Inventing Tests, Destabilizing Systems

Kevin M. Clermont, Cornell Law School
Stephen C. Yeazell, UCLA School of Law


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The U.S. Supreme Court has revolutionized the law on pleading, by its suggestive Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and definitive Ashcroft v. Iqbal. But these decisions do more than redefine the pleading rules: by inventing a test for the threshold stage of a lawsuit, they have destabilized the entire system of civil litigation. The destabilization should rekindle a wide conversation about fundamental choices in designing our legal system. Those choices are debatable. The bone picked with the Court is not that it has taken the wrong path for pleading, but that it blazed a new and unclear path alone and without adequate warning or thought. The point of this Article is that wherever you stand on pleading—even if you think the federal litigation system is wildly out of control with many frivolous suits, or instead if you think the role of pleading should be further purified to eliminate all of its screening function—you should find these recent decisions lamentable. The Article describes the Court’s choice to shift from minimal notice pleading to a robust gatekeeping regime, and next gives some reasons for thinking the Court’s course on this important matter may promise the worst of both worlds. Then, after some thoughts on the Court’s possible motivation, it briefly offers some ways out of the bog.