Comments on the Report of the New York State Bar Association’s Special Committee on Standards for Pleading in Federal Litigation

Comments on the Report of the New York State Bar Association’s Special Committee on Standards for Pleading in Federal Litigation

This Report was approved by the Board of Directors of the New York County Lawyers’
Association at its regular meeting on May 10, 2010.

The New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Report of the New York State Bar Association’s Special Committee on Standards for Pleading in Federal Litigation (the “Report”). Our comments are based on reports prepared by our Committee on the Federal Courts, chaired by Gregg Kanter, and our Civil Rights and Liberties Committee, chaired by Louis Crespo. We recognize the significant research and analysis in the Report and share many of the Report’s concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court’s
recent interpretations of the pleading standard under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure (“Rule 8(a)”). Nevertheless, we do not support the Report for the following reasons:

1. The Report does not present persuasive evidence that Rule 8(a) should be revised.
2. The Report does not adequately address the discovery burdens in high-stakes,
complex cases, such as commercial cases in the Southern District of New York.
3. The proposed Rule 8(a) is not, as asserted in the Report, closely derived from
established New York pleading standards, and the language of the proposed Rule is
4. The Report does not address the effect of its proposed revision to Rule 8(a) on
plaintiffs in civil rights and employment cases, particularly pro se litigants.
5. The Report proposes a deviation, disrespectful of the Supreme Court, from the well established rule-making process.

Evidence that Rule 8(a) Should Be Revised
While Twombly and Iqbal may justify a revision of Rule 8(a), the Report does not demonstrate
this. The Report’s presumption that Twombly and Iqbal have dramatically altered federal
pleading standards is not universally accepted. A recent study on Twombly and Iqbal concludes:
The case law to date does not appear to indicate that Iqbal has dramatically
changed the application of the standards used to determine pleading sufficiency.
Some courts have emphasized that notice pleading remains intact. Many courts
also continue to rely on pre-Twombly case law to support some of the propositions
cited in Twombly and Iqbal – that legal conclusions need not be accepted as true
and that at least some factual averments are necessary to survive the pleadings
stage. In addition, some of the post-Iqbal cases dismissing complaints note that
those complaints would have been deficient even before Twombly and Iqbal.
Memorandum Prepared for the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (Dec. 30, 2009).1
But see
Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 639 F. Supp. 2d 217 (D.P.R. Aug. 4, 2009) (stating that
the heightened pleading standard in Twombly/Iqbal could cause some litigants to avoid federal
The Report discusses preliminary data compiled by the Administrative Office of the United
States Courts regarding dismissal rates for various categories of cases before Twombly and after
Iqbal, but these statistics do not appear adequate to bear the weight the Report gives them. See
Report at 17-20. As the Report acknowledges, these statistics have various shortcomings,
including a short time period and a correspondingly small sample. See id. at 17 & n.82. It is
doubtful that the dismissal rates for various categories of cases in this sample – motions to
dismiss were granted less often after Iqbal than pre-Twombly in six categories and were granted
more often in only three categories – are meaningful. This is particularly so in light of the recent
analysis of cases applying Twombly and Iqbal discussed above, which concluded that the impact
of those cases on dismissal rates was at most questionable. The Report’s suggestion that the
statistics do not account for cases that were never brought or were settled before adjudication of
motions to dismiss is speculation, unsupported by empirical evidence that the number of
complaints has dropped after Iqbal or that more cases are settling before adjudication of motions.
See id. at 18-19.
The Report does not sufficiently acknowledge the concerns that Twombly and Iqbal address,
including the excessive burdens of discovery in large cases and the need to ensure that plaintiffs
make some showing of a basis for suing before imposing the costs of discovery on defendants, as
set forth below.
Discovery Burden in Complex Cases
The Report states that discovery burdens are not a problem in federal court, and the sole basis for
this statement is a Federal Judicial Center survey of federal court practitioners. See Report at 41-
42. The bulk of federal cases analyzed by the survey, however, appear to be minor-stakes
disputes that are very dissimilar from the high-stakes, complex commercial litigation prevalent in
districts such as the Southern District of New York. In these types of cases, the discovery
burdens discussed in Twombly are real, particularly in cases involving electronic discovery. Just
as the Supreme Court’s discussion in Twombly of a few law review articles about purported
discovery burdens provided inadequate support for the Court’s rejection of 50 years of pleading

precedent, see 127 S. Ct. at 1957, the Report’s discussion of discovery statistics from one survey
is not an adequate basis to reject Twombly and Iqbal.
Proposed Revised Rule 8(a) Is Not Based on New York Pleading Standards
and Is Ambiguous
The Report’s suggestion that Rule 8(a) should be revised to adopt a formulation purportedly
based on the pleading standard under the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) is
unpersuasive for several reasons. See Report at 29-33, 39. First, the Report’s proposed amended
Rule 8(a) – requiring “a short and plain non-conclusory statement of grounds sufficient to
provide notice of the claim and relief sought” – bears no resemblance to the pleading standard set
forth in CPLR 3013 – “sufficiently particular [statements] to give the court and parties notice of
the transactions, occurrences, or series of transactions or occurrences, intended to be proved and
the material elements of each cause of action or defense.” The Report does not explain how the
CPLR or the New York case law applying the CPLR supports the Report’s reformulation of Rule
Second, the Report’s proposed reliance on New York State law as a model for the federal
pleading standard is likely to be particularly unpersuasive to a national audience because the
Report offers almost no substantive analysis of other states’ pleading standards. See Report at
34. New York lawyers should refrain from promoting our own state law as a national model
without undertaking a more serious analysis of the possible models provided by other states. The
existing body of federal law, which is familiar to lawyers nationwide, provides ample materials
for reforming the federal pleading standard, if that is desirable.
Third, the Report does not convincingly demonstrate that the pleading standard under the CPLR
is a good model. It may be possible to derive a coherent pleading standard from the CPLR’s
statutory language and the case law of the Court of Appeals, but the Report does not present such
a standard.2
Any amendment to the Rules should be drafted as carefully as possible. While we do not support
the Report’s proposed amendment, we note several apparent drafting problems that result in the
proposed Rule lacking the clarity it is intended to provide. The amendment appears to be
ambiguous. “A short and plain non-conclusory statement of grounds sufficient to provide notice
of the claim and the relief sought” (Report at 1) could be read in at least two different ways:
• A short and plain non-conclusory statement of (i) grounds sufficient to provide
notice of the claim and (ii) the relief sought; or

Indeed, commentators have noted the confusion in New York’s pleading standards. E.g., J. Higgitt,
CPLR 3211(a)(&): Demurrer or Merits Testing Device?, 73 Albany L. Rev. 99 (2009) (stating that New
York motion to dismiss standard is unclear because recent decisions have “muddied the waters as to the
appropriate standard”).
• A short and plain non-conclusory statement of grounds sufficient to provide
notice of (i) the claim and (ii) the relief sought.
The latter interpretation arguably would require greater specificity regarding the grounds for the
relief sought than the former interpretation. This might make a significant difference to the
outcome of motions to dismiss actions seeking injunctive relief, difficult-to-measure damages, or
other non-obvious relief.
Finally, the proposed amendment’s inclusion of the word “non-conclusory” could invite courts to
require detailed fact pleading, which would undermine the amendment’s apparent intention of
restoring the balance between plaintiffs’ and defendants’ rights after Twombly and Iqbal,
assuming an imbalance exists, and assuming that is desirable.
Effect of Proposed Rule 8(a) on Plaintiffs in Civil Rights and Employment Cases,
Particularly Pro Se Litigants
The term “non-conclusory statement” could be construed as requiring the equivalent of a
“statement of facts.” If so, the proposed standard could bar viable claims brought under certain
civil rights statutes, e.g., 42. U.S.C. Section 1983. For example, as noted in the Report on page
25, civil rights litigants may encounter problems in pleading supervisory liability in Section 1983
cases as alleged acts of supervisors may “happen behind closed doors” and plaintiffs do not have
access to certain information unless it is “unlocked by discovery.” Under these circumstances a
plaintiff can only plead conclusory statements based on inferences from the other facts and
circumstances known at the time of pleading. Similar considerations could affect many other
plaintiffs, including plaintiffs in employment cases and pro se plaintiffs, who believe correctly
that they have a valid claim, but who cannot marshal the facts to support some elements of
claims without discovery other than by plausible inference.
The Proposed Deviation from the Well-Established Rule-Making Process Is Disrespectful
to the Supreme Court
NYCLA opposes the Report’s recommendation that an amendment of Rule 8(a) be enacted
through a deviation from the well-established rule-making process, in which the Judicial
Conference would adopt the revision and Congress would deprive the Supreme Court of its
normal authority under the Rules Enabling Act to reject a Rules amendment proposed by the
Judicial Conference. See Report at 40.3
Any amendment to the Rules, or other change in the

A number of commentators have criticized similar suggestions.
“’The ideal of nationally uniform procedural rules promulgated by the Supreme Court after
consideration by expert committees – commonly known as ‘court rulemaking’ – has been the
cornerstone of civil rulemaking in the federal courts since adoption of the Rules Enabling Act in
1934.” Bone, The Process of Making Process: Court Rulemaking, Democratic Legitimacy, and
Procedural Efficiency, 87 Geo. L.J. 887, 888 (1999) . . . And that process is ideally suited for
monitoring the situation in the lower courts in the wake of Twombly and Iqbal – and responding
if need be. As discussed above, the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules is already actively
monitoring the caselaw applying Twombly and Iqbal. That Committee – which is comprised of
pleading standards established by the Supreme Court in Twombly and Iqbal, should be achieved
through one of the two traditional means – either an amendment to the Rules drafted by the Rule
Advisory Committee, proposed by the Judicial Conference, and promulgated by the Supreme
Court, or, if the Advisory Committee fails to act after it has been given an opportunity to
complete its ongoing review and analysis of Twombly and Iqbal, legislation enacted by
In conclusion, NYCLA does not support the Report and suggests further study to evaluate the
full range of views about the federal pleading standard and issues that arise in different
circumstances. NYCLA also recommends that the normal rule-making process not be short

judges and practitioners who are intimately familiar with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
and decisions in this area – occupies an ideal vantage point to evaluate the situation and
determine the extent of any necessary response. If the Advisory Committee should determine
(contrary to initial data) that Twombly and Iqbal are having an adverse impact on civil litigation
in the federal courts, it may craft an appropriate amendment through the time‐honored judicial
rulemaking process. There is no good reason for Congress to override that process.”
Statement of Gregory J. Katsas, Former Asst. Attorney Gen., Civil Div., Dept. of Justice, Federal
Pleading Standards Under Twombly and Iqbal, Testimony Before the Subcomm. On Courts and
Competition Policy, House Judiciary Comm (Dec. 16, 2009) (avail. at