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The Burdens of Pleading

To preview my argument briefly, plausibility pleading formally asks judges—for the first time since the advent of the Federal Rules—to engage in a merits-based analysis at the pleading stage based on their “judicial experience and common sense.” Judges are expected to engage in this inquiry with only the factual allegations in the complaint at their disposal. Putting aside the difficulty of conducting this analysis under the best of circumstances, our federal judges have extremely limited judicial experience to apply to merits-based decisions. The number of trials, the ultimate arbiter of merit, has fallen precipitously in the past fifty years. Trials have been replaced by settlements (the terms of which are often secret, even to the judge handling the case), alternative dispute resolution (with outcomes that judges may review only for arbitrariness, if they review them at all), and summary judgment (a poor substitute for trial). With these gaps in judicial experience, a judge is left to compensate with “common sense,” relying on heuristics that may interfere with accurate decisionmaking.