The United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), dealt with a detainee’s claims that he had been discriminated against and treated harshly during his detention. But the Supreme Court dismissed his complaint for failure to state sufficient facts to support his claims against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III.

For background on the case, here is SCOTUSBlog’s analysis of the decision and its effect on future claims that attempt to impose liability on high-ranking officials for the conduct of their subordinates.

Even though Iqbal‘s facts are unique, I am interested in it because of its language that is troublesome to plaintiffs in federal lawsuits in general.

According to Tony Mauro, who wrote last month about the decision in The National Law Journal, Iqbal “could make it significantly harder for plaintiffs in a broad range of cases to survive defendants’ motions to dismiss….”

The reason is that the opinion appears to expand on the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.544 (2007), which held that initial pleadings must state a claim that is “plausible on its face,” a change from Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), which had interpreted Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to require dismissal of a complaint only if the plaintiff could prove “no set of facts” that would entitle him or her to relief. Because Twombly had arisen in an action alleging violations of the Sherman Act, practitioners questioned whether the holding applied outside of antitrust litigation.

But Iqbal, which, like Twombly, was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, makes clear that it applies far beyond antitrust cases, and, according to Alan Morrison, incoming dean and professor of law at George Washington University Law School, “is an invitation to raise a Twombly issue in every case.” 

I have not read Iqbal’s complaint, but according to Mauro’s article, it was extremely detailed and should have been able to withstand the motion to dismiss. As a practical matter, plaintiffs often do not have access to a lot of information when they file suit, which requires them to make “bare-bones” allegations in their complaints. Iqbal increases the possibility of dismissal due to their lack of detail.