The Rise and Fall of Plausibility Pleading?

67 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2016 Last revised: 2 Jul 2024

See all articles by Adam Steinman

Adam Steinman

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: March 21, 2016


The Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and its 2009 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal unleashed a torrent of scholarly reaction. Commentators charged these decisions with adopting a new pleading regime, "plausibility pleading," that upended the notice-pleading approach that had long prevailed in federal court. Whether a complaint could survive a motion to dismiss-it was argued-now depends on whether the court found the complaint plausible, allowing courts to second-guess a complaint's allegations without any opportunity for discovery or consideration of actual evidence. Lower courts began to cite Twombly and Iqbal at a remarkably high rate, and empirical work revealed their effect on both dismissal rates and litigant behavior. Although Twombly and Iqbal were troubling on many levels, the rise of a newly restrictive form of plausibility pleading was not inevitable. There was- and still is-a path forward that would retain the notice-pleading approach set forth in the text of the Federal Rules themselves and confirmed by pre-Twombly case law. This Article describes this reading of Twombly and Iqbal, and explains how more recent Supreme Court pleading decisions are consistent with this understanding. It is crucial, however, that these post-Iqbal decisions and the approach to pleading they reflect receive the same attention that accompanied Twombly, Iqbal, and the rise of plausibility pleading. Otherwise the narrative that Twombly and Iqbal compel a more restrictive pleading standard may become further entrenched, compounding the adverse effects of those problematic decisions.

Keywords: Pleading, Twombly, Iqbal, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Plausibility, Rule 8, Rule 12(b)(6), Supreme Court

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Steinman, Adam, The Rise and Fall of Plausibility Pleading? (March 21, 2016). Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 2, 2016, pp. 333-99, U of Alabama Legal Studies Research Paper, No. 2753142, Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Adam Steinman (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

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