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Supreme Court Reverses Second Circuit Decision on Post-9/11 Detention Suit

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)

On May 18, 2009, a divided Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit's decision upholding the denial of a motion to dismiss respondent's complaint alleging constitutional violations by defendants. Following his arrest and detention for more than 150 days in a maximum security detention center after 9/11 attacks, respondent Iqbal, who is a Muslim and a native of Pakistan, filed a lawsuit against then-Attorney General, John Ashcroft and other officers and officials. The complaint alleged that government officials adopted an unconstitutional policy of subjecting certain individuals to harsh conditions of confinement based on their race, religion, or national origin. Iqbal claimed that petitioners violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights.

On interlocutory appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the officials' motion to dismiss the complaint based on qualified immunity, concluding that Iqbal's complaint was sufficient to state a claim. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and then reversed. In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that the complaint failed to plead sufficient facts to state a claim of intentional discrimination by the named government officials. It reasoned that Iqbal's allegations were conclusory because they were without factual context and therefore not entitled to be assumed as true. Furthermore, the Court reasoned that the complaint failed to plausibly establish discriminatory purpose because of alternative, more likely explanations for the disparate impact on respondent. The Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals and ordered the court to decide whether to remand to the district court so Iqbal can seek leave to amend his complaint.

Read the opinion.