In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the United States Supreme Court created a heightened standard for pleading in federal court. A complaint must contain sufficient factual detail to state a plausible claim for relief. This higher standard has led to more successful challenges to pleadings in federal court. See The Eleventh Circuit Reinforces a High Pleading Standard (posted March 14, 2014). However, the Georgia state courts have declined to embrace the Iqbal-Twombly standard and have continued to apply a very low threshold for pleading a claim for relief.
In Austin v. Clark, Case No. S13G1590 (decided March 10, 2014), the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of a complaint. The Court quoted one of its earlier decisions that set forth the following pleading standard:
A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted should not be sustained unless (1) the allegations that the complaint disclosed with certainty that the claimant would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts asserted in support thereof, and (2) the movant establishes that the claimant could not possibly introduce evidence within the framework of the complaint sufficient to warrant a grant of the relief sought …. In deciding a motion to dismiss, all pleadings must be construed most favorably to the party who filed them, and all doubts regarding such pleadings must be resolved in the filing party’s favor.
Opinion, p. 3. Under this standard, a complaint does not need factual detail. It only needs to create a “framework.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Nahmias suggested that it would be up to the Georgia General Assembly to consider whether or not the “traditional notice pleading standard” should be altered, citing the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Iqbal. Concurring Opinion, p. 4.
In Islam v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Case No. A13A2373 (decided April 18, 2014), the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a complaint and relied upon the same minimal standard:
[I]t is not necessary for a complaint to set forth all of the elements of a cause of action in order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Rather, the Georgia Civil Practice Act requires only notice pleading and, under the Act, pleadings are to be construed liberally and reasonably to achieve substantial justice consistent with the statutory requirements of the Act. Thus, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless the allegations of the complaint disclose with certainty that the claimant would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts asserted in support thereof. Put another way, if, within the framework of the complaint, evidence may be introduced which will sustain a grant of relief to the plaintiff, the complaint is sufficient.
Opinion, pp. 10-11.
The holdings in Clark and Islam reject any requirement that complaints lay out factual detail establishing a plausible claim for relief. They demonstrate that absent action by the Georgia General Assembly, Georgia courts will not embrace the Iqbal-Twombly pleading standard.
The Islam v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. opinion is available at https://efast.gaappeals.us/download?filingId=0162f8c5-d7b8-42ab-99d0-7c3066b003e6
For more information on the Iqbal-Twombly standard, contact your Appellate Counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell.