The word of the year for plaintiff's lawyers these days is Iqbal, as in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1949 (2009), a Supreme Court ruling that requires plaintiffs to file "plausible" complaints and dispenses with the more lenient "notice pleading" under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. But Iqbal is still a new case, and the Court of Appeals is still trying to figure it all out.
The case is DiPetto v. United States Postal Service, a summary order initially decided on May 12 before the Court of Appeals pulled the decision and reissued it on July 12. DiPetto is suing pro se for employment discrimination. Pro se plaintiffs get the benefit of the doubt when courts are reviewing the sufficiency of their complaints. In the Second Circuit, the standard is that "dismissal of a pro se claim as insufficiently pleaded is appropriate only in the most unsustainable of cases." More broadly for the rest of us, heightened pleading requirements are not appropriate for civil rights cases alleging racial discrimination.
This cloudy mix of competing legal standards (Iqbal plausibility against solicitude for pro se litigants) compels the Court of Appeals (Miner, Walker and Lynch) to reinstate DiPetto's lawsuit. This is a rare victory in the Second Circuit for a pro se appellant. DePetto wins the appeal because "Appellant stated he was Caucasian, described specific discriminatory actions that had been taken against him by his supervisor, and alleged that he was treated differently, inter alia, on the basis of his race." In addition, the complaint provides relevant details, including the allegation that, "because he was Caucasian, he received less overtime and work breaks than other employees, and that sick and annual leave policies were applied differently to him." As this is "fair notice" to defendant about the basis for the discrimination claim, the complaint is good enough to be reinstated.