Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly

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Bell Atlantic v. Twombly
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 27, 2006
Decided May 21, 2007
Full case name Bell Atlantic Corporation, BellSouth Corporation, Qwest Communications International Inc., SBC Communications Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc. (successor-in-interest to Bell Atlantic Corporation) v. William Twombly and Lawrence Marcus, both individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated
Docket nos. 05-1126
Citations 550 U.S. 544 (more)
127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929, 75 USLW 4337, 2007-1 Trade Cases P 75,709, 68 Fed.R.Serv.3d 661, 07 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 5550, 2007 Daily Journal D.A.R. 7097, 41 Communications Reg. (P&F) 567, 20 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 267
Prior history Complaint dismissed, 313 F. Supp. 2d 174 (S.D.N.Y. 2003), vacated and remanded, 425 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2005), cert. granted, 548 U.S. 903 (2006)
Argument Oral argument
Holding
Parallel conduct alone, absent some evidence of agreement to engage in anti-competitive behavior, is not sufficient to prove a violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. A complaint must allege facts with sufficient specificity to state a claim for relief that is plausible, not merely conceivable, on its face.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Souter, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito
Dissent Stevens, joined by Ginsburg (except as to Part IV)
Laws applied
Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1; Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), 12(b)(6)

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), was a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States involving antitrust law and civil procedure. Authored by Justice David Souter, it established that parallel conduct, absent evidence of agreement, is insufficient to sustain an anti-trust action under § 1 of the Sherman Act. It also heightened the pleading requirement for Federal civil cases, requiring that plaintiffs include enough facts in their complaint to make it plausible—not merely possible or conceivable—that they will be able to prove facts to support their claims. This latter change in the law has been met with a great deal of controversy in legal circles, evidenced by the dissenting opinion from Justice Stevens.[1]

Background[edit]

Twombly and Marcus brought a class-action lawsuit alleging that Bell Atlantic and a number of other large telephone companies had engaged in anti-competitive behavior in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that these large telephone companies had acted in order to disadvantage smaller telephone companies and charge consumers more by, for example, refraining from entering markets where another large company was dominant (thereby preventing a price war).

Their complaint was dismissed by Judge Gerard E. Lynch of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, as failing to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for a violation of the Sherman Act. This decision was reversed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 2006.

Holding[edit]

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Second Circuit, which had reversed the decision of the District Court (Lynch D.J.) dismissing the complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

As an initial matter, the Supreme Court clarified the requirements of proving a claim of anti-competitive behavior under Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The Sherman Act prohibits entering into a "contract, combination, or conspiracy" to restrain trade. The Court held that while parallel conduct—actions by competing companies that might be seen as implying some agreement to work together—is "admissible circumstantial evidence" from which an agreement to engage in anti-competitive behavior may be inferred, parallel conduct alone is insufficient to prove a Sherman Act claim.

The Court then upheld the District Court's dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint, holding that the mere allegations contained in the complaint that the competitors had agreed not to compete were insufficient to state a claim of conspiracy under the Sherman Act. The Court found that Twombly's complaint had not provided enough facts for the court to find it plausible that the companies had engaged in a conspiracy; instead, the complaint provided factual bases for parallel conduct — not enough under the Court's new interpretation of the Sherman Act — and merely stated that an agreement had taken place, with no details to support that allegation. The Court held that the dismissal of the complaint was therefore proper.

The Court's opinion changed the existing interpretation of the notice pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) (and the standards for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)), creating a new, stricter standard of a pleading's required specificity. Previously, under the standard the Court set forth in Conley v. Gibson, a complaint need only state a "conceivable" set of facts to support its legal claims — that is, that a court could only dismiss a claim if it appeared, beyond a doubt, that the plaintiff would be able to prove no set of facts in support of her claim that would entitle her to relief. In Twombly, the court adopted a more strict, "plausibility" standard, requiring in this case "enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal agreement".

The general applicability of this heightened standard of pleading outside of antitrust cases was established in Ashcroft v. Iqbal. In this subsequent decision, the Court also provided guidance as to how lower courts should apply the Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly test:

Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. ... Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying plead­ings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal con­clusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Our decision in Twombly illustrates the two-pronged approach.

The two cases are often jointly referred to as Twiqbal.

Attorneys Michael Kellogg and Thomas Barnett argued the case successfully for the petitioners.[2]

Legislative reaction[edit]

On July 22, 2009, after the Supreme Court broadened Twombly with its decision in Iqbal, Senator Arlen Specter introduced the "Notice Pleading Restoration Act of 2009",[3] which provides:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by an Act of Congress or by an amendment to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which takes effect after the date of enactment of this Act, a Federal court shall not dismiss a complaint under rule 12(b)(6) or (e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, except under the standards set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957).4

A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives shortly thereafter entitled the "Open Access to Courts Act of 2009", which provides:

A court shall not dismiss a complaint under subdivision (b)(6), (c) or (e) of Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim which would entitle the plaintiff to relief. A court shall not dismiss a complaint under one of those subdivisions on the basis of a determination by the judge that the factual contents of the complaint do not show the plaintiff's claim to be plausible or are insufficient to warrant a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.

Neither bill became law.

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