SCOKY Expressly Rejects Heightened Federal Pleading Standard

Kentucky Rule of Civil Procedure 8.01 closely follows the federal corollary on which it was based, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). And Kentucky courts have regularly relied on federal case law in interpreting and applying the Civil Rules over the years. However, in Russell v. Johnson & Johnson, Inc., 610 S.W.3d 233 (Ky. 2020), the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected the heightened pleading standard adopted within the last two decades by the federal courts under Rule 8 and held that Kentucky would continue to adhere to the traditional “notice pleading” standard. Interestingly, both the Kentucky Supreme Court and the Kentucky Court of Appeals had previously cited with approval the two main decisions of the United States Supreme Court that had adopted the higher standard, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 73 Fed. R. Serv. 3d 837 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).

Despite the holding in Russell v. Johnson & Johnson, Kentucky practitioners should be mindful of the impact of Twombly and Iqbal whenever there is a chance that an action filed in state court might be removed to federal court, since in that event the complaint will be evaluated under the federal pleading standard. For example, in Maness v. Boston Scientific, 751 F.Supp.2d 962 (E.D. Tenn. 2010), a patient filed a product liability action in state court against a medical device manufacturer based on state law claims. The defendant removed the matter to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Defendants moved to dismiss the action pursuant to Fed.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that the plaintiff had failed to satisfy the federal pleading requirements as modified in Twombly and Iqbal. The plaintiff argued that state law pleading requirements governed. The district court rejected that argument, stating “it does not matter whether plaintiff’s claims are based upon state law or federal law: all claims once removed to federal court are subject to federal pleading requirements.” 751 F.Supp.2d at 966. Citing Iqbal, the court in Maness dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint.

NOTE: This post includes commentary reprinted from the 2020 edition and the forthcoming 2021 edition of 6 Kentucky Practice, Rules of Civil Procedure Annotated, by David V. Kramer, with permission of the author and publisher. Copyright (c) 2021 Thomson Reuters. For more information about this publication, click here.

David Kramer is a Partner and Chair of the Civil Litigation Practice Group of DBL Law, with offices in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Crestview Hills and Louisville, Kentucky.