More Evidence Fed. Cts Hostile to Individual Plaintiffs

New evidence shows that a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows judges to dismiss cases based on their “common sense” has led to a sharp increase in the dismissal lawsuits filed by individuals  but virtually no change in the dismissal rate of lawsuits filed by corporations.

The New York Times this week reported the results of a new study by Alexander A. Reinert, a professor at Cardoza Law School at Yeshiva University in New York, who represented the losing side in  Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the case that led to the Court’s  5-4 ruling.

The study found the rate of dismissal of cases brought by individuals who are represented by lawyers has risen from 42 percent to 59 percent since the Iqbal decision. Employment discrimination and civil rights claims were hit particularly hard. Meanwhile, the rate of dismissal remained flat for corporate plaintiffs – rising only one point to 38 percent.

Prior to Iqbal, a pleading could not be dismissed “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim.” Post Iqbal, judges may use their own “judicial experience and common sense” to determine whether claimants have set forth facts sufficient to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” When a case is dismissed at this early stage, the plaintiff is denied the opportunity to engage in discovery, which may be necessary to elicit facts  to support a claim.

Iqbal is a Pakistani Muslim who was picked up on immigration charges in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.  He claimed he was subjected to humiliating searches and vicious beatings during his detention and filed a lawsuit against then Attorney General John Ashcroft and then-FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. The court dismissed Iqbal’s complaint, denying him the opportunity to obtain court documents and statements through pre-trial discovery.

Other studies also show that a pro-business majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has made it much more difficult for victims of employment discrimination – especially age discrimination plaintiffs – to sue their employers.

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