Plausibility Beyond the Complaint

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In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court announced a new plausibility standard for a plaintiff's allegations. The decisions may have even broader implications, however, as many federal district courts have already applied this pleading standard to a defendant's affirmative defenses. This Article makes sense of Twombly and Iqbal in the context of the affirmative defense. This Article addresses the two possible readings of Twombly and Iqbal: first, that the decisions are limited to a plaintiff's civil complaint, and second, that a defendant must also comply with the Supreme Court's plausibility standard by pleading enough facts to sufficiently state an affirmative defense. This Article explains why a close textual review of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, combined with numerous policy and practical considerations, support the broader second reading of the Supreme Court's decisions. What it actually means to plausibly plead an affirmative defense is a much more complicated question. This Article closely examines this issue through the lens of one of the most complex and important defenses in all civil case law-the affirmative defense to a claim of sexual harassment. By way of this example, this Article explains how the plausibility standard would apply more broadly to defendants in all civil cases. The question whether the plausibility standard should apply to defendants-and if so, how it should apply-is likely to create significant controversy in the coming years. This Article establishes a foundation for that discussion.