Rule 12(b)(a) Standard: Where are the Facts?

Adams v. City of Indianapolis | 13-3422

March 2014

Next time you are searching for an excellent case for legal support of your motion to dismiss, grab Adams.  

Adams involved claims of racial discrimination in the promotion process by the Indianapolis police and fire departments.  To support this claim, plaintiffs repeatedly used “the words ‘disproportionate’ and ‘impermissible impact’ and other synonyms,” but failed to allege actual facts to support these legal conclusions.

The Seventh Circuit made clear that this was insufficient. While a plaintiff need not identify “evidence” that supports her claim, a plaintiff will not survive a motion to dismiss because she simply “managed to figure out the basic factual or legal grounds for the claims” and asserted them as bare legal conclusions.  For example, the Adams plaintiffs alleged that the promotion process resulted in an illegal disparate impact, and used all the right words, but did not point to facts in support of those words.  As the Court wrote, it “would expect to see some factual content in the complaint tending to show that the City’s testing process . . . caused a relevant and statistically significant disparity between black and white applicants for promotion.”  The absence of this “factual material” resulted in a failure “to move the disparate-impact claims over the plausibility threshold” established in Twombly and Iqbal.

Notably, the Court was not impressed by the “heft” of the plaintiffs’ complaint, and in fact, suggested the length of the complaint belied the relative lack of necessary substance.  Perhaps brevity is the soul of a well-drafted complaint as much as it is the soul of wit.