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Specter seeks relief from strict pleading standard

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., has introduced legislation to roll back federal civil pleading standards to the relaxed approach used by courts up until two years ago.

In a reaction to what some have criticized as a subjective “plausibility” standard set in a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case – and reinforced in May with the decision in Ashcroft v. IqbalSpecter’s bill would require courts to revert to the “notice pleading” standard of Conley v. Gibson, a 1957 case.  Under that standard, a lawsuit is allowed to proceed “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts … which would entitle him to relief.”

In remarks prepared for delivery on the Senate floor, Specter said the recent Supreme Court decisions effectively authorize federal trial judges to indulge their subjective judgment in evaluating a lawsuit’s plausibility:

The effect of the Court’s actions will no doubt be to deny many plaintiffs with meritorious claims access to the federal courts and, with it, any legal redress for their injuries.  I think that is an especially unwelcome development at a time when, with the litigating resources of our executive-branch and administrative agencies stretched thin, the enforcement of federal antitrust, consumer protection, civil rights and other laws that benefit the public will fall increasingly to private litigants.

Specter terms his bill the Notice Pleading Restoration Act.

By Peter Vieth

One comment

  1. Richard L Steagall

    In the millennium since common law writs first appeared in the reign of Henry II, judges have always construed a complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accepted the allegations as true.

    Five members of the United States Supreme Court now say Judges should use their “common sense” to determine if the plaintiff’s allegations are plausible.

    This is a mandate to close the courthouse door at the outset based on the judge’s subjective views of a case he knows nothing about.

    Senator Spector’s bill should quickly pass and return federal litigation to the state it existed and worked well for 59 years since the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were adopted in 1938.

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