The Battle Lines of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and the Effects on a Pro Se Litigant's Ability to Survive a Motion to Dismiss

By Rhodes, Melodee C. | St. Thomas Law Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Battle Lines of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and the Effects on a Pro Se Litigant's Ability to Survive a Motion to Dismiss


Rhodes, Melodee C., St. Thomas Law Review


  I. Introduction

 II. The Development of the Pro Se Frenzy

III. The Development of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)
     A. Conley v. Gibson & Bell Atlantic v. Twombly
     B. Erickson v. Pardus
     C. Ashcroft v. Iqbal

 IV. The relationship between Pro Se Litigation and Federal Rule of
     Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)

  V. Denial of Due Process and the Role of the Court System
     A. Labor and Employment Law and the Pro Se Litigant
     B. Civil Rights Claims and the Pro Se Litigant
     C. Divorce Law and the Pro Se Litigant

 VI. Proposed Solution
     A. Modifying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
     B. State-Wide Programs Should Be Implemented
        1. Self-Service Centers
        2. Court Personnel
        3. Attorneys
     C. Say "NO" to Pro Se Litigation

VII. Conclusion

I. INTRODUCTION

At the core of the American judicial system is the unfettered right to due process and equal protection of the law. (2) Indeed, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments contain the constitutional underpinning of our right to access the judicial system. (3) However, the Supreme Court of the United States has yet to interpret the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment as providing the absolute right to access the courts. (4) In response, most states have enacted a constitutional provision that either expressly, or by interpretation, allows individuals to represent their own causes in the courts of that state. (5)

Ideally, equal protection of the law entitles an individual to equal justice and the right to access the American court system, notwithstanding their financial status. (6) The painstaking truth of the matter is that the financial status of the aggrieved party does play a vital role in the ability of an individual to successfully maneuver through our adversary system. (7) In particular, pro se litigants, (8) who often do not have the financial means to hire legal representation, are frequently denied the right to proceed through our court system because their complaints fail to allege a "short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." (9)

In light of the recent decision announced by the Supreme Court of the United States in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, (10) the pleading standard established under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." (11) With respect to pro se plaintiffs, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) is unconstitutional because it violates an individual's procedural due process rights by requiring a pleading standard that a layperson finds difficult to satisfy. Even under the less stringent standard announced in Conley v. Gibson, (12) pro se plaintiffs have found it difficult to survive a motion to dismiss. (13) Nevertheless, pro se plaintiffs who do not possess the requisite skill, knowledge, or experience to effectively comply with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), are allowed to draft and file their own complaints in civil action cases. (14)

Contrary to numerous opinions, which propose that pro se plaintiffs are granted more leniency in fulfilling the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), an overwhelming majority of their complaints are dismissed for failure to pass muster under the 8(a)(2) standard. (15) This, in turn, could potentially violate a pro se litigant's due process rights because their claims are prematurely dismissed, thus depriving them of the opportunity to be heard before a court of law. Furthermore, this pattern of premature dismissal is prevalent in areas of the law such as labor and employment, civil rights cases, and divorce law. (16)

Therefore, in order to afford pro se litigants their constitutional due process rights, this Comment proposes that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure be modified to include guidance for pro se plaintiffs filing a civil complaint or a prohibition against pro se plaintiffs filing their own complaint. …

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