Holism is a concept modernly used most commonly in medicine –treating both the body and the mind. We don’t see it too often in legal parlance as it’s come to be associated with a somewhat touchy-feely approach. Not something litigators are often accused of being. At its core, holism is a philosophy based on treating something as more than the sum of its parts. So when we read in Schmidt v. C.R. Bard, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146459 (S.D. Ga. Oct. 14, 2014) that on a motion to dismiss, the judge was “[r]eading Plaintiff’s Complaint holistically,” we were fairly sure we weren’t going to be happy with the results. And we were right.
A holistic approach to pleadings is precisely what TwIqbal aims to prevent. Either the complaint contains sufficient and specific factual allegations that go beyond speculation and legal conclusions or it doesn’t. Using the TwIqbal standard, a complaint is only as good as its parts; its allegations. You can’t fix bad pleadings by reading into them more than what is there. But we think that is exactly what the court did in this case.
The suit involves the implantation of a mesh device to repair a hernia. Plaintiff ultimately had to have the device removed and alleges permanent injury as a result. Id. at *1-2. Assessing whether plaintiff sufficiently pleaded a design defect claim, the court starts off with a general statement we support: “a bald assertion that the [device] was defective in design . . ., was unreasonably dangerous, and the foreseeable risks outweighed the  benefits would be insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. at *8. But then the court goes on to conclude, and repeatedly state, that plaintiff listed 9 possible design defects and therefore survives a motion to dismiss. The court never identified what those 9 “defects” were, so we looked at the complaint ourselves.