State v. Federal – Florida’s Courts Silent on Ashcroft v. Iqbal

This post was previously published on Becker & Poliakoff’s Business Litigation Blog.

In 2008, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the case of Ashcroft v. Iqbal that changed longstanding precedent guiding Federal Courts applying the pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Iqbal was supposed to be notable because it was one of the earliest cases to challenge the U.S. government’s post September 11th arrests of terrorist suspects.  In the long run, the decision’s biggest impact has been on the on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 governs the most basic requirements a Plaintiff must meet when they file a lawsuit.  It provides:

A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain: (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

Iqbal interpreted Rule 8 to mean that:

[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’

While this single sentence may seem insignificant, it represented a break from decades of case law.  The Court went on to explain how its new interpretation deviates from past precedent:

First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. . . Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than 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.

Before Iqbal it was routinely stated that every allegation in the Complaint must initially be accepted as true.  Iqbal creates a second class of allegations, legal conclusions, which are not cloaked in the same presumption of truth.

Florida Court’s are governed by Rule 1.110(b), which is almost identical to Federal Rule 8 and provides:

A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, . . . must state a cause of action and shall contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court’s jurisdiction depends, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new grounds of jurisdiction to support it, (2) a short and plain statement of the ultimate facts showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief to which the pleader deems himself or herself entitled. Relief in the alternative or of several different types may be demanded.

Despite the virtually identical language to Federal Rule 8, Florida Courts still operate on the principal that all allegations in a Complaint must be taken as true.  The Iqbal decision has been cited in 23,894 cases across the country.  However, so far as I am aware, no Florida Court has addressed the decision.  How can such similar langague be different in Florida Courts than in Federal Courts?  At some point, the conflict needs to be addressed.