In Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, there was a claim of conspiracy. Twombly sued saying that the corporation had violated antitrust laws with other corporations. However, he did not really have proof. He sued, making this claim, which was appealed to the Supreme Court. Here, precedent changed. Before, you could make a claim with enough facts to show that it was “possible” the allegations were true. With this idea, anyone could sue anybody and make it through the pleading stage without issue. This was reversed in Twombly. Instead, the plaintiff had to make a claim that was “plausible.” In other words, they needed to come with enough evidence to make it past discovery.

This lead to additional questions of if this applied to all civil cases or just complicated ones of conspiracy and the like. Iqbal followed.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal

556 U.S. 662 (2009).

The big takeaway from this case is that Twombly applies to all civil cases, not just ones with complicated fact patterns. The brief below attempts to outline the two-prong test.


Does the pleading pass the Twombly test?


There are two parts:

  • Are the allegations well-pleaded?
  • Do the well-pleaded allegations plausibly state a claim for relief?

Iqbal fails both prongs of the test. Reversed and Remanded.


In the aftermath of 9/11, hundreds of individuals were put into custody and isolation until they were cleared of any association with al Qaeda. Iqbal was one of those individuals who was detained. He alleges that he suffered severe mistreatment while in detention.

During his detention, he claimed that Ashcroft, the attorney general, and Mueller, the director of the FBI, deliberately put himself and others into this facility with the intent to discriminate based on nationality, race, and religion in violation of the first and fifth amendments. As a result, he sued.

The appellate court saw that his facts were pretty straightforward, and allowed the case to proceed past pleadings. Ashcroft and Mueller appealed.


For the first element, the allegations need to be well-pleaded. Many of the claims by Iqbal were not well pleaded because he simply restated the element of the law. Instead, he should have pointed to some specific fact associated with that element to count it as well-pleaded. In other words, there is a difference between a conclusory statements and fact-based statements. If these claims are well-pleaded, they can be counted as true.

However, if you pass the first bar, then there is a second prong that must be satisfied: Do the well-pleaded claims plausibly state a claim for relief? The issue here is that guilty assumptions also have innocent ones. Yes, they could be guilty, but they could also be innocent because those involved in 9/11 were of that nationality so it makes it more likely that others of that nationality are involved. When there is an innocent reason, the plaintiff must provide more factual context to “nudge” the claim from possible to plausible.

Additional Notes

The old rule 8 standard, before Twombly and Iqbal, was that the claim needed to be conceivable. This rule was outlined in Conley v. Gibson, 255 U.S. 41 (1957). The purpose of this original rule was to dismiss any crazy claims (e.g. outer space aliens and Bob stole my money). In other words, the facts are not conceivably possible. Although this standard has changed for federal courts, it is still the standard for each of the state courts.

Iqbal changed this requirement from conceivable to plausible. There is a difference; conceivable was more objective while plausible is more subjective to the judge’s perspective. As a natural consequence, it adds another burden to plaintiffs to state a claim. How so? Because it required plaintiffs to come prepared with facts that are true, enough to make it through pleadings. The issue is that most of this information comes through discovery.

Everyone assumed Twombly would only be used for complex fields of law like antitrust law. However, Iqbal said that this would apply to all civil cases.

In Iqbal, was it conceivable that he was discriminated by his nationality, race, and religion? Yes, the question after Twombly was that it needed to be plausible. What was missing? His complaint was missing sufficient facts that would move it from conceivable to plausible. Something that could have pushed it over the line was a statement from a whistleblower to say that the defendants had said what they did. These facts need to come from the pre-filing investigation.

One thing to note is that this rule attacks factual allegations.

Johnson v. City of Shelby

574 U.S. 10 (2014).

Johnson’s case was dismissed. He lost on appeal, and this appeal occurred.


Did Johnson properly plead his claim?


Rule 8(a)(2) “Short and Plain Statement”


He created a short and plain statement. Reversed.


Johnson and other police officers discovered the criminal activities of a government official. The government official fired them. The officers are bringing suit claiming that it was a violation of the 14th amendment due process clause.

This case was dismissed because they failed to mention a statute in the complaint.


Rule 8(a)(2) says that the claims should be short and plain. They did so, there is no requirement to mention all the elements of a law in the claim.

This case is also distinguishable from Iqbal because Iqbal focuses on the facts of the claim while this focuses on the law presented. (Remember, the facts and the law need to be connected, the 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss came because of the disconnect from the law, not the facts).

Additional Notes

The issue in here is that the complaint did not state federal code (42 USC 1983) in the complaint.

The Supreme Court took this case to say “hey, small mistakes are not grounds for dismissal.” It was clear that the defendant’s knew what they were being sued for.

Something to research more: Inconsistent pleading. “If the facts point to multiple conclusions, you can state both theories in the pleading, even though they are inconsistent.”


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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