Senator Introduces Bill To Address High Court Decisions on Civil Lawsuits

July 24, 2009
Recent Supreme Court decisions that have altered procedure for filing civil lawsuits have prompted congressional action. The BLT reports that Sen. Arlen Specter has introduced the Notice Pleading Restoration Act of 2009 to counter the high court's decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (pdf) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal (pdf). In Iqbal, the high court ruled that federal judges have greater discretion to dismiss complaints, which according to some Supreme Court practitioners will make it easier for judges to quickly toss civil lawsuits out of court. Stephen B. Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, told The New York Times that the Iqbal decision amounts to a "blank check for federal judges to get rid of cases they disfavor."

Specter's legislation is aimed at requiring the federal courts to follow traditional civil procedure rules for filing lawsuits. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure simply requires that complaints include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." As noted by The BLT, Iqbal now requires plaintiffs to produce more facts, and allows judges greater ability to dismiss them. Writing for the Iqbal majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that a court must "draw on its judicial experience and common sense" in deciding whether a complaint is plausible.

Specter said, "The effect of the Court's actions will no doubt be to deny many plaintiffs with meritorious claims access to the federal courts and, with it, any legal redress for their injuries," The BLT reported.