The U.S. Supreme Court Finds That An Imperfect Statement Of Legal Theory Is Not Grounds For A Dismissal With Prejudice

Oakland, CA (Originally published Nov. 16, 2014)  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) only requires a short and plain statement of a plaintiff’s claim. Invoking this rule last week in Johnson v. City of Shelby, No. 13-1318 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Nov. 10, 2013), the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and summarily reversed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a somewhat unusual per curiam decision. Both the district court and reviewing court had held that a police officer’s federal civil rights complaint was defective because it failed to expressly cite section 1983.

The Supreme Court disagreed. It reasoned that federal pleading rules are not intended to result in the dismissal of improperly pleaded legal theories. It distinguished Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 556 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 602 (2009), reasoning that they set forth the requirements for factual rather than legal allegations and thus did not support the lower courts’ dismissal.

The Supreme Court remanded with instructions to allow the plaintiff to insert a reference to section 1983 for “clarification and to ward off further insistence on a punctiliously stated ‘theory of the pleadings.’”

John Claassen practices civil litigation from the offices of Claassen, P.C. in Oakland, California.  For more information about the firm, please click here.  While this blog entry is published for informational purposes, portions of this blog post may constitute "communications" within the meaning of California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400.  Thus, as a possible "Advertisement" it is not intended to constitute legal advice.  Similarly, no statement made in this blog post is intended as a guarantee, warranty, or promise about the outcome of any litigation matter taken on by the firm.  This Advertisement is not intended for any matter that would require the rendition of legal services outside of the State of California or under the laws of any jurisdiction outside of the State of California.  Copyright 2014-15.  All rights reserved.