Leatherman v. Tarrant County
507 U.S. 163, 113 S. Ct. 1160, 122 L. Ed. 2d 517 (1993)

  • In two separate incidents the Tarrant County police executed search warrants and forcibly entered Leatherman’s home because they suspected the people inside had drugs. Leatherman sued the county government.
    • Leatherman claimed he was assaulted and that the police killed his dog.
  • The Trial Court dismissed the case. Leatherman appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the complaint was written improperly and didn’t meet the heightened pleading standard that was required for claims of municipal liability (see 42 USC § 1983).
      • Because of a large number of mainly frivolous civil rights cases being filed by prisoners, courts in that era tended to ask for more details in complaints in order to reduce the case load.
    • Leatherman argued that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FCRP) only require a short, and plain statement of the claim showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief under that claim.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Leatherman apealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for trial.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Federal Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint include only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.
    • Keep in mind that the complaint still must state factual details and the basis for the claim.
      • It also must also include a reason for why the defendant cannot successfully maintain the defense of immunity.
    • Federal Rule 9(b) does say that there is a particularity requirement in two specific instances.
      • “In all averments of fraud or mistake, the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake shall be stated with particularity.”
    • The FRCP addresses the question of the need for greater particularity in pleading certain actions, but does not include any reference to complaints alleging municipal liability under 42 USC § 1983.
    • The Court found that if you wanted to change a Federal Rule, you have to do it via rewriting the FCRP, you can’t do it via case law.