U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies the Limits of Twombly/lqbal

Michael W. Mitchell

Rejecting the "punctiliously stated 'theory of pleading'" applied by the district court and the Fifth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court in Johnson v. City of Shelby, Mississippi, ___ S.Ct. ___, 2014 WL 5798626 (2014), held that the plaintiffs need not expressly invoke Section 1983 in order to state a claim for violations of their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The Court quoted FRCP 8(a)(2) and explained that "[f]ederal pleading rules call for 'a short and plain statement of the claim' . . . ." And they "do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted."

Twombly and Iqbal were not on point because those two cases dealt with insufficient factual allegations to support a plausible claim for relief; whereas here the alleged pleading deficiency was the failure to invoke a specific statute or legal theory arising from sufficiently-stated facts. There was no dispute here that the plaintiffs had stated sufficient facts to support a Section 1983 claim. "Having informed the [defendant] of the factual basis for their complaint, [plaintiffs are] required to do no more to stave off threshold dismissal for want of an adequate statement of their claim."

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