That spoiler alert is tongue-in-cheek. It seems perfectly obvious to us that TwIqbal would apply to a case that was removed to federal court. Law school was a long time ago, but we seem to recall the Supreme Court saying that federal procedural rules govern cases in federal court. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460 (1965), is still good law, right? And it’s not as if the issue hasn’t surfaced before. In Braden v. Tornier, Inc., 2009 WL 3188075 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 30, 2009), the court had no problem applying the federal pleading standard to a removed case. Then again, at least one federal court discussed state pleading standards, leaving us to scratch our cyberheads. See In re Avandia, 2009 WL 1708078 (E.D. Pa. June 17, 2009).
So the clear reasoning in Maness v. Boston Scientific, et al., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118748 (E.D. Tenn. Nov. 4, 2010), comes as welcome relief. The plaintiff sued Boston Scientific and other plaintiffs, alleging that an implanted spinal cord simulation system caused her “much pain and suffering and massive infection.” Maness, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118748 at *4. The plaintiff brought the case in Tennessee state court, and the defendants subsequently removed the case to federal court on diversity grounds. The issues were whether TwIqbal applied and, if so, whether the complaint met the TwIqbal standard. The answers, according to the court, were Yes and No, respectively.
The court didn’t even get into the old Hanna v. Plumer chestnut. Instead, it took a simpler approach. First, Iqbal held that the Twombly pleading standard applies to all civil cases in federal court. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct 1937, 1953 (2009). Second, other cases in the Sixth Circuit had applied Twombly to to federal diversity cases. See, e.g., Wilkey v. Hull, 366 App’x 634, 637 (6th Cir. 2010). Third, the Supreme Court long ago held that the Fed. R. Civ. P. govern proceedings in federal court after removal. Granny Goose Foods, Inc. v. Brotherhood of Teamsters & Auto Truck Drivers Local No. 70, 415 U.S. 423, 438 (1974). Therefore, “[i]t does not matter whether Plaintiff’s claims are based on state law or federal law: all claims, once removed to federal court, are subject to federal pleading requirements.” Maness, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118748 at *8-9.
On the merits Maness is a case that product liability defendants will want to cite.
The complaint in Maness flunked those federal pleading requirements badly. The plaintiff thought it sufficient that the complaint put the defendants on notice that it was “a product liability case, that the Defendant[s] are the maker of a defective product, and that this defective product had to be removed from the Plaintiff’s body.” Id. at *11. Not even close, at least not under TwIqbal.
Most notably, the court considered the complaint allegation that the spinal implant was “defective” to be nothing more than a legal conclusion. “Plaintiff must allege facts for the Court to infer that the Device was ‘defective’ or ‘unreasonably dangerous’ at the time it left the control of the manufacturer.” Id. at *12. Nothing like that exists in the complaint. The court required facts regarding the specific problems with the product such as, for example, that tests showed the product was out of specification in a way that interfered with its intended characteristics. Id. at 20-21.
Even if there were an adequate factual allegation of defect, the complaint “did not allege facts for the Court to infer that the condition of the Device — based upon an alleged design or manufacturing defect – caused her alleged injuries.” Id. at *22. It was not enough for the plaintiff to allege that the device caused her pain. “The relevant question is not whether the Device caused her pain; the issue is whether the alleged defective design or manufacturing of the Device caused her pain.” Id. Again, the complaint did not include such factual allegations. Thus, because the complaint offered only labels, conclusions, and formulaic recitations, it was dismissed pursuant to TwIqbal.
How many product liability complaints have we seen that are no better than the one thrown out in Maness? A lot more than any other kind. This is good stuff.
Now we can already hear some suggesting that there is something unfair about applying TwIqbal to a complaint that the plaintiff filed in state court. How could the plaintiff know that it must comply with the more stringent state standard? That whining reminds us of George Costanza’s response on being fired for having – ahem – inappropriate relations with the cleaning lady on his desk at work. “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me when I started that that sort of thing was frowned upon….”
Look, why not include basic facts about product defect and causation in the complaint, no matter what the jurisdiction? Isn’t it better to tell the story? Was it really so hard to foresee the probability of removal? It turns out not to matter, because the federal court’s dismissal was with leave to amend. The plaintiff can take her best shot at complying with TwIqbal. Unlike Frasier Crane in one of our favorite episodes of Cheers, we’re in no position to issue a spoiler on how it all ends.