A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today will restore standards required to file court cases and strengthen Americans’ basic legal protections. The “Open Access to Courts Act of 2009,” introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), will address recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions – Bell Atlantic v. Twombly (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009) – which irrationally raised the bar for Americans seeking justice in employment, discrimination, and other civil cases.
Although it sounds arcane, it’s critical to the work trial attorneys do every day.
Since 1938, individuals and businesses could file suit by submitting a short and plain statement, called a complaint, which described the facts of the case. In Twombly and Iqbal, the Supreme Court created a new interpretation of these rules. With these vague and subjective legal pleading standards, cases are now being dismissed even before the plaintiff can obtain evidence that would confirm the allegations, a process known as discovery. This effectively requires people to know more information than they possibly could have access to.
Since many cases are proven because of documents – such as personnel files and internal company memos – uncovered in discovery, these new standards allow negligent corporations to escape accountability while weakening Americans’ basic legal protections.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has already been introduced in the U.S. Senate (S. 1504) to return these pleading standards to their prior precedent – established in 1957 by the Supreme Court in Conley v. Gibson.
A wide range of groups is supporting these efforts, necessary to have a level playing field in our nation’s courts. To learn more, visit www.justice.org.