Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Political Science

Author's Department/Program

Political Science


English (en)

Date of Award

Summer 9-1-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Andrew D. Martin


A wealth of scholarship indicates that rational individuals should modify their actions to maximize benefits as conditions change. Participants in litigation are faced with a multitude of opportunities to make decisions regarding if and how they will engage the legal system. Despite this fact, the potential for strategic behavior by litigants is often ignored by researchers due to difficulties in capturing such activity. To the extent that existing studies have focused on outcomes to the exclusion of litigant behavior, they have potentially produced biased results in considering the impact of changes in law, such as Supreme Court decisions. Thus, in order to properly understand the decisions judges make and the impact of such decisions, it is important that we study the extent to which litigants are acting based on goals and expectations in light of changes in the litigation environment. I address these questions in the context of two seminal Supreme Court cases:Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly(2007) andAshcroft v. Iqbal(2009). These decisions pertain to the pleading standard in federal court: they help define the types of information that plaintiffs must provide in their complaints at the outset of cases to avoid early dismissal and be allowed to proceed to the information sharing stage of litigation and beyond. First, I explore the impact of the cases via qualitative methods based on interviews of federal judges and attorneys practicing in federal court. Their responses identify complex calculations and responses in regards to the decisions. Next, using natural language processing tools and quantitative methods, I test the hypothesis that changes in the federal pleading standards influenced the ways in which litigants pursue and communicate claims. I find evidence that litigants became more specific in their complaints in torts cases, but not civil rights cases. This pattern is in keeping with concerns that the new standard has unduly impacted litigants who are unlikely to have specific details in the absence of information sharing as part of litigation. Finally, I consider if the generalization of the new standard to all cases via theIqbaldecision affected motions to dismiss and the outcomes of such motions in light of the specificity of the allegations. Though my hypotheses are not confirmed, the chapter offers several empirical contributions.


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