A Fresh Look at Plausibility Pleading

64 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2013 Last revised: 27 Feb 2019

Date Written: March 19, 2015


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.

Keywords: Pleading, Litigation, Settlement

JEL Classification: K4

Suggested Citation

Hubbard, William H. J., A Fresh Look at Plausibility Pleading (March 19, 2015). University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 83, No. 693, 2016, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 446, University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 663, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2360723 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2360723

William H. J. Hubbard (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-8999 (Phone)

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