Ashcroft v. Iqbal

Following is the case brief for Ashcroft v. Iqbal, United States Supreme Court, (2006)

Case summary for Ashcroft v. Iqbal:

  • Pakistani Iqbal was taken into custody and detained throughout a September 11th investigation.
  • Iqbal filed a complaint against officials, including Ashcroft claiming the conditions of detainment were discriminatory based on race, religion and national origin.
  • Ashcroft filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and when his motion was denied, appealed until reaching the United States Supreme Court.
  • The Court held that in order for Iqbal’s complaint to survive Ashcroft’s motion to dismiss it had to allege non-conclusory facts, which if taken as a whole, would state a claim to relief that is feasible on its face.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Throughout the investigation of the September 11th attacks, Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim, was taken into custody and detained. He alleged that the conditions of detainment violated the First and Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, and brought suit against John Ashcroft, who was the former U.S. Attorney General, along with other U.S. officials in district court. Ashcroft was accused of being the “principal Architect” in putting into place a discriminatory policy of confining people in cruel conditions according to their race, religion and national origin.” In response Ashcroft and the other officials named in the complaint asserted qualified immunity stating the complaint failed to state a claim. In response, the district court denied Ashcroft’s motion to dismiss and Ashcroft appealed.

Procedural History:

The U.S. court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling. In response, Ashcroft petitioned to the Supreme Court of the United States by writ of certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A complaint will beat a motion to dismiss, if it alleges non-conclusory facts, which if taken as a whole, state a claim to relief that on its face is feasible.

Issue and Holding:

Will a complaint survive a motion to dismiss when the facts alleged are conclusory in nature? No.


The Court reversed the appeals court’s ruling and remanded the decision to the lower court with instructions to permit consideration for Iqbal to amend his complaint.


The Court looked to its decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) as precedent which outlined the requirements of a complaint.

Specifically, a complaint must allege sufficient facts that, when assumed to be true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” to overcome a motion to dismiss. The Court held that facially plausible means the facts alleged permit a “reasonable inference” that the defendant is liable.  This determination of plausibility is up to the trial court judge.

It is not mandatory for the court to afford legal conclusion with the same degree of deference just because the facts in the complaint must allege sufficient facts. However, the court may begin its inquiry through determining which allegations do not need to be regarded as truth.

Here, the claims against Ashcroft and the others, regarding their knowledge or intent are conclusory and do not need to be accepted as true. In addition, though it is true that the allegations of discrimination are consistent with Iqbal’s claims, that facts alone does not ignore that there exist other alternative and reasonable explanations.

Here, the charges against Ashcroft and Mueller do not plausibly indicate anything in excess of a policy that keeps suspects of terrorism under tight security. To take the complaint from a level of conceivability to plausibility, additional facts are needed.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) Rule 9(b), the fact that a plaintiff may plead both subjective knowledge and general intent, this does not negate the requirements of FRCP 8. FRCP 8 sets out the base requirements regarding pleadings in civil actions. The Court held that their interpretation of the rule, which is set out in Twombly, is applicable to all civil actions.

Since Iqbal has not established the required element of plausibility, the complaint does not state a proper claim against Ashcroft and the other officials.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Dissenting (Breyer):

It was within the discretion of the trial court to allowed minimum discovery to prepare for filing a motion for summary judgment.

Dissenting (Souter):

Iqbal’s pleadings were not conclusory. Overall, allegations that are not conclusory should be accepted as true with the exception of those allegations which are unrealistic.


This case set out the clear pleading standard, necessary for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Clarifying the language in Twombly, the Court stated the two pronged  requirements as accepting as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in a complaint. Accepting the truthfulness of legal conclusions is not necessary. Only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief can survive the motion.

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