According to a recent study to be published in the Virginia Law Review, the decision taken six years ago by the Supreme Court that transformed civil litigation in the federal courts has affected the powerless the hardest. The study looked at over 4000 opinions and orders in 15 federal courts across the US.
The consequential ruling allowed judges to dismiss cases soon after they are filed. The findings from this study show that before this ruling was implemented, cases brought by individuals represented by lawyers were dismissed 42 percent of the time. After the ruling, this rate has increased to 59 percent. Rates of dismissal for corporate plaintiffs remain pretty much the same – increasing by only one percent from 37 percent to 38.
The study also shows that employment discrimination and civil rights cases have become particularly vulnerable to early dismissal.
Before this ruling, plaintiffs could simply start a lawsuit by filing a short and plain statement of their claim in a document called a complaint. After the decision, plaintiffs were required to set out concrete facts at the outset. Judges were required to scrutinize complaints closely and to dismiss ones that strike them as implausible based on their instinct or their judicial experience.
Critics of this ruling like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believe that it has “messed up the federal rules” governing civil litigation. However, supporters of the ruling believe that now plaintiffs cannot gain unfair settlement advantage by simply filing a lawsuit but instead need to have a strong argument for their claim to be taken seriously.
Professor Rienert who led the study points out that the study does not even account for the suits that were never filed by lawyers who already had determined their case would not win under the new standard. “If we kick more cases out prematurely,” Professor Reinert said, “we are potentially losing cases that could play an important role not only in the lives of plaintiffs but also in the law and society.”
The study does highlight the trend that cases that are dismissed are more often ones that are brought by people rather than by companies and thus, the ruling has more or less affected the less powerful.