Law School Case Brief
W. Bend Mut. Ins. Co. v. Schumacher - 844 F.3d 670 (7th Cir. 2016)
The court of appeals reviews a district court's dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) de novo. The court of appeals, like the district court, must accept as true all factual allegations in the amended complaint and draw all permissible inferences in the plaintiff's favor. A complaint will survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion if, after the court disregards any portions that are no more than conclusions, it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. "Plausibility" is not a synonym for "probability" in this context, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. After Twombly and Iqbal, a plaintiff seeking to survive a motion to dismiss must plead some facts that suggest a right to relief that is beyond the speculative level. That is, while a plaintiff need not plead detailed factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss, she still must provide more than mere labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action for her complaint to be considered adequate.
Plaintiff-appellant West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. brought a legal malpractice action against defendants-appellees, who were West Bend's former counsel, Paul Schumacher, and his law firm, Roddy, Leahy, Guill & Ziema, Ltd., for the alleged performance in defending a workers' compensation claim in 2005 and 2006. The district court dismissed the complaint and terminated the case, holding that the complaint failed to set forth with sufficient specificity a cause of action for legal malpractice.
Did the complaint state plausibly the causation and harm elements required under Illinois legal malpractice law?
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of defendants-appellees. The Court found that the complaint failed to state plausibly the causation and harm elements required under Illinois legal malpractice law. Under Illinois law, the plaintiff in a legal malpractice action must set forth a plausible statement not only that a breach of duty occurred but that the breach caused the plaintiff to lose a valid claim or defense in the underlying action and that, absent that loss, the underlying claim would have been successful. The Court concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing the legal malpractice action against its former counsel because the complaint failed to allege plausibly that the outcome of the underlying action would have been more favorable to plaintiff had it not been for counsel's alleged litigation conduct. The complaint's allegations were conclusory assertions that did not set fort a plausible description of a lost defense that, absent the attorney's alleged neglect, would have assured West Bend's success on the underlying claim. As for the standard of review, the Court explained that it reviews a district court's dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) de novo: A complaint will survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion if, after the court disregards any portions that are no more than conclusions, it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.
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