Pleading in the Information Age
Colin T. Reardon
The Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal have rejected notice pleading and have embraced instead a “plausibility” standard for pleading, which requires a plaintiff’s complaint to present facts suggestive of liability. A recurring criticism of the plausibility standard is that it will weed out many meritorious cases in which the plaintiff was unable to gain access to information relevant to liability prior to the commencement of the lawsuit. This Note argues that these criticisms have largely ignored historical and technological changes in how information is regulated and accessed—changes that mitigate the impact of the plausibility standard. Information asymmetries between plaintiffs and defendants are, for the broad run of cases, less severe today than they were seventy years ago when notice pleading was created. Search costs for information are now lower because of new technologies like the Internet. Laws forcing or facilitating the disclosure of information to the public have also proliferated in recent decades, making building a case easier for plaintiffs. While serious information asymmetries remain in certain types of cases, this Note argues that the best strategy for dealing with such cases is not to return wholesale to notice pleading but to create a “safety valve” mechanism modeled on Rule 56(f) to test whether plaintiffs had access to significant amounts of information concerning the defendant’s conduct.