SELYA, Circuit Judge.
This is a curious case in which the plaintiffs, unsuccessful medical malpractice suitors, seek damages against the authors and publisher of a case report, introduced into evidence in the malpractice trials, that appeared in a peer-reviewed obstetrical journal. Acting on the defendants' motions to dismiss, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the district court concluded that the plaintiffs' complaint stumbled on the plausibility threshold. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See Gorbey ex rel. Maddox v. Am. Journal of Ob. & Gyn., 849 F.Supp.2d 162, 165-66 (D.Mass.2012).
The plaintiffs' theory of the case is imaginative but unpersuasive. Starting with the premise that the case report was false, they allege that the falsity "caused" the juries in the malpractice trials to find against them. This optimistic allegation overlooks that, for aught that appears, causation is unprovable here and, thus, the causation allegation is wholly speculative. Consequently, the plaintiffs' claim does not reach the plateau of plausibility which, under
We briefly rehearse the background of the case, reserving some details for our later discussion of the merits. Because this appeal follows the granting of motions to dismiss, we take as true the facts presented in the complaint. See Rodríguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodríguez, 711 F.3d 49, 51 (1st Cir.2013).
Plaintiffs A.G. and K.S., appellants here, were born with permanent brachial plexus injuries.
The plaintiffs, minors suing through their mothers and next friends, alleged in separate medical malpractice actions that their brachial plexus injuries were caused by the application of excessive traction during delivery. A.G.'s action, brought in Virginia, ended in a take-nothing verdict, which he did not appeal. K.S.'s action, brought in Illinois, likewise ended in a take-nothing verdict, which he unsuccessfully appealed. See Stapleton ex rel. Clark v. Moore, 403 Ill.App.3d 147, 342 Ill.Dec. 360, 932 N.E.2d 487 (2010).
At both trials, the defense introduced into evidence a case report entitled "Permanent Brachial Plexus Injury Following Vaginal Delivery Without Physician Traction or Shoulder Dystocia" (the Case Report). The Case Report, co-authored by Drs. Henry Lerner and Eva Salamon and published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, purports to document an instance of brachial plexus injury occurring in a delivery performed by Dr. Salamon. The Case Report portrays the delivery as unaccompanied by either shoulder dystocia or physician-applied traction. See Henry M. Lerner & Eva Salamon, Permanent Brachial Plexus Injury Following Vaginal Delivery Without Physician Traction or Shoulder Dystocia, Am. J. of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Mar. 2008, at e7.
Unwilling to let the matter rest after losing their malpractice cases, the plaintiffs joined forces and sued Dr. Lerner, Dr. Salamon, Dr. Salamon's employer, the journal, and the publisher in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Their complaint asserted a cause of action under chapter 93A, section 9, of the Massachusetts General Laws, contending that the Case Report was false because the described delivery actually included both shoulder dystocia and the application
All of the defendants moved to dismiss. The district court granted their motions, concluding that the plaintiffs had failed to allege any "facts from which the Court could reasonably infer that the [Case Report] was material to the juries' verdicts." Gorbey, 849 F.Supp.2d at 165. This timely appeal followed.
We review de novo a district court's dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim. Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 72 (1st Cir.2011). In our assessment, "we accept as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the pleader's favor." Id. "We may augment these facts and inferences with data points gleaned from documents incorporated by reference into the complaint, matters of public record, and facts susceptible to judicial notice." Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir.2011).
The focal point of our analysis in this case is the requirement that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A mechanistic recital of the elements of a claim will not suffice: the complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955.
Conducting a plausibility inquiry is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937. For a claim to withstand a motion to dismiss, it need not show that recovery is probable, but it must show "more than a sheer possibility" of liability. Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937.
The plausibility standard invites a two-step pavane. Grajales v. P.R. Ports Auth., 682 F.3d 40, 45 (1st Cir.2012). At the first step, the court "must separate the complaint's factual allegations (which must be accepted as true) from its conclusory legal allegations (which need not be credited)." Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of P.R., 676 F.3d 220, 224 (1st Cir.2012). At the second step, the court must determine whether the remaining factual content allows a "reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
Consistent with the foregoing, the plaintiffs in this chapter 93A case were required to proffer a complaint plausibly alleging that the defendants' deceptive acts caused them injury or loss. See Rhodes v. AIG Dom. Claims, Inc., 461 Mass. 486, 961 N.E.2d 1067, 1076 (2012); Hershenow v. Enter. Rent-A-Car Co., 445 Mass. 790, 840 N.E.2d 526, 532 (2006). The court below zeroed in on the weakest link in the plaintiffs' chain of allegations — causation — and concluded that their complaint failed plausibly to state a viable claim. Gorbey, 849 F.Supp.2d at 165-66. We test this conclusion.
The complaint's bald assertion that "[b]ut for" the Case Report the plaintiffs "would have been successful" at the malpractice trials is exactly the type of conclusory statement that need not be credited at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. Here, moreover, that conclusory statement is presented as an ipse dixit, unadorned by any factual assertions that might lend it plausibility.
The plaintiffs resist this assessment. They contend that merely by alleging that the Case Report caused their losses they have raised a factbound question on which discovery must be allowed. This contention elevates hope over reason: the plausibility standard demands that a party do more than suggest in conclusory terms the existence of questions of fact about the elements of a claim. Thus, in Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680-81, 129 S.Ct. 1937, the Court — faced with a comparably opaque allegation — declined to find plausibility and refused to allow discovery to address whether the defendants, as conclusorily alleged, were willfully responsible for racial discrimination against the plaintiff.
Case law in this circuit is transparently clear as to this aspect of the plausibility standard. See, e.g., Pruell v. Caritas Christi, 678 F.3d 10, 13 (1st Cir.2012); Peñalbert-Rosa v. Fortuño-Burset, 631 F.3d 592, 595 (1st Cir.2011). We follow this unbroken line of cases and hold that the rote recital of the elements of a cause of action is not enough, by itself, to nudge a case past the plausibility threshold.
This remains true even where, as here, plaintiffs attempt to camouflage conclusory statements as allegations of fact. When allegations, though disguised as factual, are so threadbare that they omit any meaningful factual content, we will treat them as what they are: naked conclusions. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937; Peñalbert-Rosa, 631 F.3d at 595; see also Artuso v. Vertex Pharm., Inc., 637 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir.2011) (explaining that even though an averment may be couched as a factual allegation, it can be "so subjective that it fails to cross `the line between the conclusory and the factual'" (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 n. 5, 127 S.Ct. 1955)).
In this instance, the paucity of factual content bearing on causation is made painfully apparent by a comparison between the complaint's allegations of fraudulent conduct and its allegation of causation. Even after stripping away the conclusory statement that the defendants' actions constituted "unfair or deceptive acts or practices," the complaint contains raw facts tending to support the claim of fraud. It says, for example, that Dr. Lerner never read the labor and delivery notes before helping to author the Case Report; that the hospital records reflected that the box for shoulder dystocia had been checked but then crossed out; and that Dr. Salamon had stated under oath that she applied traction in all deliveries. These raw facts, taken together, indicate that the plaintiffs have more than a gambler's chance of proving fraud.
In stark contrast, the allegation of causation is unembellished by any supporting facts. Once the conclusory statement regarding causation is stripped out of the complaint, the only relevant factual allegation is that the Case Report was "introduced, used, and relied upon" by defense counsel at both medical malpractice trials. This solitary fact provides no basis for a rational inference that the Case Report was critical to the juries' verdicts; that inference depends entirely upon speculation and surmise.
Nor does the complaint (or anything else in the record, for that matter) suggest a feasible way as to how discovery might help to develop the missing patina of facts. This is crucial because the Twombly Court required, as a hallmark of plausibility, that the complaint contain "enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence." Twombly, 550
In a hapless effort to blunt the force of this reasoning, the plaintiffs asseverate that the plausibility standard applies only to allegations of wrongful conduct and not to allegations of causation. This asseveration is simply wrong.
As an initial matter, this court frequently has affirmed dismissals of complaints premised on the absence of plausible allegations unrelated to wrongful conduct. See, e.g., Mead v. Independence Ass'n, 684 F.3d 226, 231-32 (1st Cir.2012); Harron v. Town of Franklin, 660 F.3d 531, 537 (1st Cir.2011); Martino v. Forward Air, Inc., 609 F.3d 1, 4-5 (1st Cir.2010); Uphoff Figueroa v. Alejandro, 597 F.3d 423, 431 (1st Cir.2010). Indeed, we have upheld at least one dismissal for failure to state a claim due to a lack of any plausible allegation of causation.
In all events, there is a larger picture: it is neither necessary nor desirable to balkanize the plausibility standard element by element.
This holistic approach is compatible with Rule 8(a)(2), which is the font from which the plausibility standard springs. That rule speaks only in terms of "the claim," making no particular distinction among elements.
The complaint before us cannot survive such an inquiry. The superficiality of the causation allegation, coupled with the speculative nature of the claim as a whole, makes manifest that the plaintiffs have failed to plead a plausible cause of action.
The plaintiffs have a fallback position. They argue that their claim is not inherently speculative because the causation question here (that is, how the original juries would have decided the malpractice suits in the absence of the Case Report) is no more impervious to proof than the causation question in a garden-variety legal malpractice case. In explanation, the plaintiffs say that, in that type of case, the claimant needs to show that she would have prevailed at a prior trial in the absence of her attorney's negligence; yet, courts typically allow the jury to engage in the counterfactual analysis of how the trial would have ended under different circumstances.
This analogy is unconvincing: even in the legal malpractice context, a complaint may be dismissed if the allegations of causation depend solely on conclusory statements.
We add a coda. The plaintiffs lament that if we affirm the dismissal of this suit, defendants in future medical malpractice actions will be able to rely with impunity on the fraudulently contrived Case Report. But this gaudy rhetoric distorts the reality of events. The Daubert doctrine presents an appropriate opportunity to raise, in a pretrial setting, concerns about the Case Report. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993); see also 29A Am. Jur.2d Evidence § 1014 (2013) (describing similar doctrines in state courts).
We need go no further.