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Home Press Room CFIF Files Brief before Supreme Court of Tennessee Urging Standards to Reduce Lawsuit Abuse
CFIF Files Brief before Supreme Court of Tennessee Urging Standards to Reduce Lawsuit Abuse Print
Friday, January 21 2011

Pleading Rules Should Prevent Frivolous Lawsuits and Require Fair Notice of Factual Grounds and Basis for Relief

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Pursuant to its continuing mission to advance the principles of legal reform and Constitutional rights, the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) has filed an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court of Tennessee in the case of Webb v. Nashville Habitat for Humanity, Inc., Docket No. M2009-01552-SC-R11-CV. 

The issue presented in this important case is simple:  Whether plaintiffs will be allowed to maintain complaints that fail to provide courts and defendants fair notice of the factual grounds for their claims. 

Currently, employers and individuals face crippling costs of defending lawsuits that raise no plausible right to relief, because pleading rules encourage the filing of claims in the hope of nuisance settlements or “jackpot justice” verdicts.  The Tennessee Supreme Court, however, is considering rules adopted by the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009) that will help reduce claims that are not plausible on their face.  As stated in CFIF’s brief, Tennessee should adopt the common-sense rules already accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court: 

“Pleading standards perform an essential gate-keeping function.  They ensure that:  (1) the courts do not become overwhelmed by frivolous litigation; (2) Tennessee’s citizens are not hauled into court on a whim; and (3) a defendant has fair notice of why he or she is being sued…  Twombly and Iqbal simply stand for the proposition that would ‘seem self-evident to anyone who is not a lawyer’ – i.e., that ‘plaintiffs ought to at least know what their case is about before filing it…  If a plaintiff is unable or unwilling to take that elemental step when filing a complaint (thus adding to the courts’ dockets and forcing one of Tennessee’s citizens to expend significant time and resources defending the matter), the action does not belong before the court in the first place.” 

CFIF is represented in this matter by Jonathan O. Harris, a shareholder in the Nashville, Tennessee office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., who prepared the brief.  Ogletree Deakins’ is the third largest labor and employment firm in the country, and Mr. Harris specializes in representing employers and individual managers who are sued by former employees—an ever increasing occurrence.

As Mr. Harris observed, “In the world view of the plaintiffs’ bar, all a plaintiff need to in order to commence exhaustive litigation is file a complaint saying ‘I’m suing you for discrimination,’ without giving any notice at all as to the facts underlying the claim.  This position is inconsistent with basic notions of fairness and due process.  If a company and its managers are going to be hauled into court, they deserve to know why they have been sued.”

Timothy Lee, CFIF’s Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs, added, “It’s not by accident or coincidence that the majority of state courts to consider this issue have adopted the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard.  That standard is neither revolutionary nor onerous to any plaintiff whose legal rights have truly been violated.  The alternative of overly-permissive pleading standards merely invites more frivolous lawsuits and legalized extortion at the state court level.” 

“CFIF opposes the proliferation of frivolous lawsuits and the burden that needless litigation places on society and the nation’s economy,” said CFIF President Jeffrey Mazzella.  “Overly permissive pleading standards unfairly permit and encourage plaintiff abuse.  It is our hope that the Supreme Court of Tennessee will take this opportunity to apply common-sense standards that will help level the playing field.” 

To read CFIF's brief, click here (.pdf).

###


For all media inquiries, please contact CFIF's Press Office at 703-535-5836.


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