Tackling the Importance of Rule 12(b)(6) in Law School: Understanding “Failure to State a Claim”


In this article, we will be delving into one of the vital subjects of law school: Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 12(b) deals with pretrial motions, and specifically, 12(b)(6) involves motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim that warrants relief. While these motions are seldom successful, their presence in law school exams and bar exam questions makes it crucial to have a solid understanding of them.

Understanding “Failure to State a Claim upon Which Relief Can Be Granted”

“Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” encompasses various aspects related to the statement made in a complaint. Typically, it refers to situations where the complaint fails to adequately allege one or more essential elements of an action.

For instance, let’s consider a complaint filed for negligence. In such a case, the plaintiff must include all the necessary elements of negligence and apply them to the defendant(s). This would include:

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care.
  3. The plaintiff suffered injuries.
  4. These injuries were a direct result of the defendant’s breach of duty.

While Rule 12(b)(6) motions rarely succeed, it’s important to note that the pleading requirements are generally lenient. However, even with these relaxed requirements, the previous example would be insufficient to withstand a 12(b)(6) motion.

The Importance of Factual Basis in Pleadings

A mere recitation of bare legal conclusions is not enough; the complaint must provide a factual basis for the claim. Building on the negligence example, the complaint should also include details about how the defendant displayed negligence and how this negligence led to the plaintiff’s injuries. For instance, if the defendant ran a red light and collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle, resulting in a broken leg, the complaint should outline these factual allegations.

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Furthermore, providing as much factual detail as possible is essential. Not only does it ensure that the elements of the causes of action are sufficiently pleaded in the complaint, but it also aligns with the standard used to review 12(b)(6) motions. When evaluating such a motion, the court assumes that all factual allegations in the complaint are true, giving the plaintiff the benefit of the doubt.

Considering this, it is critical to include every relevant fact to present a complete picture to the court.

Potential Challenges and Successful Motions

Even if the elements of a cause of action are perfectly pleaded, and a comprehensive set of facts is included, a Rule 12(b)(6) motion could still succeed. In rare cases, the court might decide that the claimed cause of action is not recognized by the law.

Using our car accident example, if the plaintiff claimed assault and battery instead of negligence, but the facts surrounding the accident remained the same (i.e., it was truly an accident without any intent to cause harm), the 12(b)(6) motion would likely succeed in terms of the assault and battery claims. However, in such situations, the judge usually grants the plaintiff the opportunity to amend the complaint if a viable legal cause of action can be identified from the facts.


In any legal case, it is essential to ensure that the facts alleged in the complaint are well-supported and accurate. Conducting efficient legal research using reliable tools, such as those provided by Garrity Traina, can help identify and prevent potential mistakes before they occur. By understanding Rule 12(b)(6) and its requirements, law students and legal professionals can navigate civil procedure with confidence and prepare for success in their careers.

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