Thursday, December 20, 2007

Barney Alert: Did The SJC Just Send A Signal That It’s About To Get Easier To Dismiss Civil Suits?

The Widget:

Court: SJC
Judge: Greany
Subject: Motions to dismiss
Tone: Hedging
Importance: ?

Our first Barney Alert in a while. Last term the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007) and civil litigators scratched their heads. The Court said that the old standard for determining whether or not to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12 (“a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief”) leads to too many groundless lawsuits gaining too much traction. The Court suggested replacing the old standard with something different: “whether facts alleged in the complaint raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).”

Now there are two distinct schools of thought on whether this is a meaningful change. In Eigerman v. Putnam Investments, Inc., No. SJC 07-9854, the SJC today spends a moment considering the issue and punts. “In a future case,” Justice Greany says, “we may consider whether we should adopt the Bell Atlantic standard for application to complaints that are the subject of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).” Two things to take away from this equivocation: (1) the SJC thinks the Twombly case did lower the bar that must be hurdled before a case can be dismissed under Rule 12; and (2) the SJC did not reject the Twombly standard out of hand as being totally preposterous. Expect plaintiffs and defendants to grapple clumsily (and expensively) with this issue until the SJC resolves it.

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