Note: When Sosa Meets Iqbal: Plausibility Pleading in Human Rights Litigation

By Jordan D. Shepherd. Full text here.

Human rights litigation under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) has increased dramatically in the past few decades. Due to actions of a host of players around the world, this struggle for rights and remedies is dependent upon the rules of domestic court systems. Within U.S. civil litigation, two key lines of precedent affect human rights cases: the Supreme Court’s only sustained review of ATS subject-matter jurisdiction in Sosa and its introduction of the plausibility standard of pleading in TwomblyIqbal. Considering courts’ initial applications of TwomblyIqbal to motions to dismiss ATS cases, it becomes clear that courts do not consistently apply Sosa to questions of ATS jurisdiction. This confusion leads to two errors. First, courts do not always distinguish between motions challenging subject-matter jurisdiction and those challenging sufficiency of factual pleadings. Second, the conflation of these two types of motions leads some courts to improperly apply the standard of review of the latter (the TwomblyIqbal plausibility standard) when hearing motions challenging the former (the Sosa stand­ard for ATS subject-matter jurisdiction). The Note argues that courts should distinguish between types of motions and their attendant standards of review and properly apply each in their respective spheres. Based on both legal and policy analysis, the Note concludes that the appropriately limited application of the TwomblyIqbal plausibility standard should not have major implications for human rights litigation under Sosa.