In a per curiam ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has summarily reversed the Fifth Circuit’s dismissal of claims filed by Mississippi police officers under the Fourteenth Amendment for failure to invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in their complaint. Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., No. 13-1318 (U.S., decided November 10, 2014). According to the Court, while the federal pleading rules require plaintiffs to plead facts sufficient to show that their claims have substantive plausibility, nothing in the rules “countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. . . . In particular, no heightened pleading rule requires plaintiffs seeking damages for violations of constitutional rights to invoke § 1983 expressly in order to state a claim.” So ruling, the Court rejected the Fifth Circuit’s argument that invoking the statute is “not a mere pleading formality,” but rather serves a notice function.
Still, the Court ordered that on remand, the plaintiffs be given the opportunity to amend their pleading to include the statutory citation, which at least one commentator has called a seeming contradiction of the opinion’s “core contention . . . that there is no obligation to cite the particular legal authority for a claim,” and another referred to as “somewhat puzzling. Why would there be any need to amend the complaint to include something that is not required?” See Dorf on Law, November 14, 2014; Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog, November 17, 2014.