008
In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court reconsidered Conley v. Gibson's very liberal notice pleading standard and held that the plaintiff must allege enough to support a plausibility of wrongdoing. This Article considers the Twombly decision within the broader framework of court access regulation and sketches a normative roadmap for designing optimal pleading and merits-based case-screening rules. The Article begins with an analysis of Twombly itself. It argues, contrary to much criticism of the decision, that the Court's plausibility standard represents only a modest departure from traditional notice pleading and that its interpretation of Rule 8(a)(2) is consistent with the text and history of the Rule and in line with the pragmatic vision of the original Federal Rule drafters. The Article then addresses the broader normative issues involved in regulating court access through stricter pleading and other case-screening devices. It argues that a pleading requirement along the lines of Twombly's thin plausibility standard might be justified by a process-based theory of fairness as reason-giving, but that anything stronger must be evaluated on outcome-based grounds. Applying utilitarian and rights-based metrics of outcome quality, the Article then explores various methods of screening meritless suits. It highlights several issues that are often ignored or misunderstood, including the importance of carefully defining the undesirable lawsuits to be screened, correctly identifying the causes of the problem, and proceeding cautiously in the absence of empirical information by designing regulatory responses to fit the most probable causes. It argues that information asymmetry is likely to be a more important cause of meritless litigation than the commonly assumed cost asymmetry, and it outlines a hybrid approach to handle the information-asymmetry cases. The Article concludes by emphasizing the importance of using formal rulemaking or the legislative process to design case-screening rules and making those rules substance-specific rather than trans-substantive.
Keywords: strict pleading, notice pleading, frivolous litigation, case screening, Bell Atlantic v. Twombly
JEL Classification: K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation