Ashcroft v. Iqbal
Annotate this Case
556 U.S. 662 (2009)
OPINION OF THE COURT
ASHCROFT V. IQBAL
556 U. S. ____ (2009)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
JOHN D. ASHCROFT, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al., PETITIONERS v. JAVAID IQBAL et al.
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit
[May 18, 2009]
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.
Respondent Javaid Iqbal is a citizen of Pakistan and a Muslim. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks he was arrested in the United States on criminal charges and detained by federal officials. Respondent claims he was deprived of various constitutional protections while in federal custody. To redress the alleged deprivations, respondent filed a complaint against numerous federal officials, including John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General of the United States, and Robert Mueller, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Ashcroft and Mueller are the petitioners in the case now before us. As to these two petitioners, the complaint alleges that they adopted an unconstitutional policy that subjected respondent to harsh conditions of confinement on account of his race, religion, or national origin.
In the District Court petitioners raised the defense of qualified immunity and moved to dismiss the suit, contending the complaint was not sufficient to state a claim against them. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding the complaint was sufficient to state a claim despite petitioners’ official status at the times in question. Petitioners brought an interlocutory appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The court, without discussion, assumed it had jurisdiction over the order denying the motion to dismiss; and it affirmed the District Court’s decision.
Respondent’s account of his prison ordeal could, if proved, demonstrate unconstitutional misconduct by some governmental actors. But the allegations and pleadings with respect to these actors are not before us here. This case instead turns on a narrower question: Did respondent, as the plaintiff in the District Court, plead factual matter that, if taken as true, states a claim that petitioners deprived him of his clearly established constitutional rights. We hold respondent’s pleadings are insufficient.
Following the 2001 attacks, the FBI and other entities within the Department of Justice began an investigation of vast reach to identify the assailants and prevent them from attacking anew. The FBI dedicated more than 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel to the endeavor. By September 18 “the FBI had received more than 96,000 tips or potential leads from the public.” Dept. of Justice, Office of Inspector General, The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks 1, 11–12 (Apr. 2003) (hereinafter OIG Report), http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/ 0306/full.pdf?bcsi_scan_61073EC0F74759AD=0&bcsi_scan_filename=full.pdf (as visited May 14, 2009, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file).
In the ensuing months the FBI questioned more than 1,000 people with suspected links to the attacks in particular or to terrorism in general. Id., at 1. Of those individuals, some 762 were held on immigration charges; and a 184-member subset of that group was deemed to be “of ‘high interest’ ” to the investigation. Id., at 111. The high-interest detainees were held under restrictive conditions designed to prevent them from communicating with the general prison population or the outside world. Id., at 112–113.
Respondent was one of the detainees. According to his complaint, in November 2001 agents of the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested him on charges of fraud in relation to identification documents and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F. 3d 143, 147–148 (CA2 2007). Pending trial for those crimes, respondent was housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York. Respondent was designated a person “of high interest” to the September 11 investigation and in January 2002 was placed in a section of the MDC known as the Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit (ADMAX SHU). Id., at 148. As the facility’s name indicates, the ADMAX SHU incorporates the maximum security conditions allowable under Federal Bureau of Prison regulations. Ibid. ADMAX SHU detainees were kept in lockdown 23 hours a day, spending the remaining hour outside their cells in handcuffs and leg irons accompanied by a four-officer escort. Ibid.
Respondent pleaded guilty to the criminal charges, served a term of imprisonment, and was removed to his native Pakistan. Id., at 149. He then filed a Bivens action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against 34 current and former federal officials and 19 “John Doe” federal corrections officers. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (1971). The defendants range from the correctional officers who had day-to-day contact with respondent during the term of his confinement, to the wardens of the MDC facility, all the way to petitioners—officials who were at the highest level of the federal law enforcement hierarchy. First Amended Complaint in No. 04–CV–1809 (JG)(JA), ¶¶1011, App. to Pet. for Cert. 157a (hereinafter Complaint).
The 21-cause-of-action complaint does not challenge respondent’s arrest or his confinement in the MDC’s general prison population. Rather, it concentrates on his treatment while confined to the ADMAX SHU. The complaint sets forth various claims against defendants who are not before us. For instance, the complaint alleges that respondent’s jailors “kicked him in the stomach, punched him in the face, and dragged him across” his cell without justification, id., ¶113, App. to Pet. for Cert. 176a; subjected him to serial strip and body-cavity searches when he posed no safety risk to himself or others, id., ¶¶143–145, App. to Pet. for Cert. 182a; and refused to let him and other Muslims pray because there would be “[n]o prayers for terrorists,” id., ¶154, App. to Pet. for Cert. 184a.
The allegations against petitioners are the only ones relevant here. The complaint contends that petitioners designated respondent a person of high interest on account of his race, religion, or national origin, in contravention of the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. The complaint alleges that “the [FBI], under the direction of Defendant MUELLER, arrested and detained thousands of Arab Muslim men … as part of its investigation of the events of September 11.” Id., ¶47, at 164a. It further alleges that “[t]he policy of holding post-September-11th detainees in highly restrictive conditions of confinement until they were ‘cleared’ by the FBI was approved by Defendants ASHCROFT and MUELLER in discussions in the weeks after September 11, 2001.” Id., ¶69, at 168a. Lastly, the complaint posits that petitioners “each knew of, condoned, and willfully and maliciously agreed to subject” respondent to harsh conditions of confinement “as a matter of policy, solely on account of [his] religion, race, and/or national origin and for no legitimate penological interest.” Id., ¶96, at 172a–173a. The pleading names Ashcroft as the “principal architect” of the policy, id., ¶10, at 157a, and identifies Mueller as “instrumental in [its] adoption, promulgation, and implementation.” Id., ¶11, at 157a.
Petitioners moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state sufficient allegations to show their own involvement in clearly established unconstitutional conduct. The District Court denied their motion. Accepting all of the allegations in respondent’s complaint as true, the court held that “it cannot be said that there [is] no set of facts on which [respondent] would be entitled to relief as against” petitioners. Id., at 136a–137a (relying on Conley v. Gibson, 355 U. S. 41 (1957)). Invoking the collateral-order doctrine petitioners filed an interlocutory appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. While that appeal was pending, this Court decided Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U. S. 544 (2007), which discussed the standard for evaluating whether a complaint is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.
The Court of Appeals considered Twombly’s applicability to this case. Acknowledging that Twombly retired the Conley no-set-of-facts test relied upon by the District Court, the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussed at length how to apply this Court’s “standard for assessing the adequacy of pleadings.” 490 F. 3d, at 155. It concluded that Twombly called for a “flexible ‘plausibility standard,’ which obliges a pleader to amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification is needed to render the claim plausible.” Id., at 157–158. The court found that petitioners’ appeal did not present one of “those contexts” requiring amplification. As a consequence, it held respondent’s pleading adequate to allege petitioners’ personal involvement in discriminatory decisions which, if true, violated clearly established constitutional law. Id., at 174.
Judge Cabranes concurred. He agreed that the majority’s “discussion of the relevant pleading standards reflect[ed] the uneasy compromise … between a qualified immunity privilege rooted in the need to preserve the effectiveness of government as contemplated by our constitutional structure and the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Id., at 178 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Judge Cabranes nonetheless expressed concern at the prospect of subjecting high-ranking Government officials—entitled to assert the defense of qualified immunity and charged with responding to “a national and international security emergency unprecedented in the history of the American Republic”—to the burdens of discovery on the basis of a complaint as nonspecific as respondent’s. Id., at 179. Reluctant to vindicate that concern as a member of the Court of Appeals, ibid., Judge Cabranes urged this Court to address the appropriate pleading standard “at the earliest opportunity.” Id., at 178. We granted certiorari, 554 U. S. ___ (2008), and now reverse.
We first address whether the Court of Appeals had subject-matter jurisdiction to affirm the District Court’s order denying petitioners’ motion to dismiss. Respondent disputed subject-matter jurisdiction in the Court of Appeals, but the court hardly discussed the issue. We are not free to pretermit the question. Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be forfeited or waived and should be considered when fairly in doubt. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U. S. 500, 514 (2006) (citing United States v. Cotton, 535 U. S. 625, 630 (2002)). According to respondent, the District Court’s order denying petitioners’ motion to dismiss is not appealable under the collateral-order doctrine. We disagree.
With exceptions inapplicable here, Congress has vested the courts of appeals with “jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States.” 28 U. S. C. §1291. Though the statute’s finality requirement ensures that “interlocutory appeals—appeals before the end of district court proceedings—are the exception, not the rule,” Johnson v. Jones, 515 U. S. 304, 309 (1995), it does not prevent “review of all prejudgment orders.” Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U. S. 299, 305 (1996). Under the collateral-order doctrine a limited set of district-court orders are reviewable “though short of final judgment.” Ibid. The orders within this narrow category “are immediately appealable because they ‘finally determine claims of right separable from, and collateral to, rights asserted in the action, too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated.’ ” Ibid. (quoting Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, 546 (1949)).
A district-court decision denying a Government officer’s claim of qualified immunity can fall within the narrow class of appealable orders despite “the absence of a final judgment.” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U. S. 511, 530 (1985). This is so because qualified immunity—which shields Government officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights,” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 800, 818 (1982)—is both a defense to liability and a limited “entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation.” Mitchell, supra, 472 U. S., at 526. Provided it “turns on an issue of law,” id., at 530, a district-court order denying qualified immunity “ ‘conclusively determine[s]’ ” that the defendant must bear the burdens of discovery; is “conceptually distinct from the merits of the plaintiff’s claim”; and would prove “effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.” Id., at 527528 (citing Cohen, supra, at 546). As a general matter, the collateral-order doctrine may have expanded beyond the limits dictated by its internal logic and the strict application of the criteria set out in Cohen. But the applicability of the doctrine in the context of qualified-immunity claims is well established; and this Court has been careful to say that a district court’s order rejecting qualified immunity at the motion-to-dismiss stage of a proceeding is a “final decision” within the meaning of §1291. Behrens, 516 U. S., at 307.
Applying these principles, we conclude that the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to hear petitioners’ appeal. The District Court’s order denying petitioners’ motion to dismiss turned on an issue of law and rejected the defense of qualified immunity. It was therefore a final decision “subject to immediate appeal.” Ibid. Respondent says that “a qualified immunity appeal based solely on the complaint’s failure to state a claim, and not on the ultimate issues relevant to the qualified immunity defense itself, is not a proper subject of interlocutory jurisdiction.” Brief for Respondent Iqbal 15 (hereinafter Iqbal Brief). In other words, respondent contends the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to determine whether his complaint avers a clearly established constitutional violation but that it lacked jurisdiction to pass on the sufficiency of his pleadings. Our opinions, however, make clear that appellate jurisdiction is not so strictly confined.
In Hartman v. Moore, 547 U. S. 250 (2006), the Court reviewed an interlocutory decision denying qualified immunity. The legal issue decided in Hartman concerned the elements a plaintiff “must plead and prove in order to win” a First Amendment retaliation claim. Id., at 257, n. 5. Similarly, two Terms ago in Wilkie v. Robbins, 551 U. S. 537 (2007), the Court considered another interlocutory order denying qualified immunity. The legal issue there was whether a Bivens action can be employed to challenge interference with property rights. 551 U. S., at 549, n. 4. These cases cannot be squared with respondent’s argument that the collateral-order doctrine restricts appellate jurisdiction to the “ultimate issu[e]” whether the legal wrong asserted was a violation of clearly established law while excluding the question whether the facts pleaded establish such a violation. Iqbal Brief 15. Indeed, the latter question is even more clearly within the category of appealable decisions than the questions presented in Hartman and Wilkie, since whether a particular complaint sufficiently alleges a clearly established violation of law cannot be decided in isolation from the facts pleaded. In that sense the sufficiency of respondent’s pleadings is both “inextricably intertwined with,” Swint v. Chambers County Comm’n, 514 U. S. 35, 51 (1995), and “directly implicated by,” Hartman, supra, at 257, n. 5, the qualified immunity defense.
Respondent counters that our holding in Johnson, 515 U. S. 304, confirms the want of subject-matter jurisdiction here. That is incorrect. The allegation in Johnson was that five defendants, all of them police officers, unlawfully beat the plaintiff. Johnson considered “the appealability of a portion of” the District Court’s summary judgment order that, “though entered in a ‘qualified immunity’ case, determine[d] only” that there was a genuine issue of material fact that three of the defendants participated in the beating. Id., at 313.
In finding that order not a “final decision” for purposes of §1291, the Johnson Court cited Mitchell for the proposition that only decisions turning “ ‘on an issue of law’ ” are subject to immediate appeal. 515 U. S., at 313. Though determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact at summary judgment is a question of law, it is a legal question that sits near the law-fact divide. Or as we said in Johnson, it is a “fact-related” legal inquiry. Id., at 314. To conduct it, a court of appeals may be required to consult a “vast pretrial record, with numerous conflicting affidavits, depositions, and other discovery materials.” Id., at 316. That process generally involves matters more within a district court’s ken and may replicate inefficiently questions that will arise on appeal following final judgment. Ibid. Finding those concerns predominant, Johnson held that the collateral orders that are “final” under Mitchell turn on “abstract,” rather than “fact-based,” issues of law. 515 U. S., at 317.
The concerns that animated the decision in Johnson are absent when an appellate court considers the disposition of a motion to dismiss a complaint for insufficient pleadings. True, the categories of “fact-based” and “abstract” legal questions used to guide the Court’s decision in Johnson are not well defined. Here, however, the order denying petitioners’ motion to dismiss falls well within the latter class. Reviewing that order, the Court of Appeals considered only the allegations contained within the four corners of respondent’s complaint; resort to a “vast pretrial record” on petitioners’ motion to dismiss was unnecessary. Id., at 316. And determining whether respondent’s complaint has the “heft” to state a claim is a task well within an appellate court’s core competency. Twombly, 550 U. S., at 557. Evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint is not a “fact-based” question of law, so the problem the Court sought to avoid in Johnson is not implicated here. The District Court’s order denying petitioners’ motion to dismiss is a final decision under the collateral-order doctrine over which the Court of Appeals had, and this Court has, jurisdiction. We proceed to consider the merits of petitioners’ appeal.
In Twombly, supra, at 553–554, the Court found it necessary first to discuss the antitrust principles implicated by the complaint. Here too we begin by taking note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim of unconstitutional discrimination against officials entitled to assert the defense of qualified immunity.
In Bivens—proceeding on the theory that a right suggests a remedy—this Court “recognized for the first time an implied private action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen’s constitutional rights.” Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U. S. 61, 66 (2001). Because implied causes of action are disfavored, the Court has been reluctant to extend Bivens liability “to any new context or new category of defendants.” 534 U. S., at 68. See also Wilkie, 551 U. S., at 549 –550. That reluctance might well have disposed of respondent’s First Amendment claim of religious discrimination. For while we have allowed a Bivens action to redress a violation of the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, see Davis v. Passman, 442 U. S. 228 (1979), we have not found an implied damages remedy under the Free Exercise Clause. Indeed, we have declined to extend Bivens to a claim sounding in the First Amendment. Bush v. Lucas, 462 U. S. 367 (1983). Petitioners do not press this argument, however, so we assume, without deciding, that respondent’s First Amendment claim is actionable under Bivens.
In the limited settings where Bivens does apply, the implied cause of action is the “federal analog to suits brought against state officials under Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983.” Hartman, 547 U. S., at 254, n. 2. Cf. Wilson v. Layne, 526 U. S. 603, 609 (1999). Based on the rules our precedents establish, respondent correctly concedes that Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior. Iqbal Brief 46 (“[I]t is undisputed that supervisory Bivens liability cannot be established solely on a theory of respondeat superior”). See Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U. S. 658, 691 (1978) (finding no vicarious liability for a municipal “person” under 42 U. S. C. §1983); see also Dunlop v. Munroe, 7 Cranch 242, 269 (1812) (a federal official’s liability “will only result from his own neglect in not properly superintending the discharge” of his subordinates’ duties); Robertson v. Sichel, 127 U. S. 507, 515–516 (1888) (“A public officer or agent is not responsible for the misfeasances or position wrongs, or for the nonfeasances, or negligences, or omissions of duty, of the subagents or servants or other persons properly employed by or under him, in the discharge of his official duties”). Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and §1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.
The factors necessary to establish a Bivens violation will vary with the constitutional provision at issue. Where the claim is invidious discrimination in contravention of the First and Fifth Amendments, our decisions make clear that the plaintiff must plead and prove that the defendant acted with discriminatory purpose. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520, 540–541 (1993) (First Amendment); Washington v. Davis, 426 U. S. 229, 240 (1976) (Fifth Amendment). Under extant precedent purposeful discrimination requires more than “intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences.” Personnel Administrator of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U. S. 256, 279 (1979). It instead involves a decisionmaker’s undertaking a course of action “ ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ [the action’s] adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Ibid. It follows that, to state a claim based on a violation of a clearly established right, respondent must plead sufficient factual matter to show that petitioners adopted and implemented the detention policies at issue not for a neutral, investigative reason but for the purpose of discriminating on account of race, religion, or national origin.
Respondent disagrees. He argues that, under a theory of “supervisory liability,” petitioners can be liable for “knowledge and acquiescence in their subordinates’ use of discriminatory criteria to make classification decisions among detainees.” Iqbal Brief 45–46. That is to say, respondent believes a supervisor’s mere knowledge of his subordinate’s discriminatory purpose amounts to the supervisor’s violating the Constitution. We reject this argument. Respondent’s conception of “supervisory liability” is inconsistent with his accurate stipulation that petitioners may not be held accountable for the misdeeds of their agents. In a §1983 suit or a Bivens action—where masters do not answer for the torts of their servants—the term “supervisory liability” is a misnomer. Absent vicarious liability, each Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct. In the context of determining whether there is a violation of clearly established right to overcome qualified immunity, purpose rather than knowledge is required to impose Bivens liability on the subordinate for unconstitutional discrimination; the same holds true for an official charged with violations arising from his or her superintendent responsibilities.
We turn to respondent’s complaint. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” As the Court held in Twombly, 550 U. S. 544, the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require “detailed factual allegations,” but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. Id., at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U. S. 265, 286 (1986)). A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” 550 U. S., at 555. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id., at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id., at 570. 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. Id., at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement,” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant’s liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.’ ” Id., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. 490 F. 3d, at 157–158. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has not “show[n]”—“that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.
Our decision in Twombly illustrates the two-pronged approach. There, we considered the sufficiency of a complaint alleging that incumbent telecommunications providers had entered an agreement not to compete and to forestall competitive entry, in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U. S. C. §1. Recognizing that §1 enjoins only anticompetitive conduct “effected by a contract, combination, or conspiracy,” Copperweld Corp. v. Independence Tube Corp., 467 U. S. 752, 775 (1984), the plaintiffs in Twombly flatly pleaded that the defendants “ha[d] entered into a contract, combination or conspiracy to prevent competitive entry … and ha[d] agreed not to compete with one another.” 550 U. S., at 551 (internal quotation marks omitted). The complaint also alleged that the defendants’ “parallel course of conduct … to prevent competition” and inflate prices was indicative of the unlawful agreement alleged. Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Court held the plaintiffs’ complaint deficient under Rule 8. In doing so it first noted that the plaintiffs’ assertion of an unlawful agreement was a “ ‘legal conclusion’ ” and, as such, was not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id., at 555. Had the Court simply credited the allegation of a conspiracy, the plaintiffs would have stated a claim for relief and been entitled to proceed perforce. The Court next addressed the “nub” of the plaintiffs’ complaint—the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation of parallel behavior—to determine whether it gave rise to a “plausible suggestion of conspiracy.” Id., at 565–566. Acknowledging that parallel conduct was consistent with an unlawful agreement, the Court nevertheless concluded that it did not plausibly suggest an illicit accord because it was not only compatible with, but indeed was more likely explained by, lawful, unchoreographed free-market behavior. Id., at 567. Because the well-pleaded fact of parallel conduct, accepted as true, did not plausibly suggest an unlawful agreement, the Court held the plaintiffs’ complaint must be dismissed. Id., at 570.
Under Twombly’s construction of Rule 8, we conclude that respondent’s complaint has not “nudged [his] claims” of invidious discrimination “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Ibid.
We begin our analysis by identifying the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Respondent pleads that petitioners “knew of, condoned, and willfully and maliciously agreed to subject [him]” to harsh conditions of confinement “as a matter of policy, solely on account of [his] religion, race, and/or national origin and for no legitimate penological interest.” Complaint ¶96, App. to Pet. for Cert. 173a–174a. The complaint alleges that Ashcroft was the “principal architect” of this invidious policy, id., ¶10, at 157a, and that Mueller was “instrumental” in adopting and executing it, id., ¶11, at 157a. These bare assertions, much like the pleading of conspiracy in Twombly, amount to nothing more than a “formulaic recitation of the elements” of a constitutional discrimination claim, 550 U. S., at 555, namely, that petitioners adopted a policy “ ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Feeney, 442 U. S., at 279. As such, the allegations are conclusory and not entitled to be assumed true. Twombly, supra, 550 U. S., at 554–555. To be clear, we do not reject these bald allegations on the ground that they are unrealistic or nonsensical. We do not so characterize them any more than the Court in Twombly rejected the plaintiffs’ express allegation of a “ ‘contract, combination or conspiracy to prevent competitive entry,’ ” id., at 551, because it thought that claim too chimerical to be maintained. It is the conclusory nature of respondent’s allegations, rather than their extravagantly fanciful nature, that disentitles them to the presumption of truth.
We next consider the factual allegations in respondent’s complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief. The complaint alleges that “the [FBI], under the direction of Defendant MUELLER, arrested and detained thousands of Arab Muslim men … as part of its investigation of the events of September 11.” Complaint ¶47, App. to Pet. for Cert. 164a. It further claims that “[t]he policy of holding post-September-11th detainees in highly restrictive conditions of confinement until they were ‘cleared’ by the FBI was approved by Defendants ASHCROFT and MUELLER in discussions in the weeks after September 11, 2001.” Id., ¶69, at 168a. Taken as true, these allegations are consistent with petitioners’ purposefully designating detainees “of high interest” because of their race, religion, or national origin. But given more likely explanations, they do not plausibly establish this purpose.
The September 11 attacks were perpetrated by 19 Arab Muslim hijackers who counted themselves members in good standing of al Qaeda, an Islamic fundamentalist group. Al Qaeda was headed by another Arab Muslim—Osama bin Laden—and composed in large part of his Arab Muslim disciples. It should come as no surprise that a legitimate policy directing law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals because of their suspected link to the attacks would produce a disparate, incidental impact on Arab Muslims, even though the purpose of the policy was to target neither Arabs nor Muslims. On the facts respondent alleges the arrests Mueller oversaw were likely lawful and justified by his nondiscriminatory intent to detain aliens who were illegally present in the United States and who had potential connections to those who committed terrorist acts. As between that “obvious alternative explanation” for the arrests, Twombly, supra, at 567, and the purposeful, invidious discrimination respondent asks us to infer, discrimination is not a plausible conclusion.
But even if the complaint’s well-pleaded facts give rise to a plausible inference that respondent’s arrest was the result of unconstitutional discrimination, that inference alone would not entitle respondent to relief. It is important to recall that respondent’s complaint challenges neither the constitutionality of his arrest nor his initial detention in the MDC. Respondent’s constitutional claims against petitioners rest solely on their ostensible “policy of holding post-September-11th detainees” in the ADMAX SHU once they were categorized as “of high interest.” Complaint ¶69, App. to Pet. for Cert. 168a. To prevail on that theory, the complaint must contain facts plausibly showing that petitioners purposefully adopted a policy of classifying post-September-11 detainees as “of high interest” because of their race, religion, or national origin.
This the complaint fails to do. Though respondent alleges that various other defendants, who are not before us, may have labeled him a person of “of high interest” for impermissible reasons, his only factual allegation against petitioners accuses them of adopting a policy approving “restrictive conditions of confinement” for post-September-11 detainees until they were “ ‘cleared’ by the FBI.” Ibid. Accepting the truth of that allegation, the complaint does not show, or even intimate, that petitioners purposefully housed detainees in the ADMAX SHU due to their race, religion, or national origin. All it plausibly suggests is that the Nation’s top law enforcement officers, in the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack, sought to keep suspected terrorists in the most secure conditions available until the suspects could be cleared of terrorist activity. Respondent does not argue, nor can he, that such a motive would violate petitioners’ constitutional obligations. He would need to allege more by way of factual content to “nudg[e]” his claim of purposeful discrimination “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U. S., at 570.
To be sure, respondent can attempt to draw certain contrasts between the pleadings the Court considered in Twombly and the pleadings at issue here. In Twombly, the complaint alleged general wrongdoing that extended over a period of years, id., at 551, whereas here the complaint alleges discrete wrongs—for instance, beatings—by lower level Government actors. The allegations here, if true, and if condoned by petitioners, could be the basis for some inference of wrongful intent on petitioners’ part. Despite these distinctions, respondent’s pleadings do not suffice to state a claim. Unlike in Twombly, where the doctrine of respondeat superior could bind the corporate defendant, here, as we have noted, petitioners cannot be held liable unless they themselves acted on account of a constitutionally protected characteristic. Yet respondent’s complaint does not contain any factual allegation sufficient to plausibly suggest petitioners’ discriminatory state of mind. His pleadings thus do not meet the standard necessary to comply with Rule 8.
It is important to note, however, that we express no opinion concerning the sufficiency of respondent’s complaint against the defendants who are not before us. Respondent’s account of his prison ordeal alleges serious official misconduct that we need not address here. Our decision is limited to the determination that respondent’s complaint does not entitle him to relief from petitioners.
Respondent offers three arguments that bear on our disposition of his case, but none is persuasive.
Respondent first says that our decision in Twombly should be limited to pleadings made in the context of an antitrust dispute. Iqbal Brief 37–38. This argument is not supported by Twombly and is incompatible with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Though Twombly determined the sufficiency of a complaint sounding in antitrust, the decision was based on our interpretation and application of Rule 8. 550 U. S., at 554. That Rule in turn governs the pleading standard “in all civil actions and proceedings in the United States district courts.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 1. Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for “all civil actions,” ibid., and it applies to antitrust and discrimination suits alike. See 550 U. S., at 555–556, and n. 3.
Respondent next implies that our construction of Rule 8 should be tempered where, as here, the Court of Appeals has “instructed the district court to cabin discovery in such a way as to preserve” petitioners’ defense of qualified immunity “as much as possible in anticipation of a summary judgment motion.” Iqbal Brief 27. We have held, however, that the question presented by a motion to dismiss a complaint for insufficient pleadings does not turn on the controls placed upon the discovery process. Twombly, supra, at 559 (“It is no answer to say that a claim just shy of a plausible entitlement to relief can, if groundless, be weeded out early in the discovery process through careful case management given the common lament that the success of judicial supervision in checking discovery abuse has been on the modest side” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).
Our rejection of the careful-case-management approach is especially important in suits where Government-official defendants are entitled to assert the defense of qualified immunity. The basic thrust of the qualified-immunity doctrine is to free officials from the concerns of litigation, including “avoidance of disruptive discovery.” Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U. S. 226, 236 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment). There are serious and legitimate reasons for this. If a Government official is to devote time to his or her duties, and to the formulation of sound and responsible policies, it is counterproductive to require the substantial diversion that is attendant to participating in litigation and making informed decisions as to how it should proceed. Litigation, though necessary to ensure that officials comply with the law, exacts heavy costs in terms of efficiency and expenditure of valuable time and resources that might otherwise be directed to the proper execution of the work of the Government. The costs of diversion are only magnified when Government officials are charged with responding to, as Judge Cabranes aptly put it, “a national and international security emergency unprecedented in the history of the American Republic.” 490 F. 3d, at 179.
It is no answer to these concerns to say that discovery for petitioners can be deferred while pretrial proceedings continue for other defendants. It is quite likely that, when discovery as to the other parties proceeds, it would prove necessary for petitioners and their counsel to participate in the process to ensure the case does not develop in a misleading or slanted way that causes prejudice to their position. Even if petitioners are not yet themselves subject to discovery orders, then, they would not be free from the burdens of discovery.
We decline respondent’s invitation to relax the pleading requirements on the ground that the Court of Appeals promises petitioners minimally intrusive discovery. That promise provides especially cold comfort in this pleading context, where we are impelled to give real content to the concept of qualified immunity for high-level officials who must be neither deterred nor detracted from the vigorous performance of their duties. Because respondent’s complaint is deficient under Rule 8, he is not entitled to discovery, cabined or otherwise.
Respondent finally maintains that the Federal Rules expressly allow him to allege petitioners’ discriminatory intent “generally,” which he equates with a conclusory allegation. Iqbal Brief 32 (citing Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 9). It follows, respondent says, that his complaint is sufficiently well pleaded because it claims that petitioners discriminated against him “on account of [his] religion, race, and/or national origin and for no legitimate penological interest.” Complaint ¶96, App. to Pet. for Cert. 172a–173a. Were we required to accept this allegation as true, respondent’s complaint would survive petitioners’ motion to dismiss. But the Federal Rules do not require courts to credit a complaint’s conclusory statements without reference to its factual context.
It is true that Rule 9(b) requires particularity when pleading “fraud or mistake,” while allowing “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person’s mind [to] be alleged generally.” But “generally” is a relative term. In the context of Rule 9, it is to be compared to the particularity requirement applicable to fraud or mistake. Rule 9 merely excuses a party from pleading discriminatory intent under an elevated pleading standard. It does not give him license to evade the less rigid—though still operative—strictures of Rule 8. See 5A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure §1301, p. 291 (3d ed. 2004) (“[A] rigid rule requiring the detailed pleading of a condition of mind would be undesirable because, absent overriding considerations pressing for a specificity requirement, as in the case of averments of fraud or mistake, the general ‘short and plain statement of the claim’ mandate in Rule 8(a) … should control the second sentence of Rule 9(b)”). And Rule 8 does not empower respondent to plead the bare elements of his cause of action, affix the label “general allegation,” and expect his complaint to survive a motion to dismiss.
We hold that respondent’s complaint fails to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for purposeful and unlawful discrimination against petitioners. The Court of Appeals should decide in the first instance whether to remand to the District Court so that respondent can seek leave to amend his deficient complaint.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.