The recent United States Supreme Court opinion in Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit is critical to parties and attorneys who participate in environmental litigation. Leatherman proscribed the imposition of pleading requirements that are stricter than those ordinarily applied under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Such heightened pleading requirements compel plaintiffs to plead more facts, and courts can dismiss claims that fall short of the mark.
The Leatherman court considered civil rights actions alleging that municipalities are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.2 Although Leatherman might seem of limited relevance to environmental lawsuits, its holding and reasoning appear sufficiently broad to encompass environmental litigation. Numerous federal circuit and district courts have recently required that plaintiffs plead with particularity in environmental actions, principally cases pursued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Leatherman may prohibit elevated pleading in environmental litigation. This article analyzes whether the Supreme Court has proscribed heightened pleading in environmental lawsuits in Leatherman and the consequences of that prohibition.
Part I examines the origins and development of elevated pleading requirements in certain types of cases. This Part considers the rise of heightened pleading in civil rights actions and its extension to environmental suits, emphasizing the leading case of Cash Energy v. Weiner. Part II evaluates the Supreme Court's opinion in Leatherman and finds that the decision is expansive enough to include environmental actions. The final Part assesses Leatherman's implications for environmental litigation.
Carl Tobias, Elevated Pleading in Environmental Litigation, 27 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 357 (1995)