Judges can dismiss civil suits
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of New York Times
Posted: July 26th, 2009
The most consequential decision of the Supreme Courts last term got only a little attention when it landed in May. And what attention it got was for the wrong reason. But the lower courts have certainly understood the significance of the decision, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, which makes it much easier for judges to dismiss civil lawsuits right after they are filed. They have cited it more than 500 times in just the last two months. On its face, the Iqbal decision concerned the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The court ruled that a Muslim man swept up on immigration charges could not sue two Bush administration officials for what he said was the terrible abuse he suffered in detention. But something much deeper and broader was going on in the decision, something that may unsettle how civil litigation is conducted in the United States. For more than half a century, it has been clear that all a plaintiff had to do to start a lawsuit was to file what the rules call a short and plain statement of the claim in a document called a complaint. Information about wrongdoing is often secret. Plaintiffs claiming they were the victims of employment discrimination, a defective product, an antitrust conspiracy or a policy of harsh treatment in detention may not know exactly who harmed them and how before filing suit. But plaintiffs can learn valuable information during discovery. The Iqbal decision now requires plaintiffs to come forward with concrete facts at the outset, and it instructs lower court judges to dismiss lawsuits that strike them as implausible. It obviously licenses highly subjective judgments, said Stephen B. Burbank, an authority on civil procedure at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. This is a blank check for federal judges to get rid of cases they disfavor.
Note: For many important reports from major media sources on the erosion of civil liberties since the 9/11 attacks, click here.