Addressing the minimum pleading requirements of Twombly and Iqbal, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s finding that a plaintiff’s eight-page complaint failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. Disc Disease Solutions Inc. v. VGH Solutions, Inc., Case No. 17-1483 (Fed. Cir., May 1, 2018) (Reyna, J).
Following the Supreme Court of the United States’ decisions in Twombly and Iqbal, amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were enacted, abrogating Rule 84 and Form 18, which had provided a one-page template complaint for patent infringement purposes. The changes went into effect on December 1, 2015. One day prior, on November 30, 2015, Disc Disease filed a complaint against VGH using Form 18, alleging infringement of two patents directed toward spinal braces. The complaint was eight pages and attached the asserted patents and photographs of the three accused spinal brace products.
VGH moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, and the district court granted dismissal with prejudice. Disc Disease filed a motion for reconsideration, asserting that the abrogation of Form 18 constituted an intervening change in the law, and requested that the district court allow it to file a first amended complaint. The district court denied the motion, finding that dismissal with prejudice did not create a manifest injustice sufficient to warrant reconsideration. Disc Disease appealed.
On appeal, the parties framed the issue as a question of timing. Disc Disease argued that at the time it filed its complaint, Form 18 was operative and the “heightened” pleading standard of Iqbal/Twombly did not apply. The Federal Circuit sidestepped the timing issue, however, leaving open the question of whether there is a difference between Form 18 and the Iqbal/Twombly standard. Instead, the Court concluded that Disc Disease’s pleadings met the plausibility standard set forth in Iqbal/Twombly. Under Iqbal/Twombly, Disc Disease was required to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,” a standard that is met when “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” The standard requires only that the defendant receive fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which the claims rest. The Court found that because Disc Disease’s complaint identified the accused products and alleged that the accused products met each element of the asserted claims, the complaint sufficiently provided fair notice of infringement of the asserted patents.
Practice Note: The Federal Circuit noted that “this case involves a simple technology,” suggesting that the detail required may change with the complexity of the relevant technology. Here, the technology involved air-injectable bands used for spinal support, and the asserted patents contained only four independent claims. When dealing with more complex technology, it is likely best to assume that more detail is necessary to survive the Iqbal/Twombly standard.