U.S. District Courts - Judicial Business 2014
Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the district courts held steady, going up less than 1 percent to 376,536.
Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants declined less than 1 percent to 345,153 (this total does not include the 106,654 defendants in Class A misdemeanor and petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). As filings exceeded terminations, the total number of pending civil cases and criminal defendants grew 8 percent to 439,018.
Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts grew 4 percent, increasing by 10,706 cases to 295,310. As a result, civil filings per authorized judgeship rose for the second consecutive year, going from 420 in 2013 to 436 in 2014.
Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states) rose 13 percent to 100,472 as personal injury/product liability cases increased 20 percent to 58,496 (up 9,950 cases), primarily because of growth in cases involving health care/pharmaceuticals. Federal question cases (i.e., actions under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States in which the United States is not a party in the case) grew 2 percent to 149,891 in response to higher filings related to prisoner petitions (up 4,717 cases), personal injury claims (up 1,217 cases), and labor laws (up 249 cases).
Filings with the United States as defendant decreased 5 percent (down 2,207 cases) to 38,338. This occurred largely because of reductions of 7 percent in prisoner petition cases (down 997 cases) and 4 percent in Social Security cases (down 828 cases).
Filings with the United States as plaintiff fell 14 percent (down 1,089 cases). This stemmed from decreases of 14 percent in cases involving contracts (down 311 cases) and of 11 percent in forfeiture and penalty cases (down 219 cases).
Civil case terminations increased 1 percent (up 3,217) to 258,477. The greatest growth occurred in the Southern District of Illinois (IL-S), which terminated 4,892 cases, 3,330 of them personal injury/product liability multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases alleging injuries arising from birth control pills. The District of Arizona terminated 6,871 cases; more than 2,600 of these cases involved prison conditions, and most were filed by a single state prisoner.
The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 8.3 months, down from 8.5 months in 2013. The median time in IL-S increased from 11.9 months in 2013 to 34.9 months in 2014 as the district terminated numerous personal injury/product liability MDL cases related to birth control.
Pending civil cases increased 12 percent to 337,302. This growth occurred primarily because of increased pending MDL cases in the Southern District of West Virginia (up 33,839 cases as a result of cases related to pelvic repair products), District of Massachusetts (up 2,227 cases as a result of cases involving dialysis treatment), and Northern District of Texas (up 1,726 cases as a result of cases addressing hip implants).
Since 2010, civil filings in the district courts have risen 4 percent (up 12,415 cases). Increases have occurred in cases related to prisoner petitions, Social Security, intellectual property rights, other statutory actions, and civil rights. During the same period, district courts have reported declines in civil filings related to contracts, personal injury, personal property damage, and forfeitures and penalties.
For the third consecutive year, filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) dropped, falling 11 percent to 81,226. This was the lowest total since 1999. Reductions occurred in 75 of the 94 districts. Excluding transfers, fewer defendant filings were reported for all types of major offenses.
Drug crimes remained the offenses prosecuted most frequently in the U.S. district courts, accounting for 31 percent of all defendant filings this year. Filings for non-marijuana defendants dropped 14 percent to 19,194. Defendants charged with marijuana crimes decreased 14 percent to 5,829. The most significant numeric drop for drug offenses was a decline of 3,228 defendant filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs.
Defendants accused of immigration offenses, which constituted 27 percent of criminal filings, continued falling for the fourth year. In 2014, these filings declined 8 percent to 21,995, which was 25 percent below the record high of 29,149 reached in 2010. Defendants charged with improper reentry by aliens dropped 9 percent to 18,311. The five southwestern border districts accounted for 77 percent of national immigration defendant filings. Immigration offense defendants decreased 32 percent in the Southern District of California, 5 percent in the Western District of Texas, 3 percent in the Southern District of Texas, and 2 percent in the District of Arizona. In the District of New Mexico, immigration filings grew 9 percent to 3,289 as improper reentry by aliens rose 10 percent.
Defendants charged with property offenses fell 11 percent to 13,091 and accounted for 16 percent of total criminal filings. Filings for fraud defendants, which constituted 11 percent of total filings and 70 percent of property offense filings, declined 10 percent to 9,133. Fraud related to identification documents and information, often associated with immigration crimes, decreased 19 percent to 1,035.
Filings for defendants accused of firearms and explosives offenses, which dropped 10 percent to 7,515, equaled 9 percent of total criminal filings. Filings involving sex offenses, which declined 8 percent, constituted 4 percent of total criminal filings. Traffic offense defendants decreased 4 percent and were responsible for 4 percent of total criminal filings. Defendants charged with violent offenses fell 5 percent and accounted for 3 percent of total criminal filings. Reductions also occurred in filings involving general offenses (down 20 percent), regulatory offenses (down 19 percent), and justice system offenses (down 3 percent), with each amounting to 2 percent or less of total criminal filings.
Terminations for defendants decreased 5 percent to 86,676. Excluding defendants transferred to other districts, the districts reported terminations for 86,492 defendants, of whom 91 percent (78,712) were convicted, including 76,824 who pled guilty. The median time from commencement to termination for criminal defendants increased from 6.8 months in 2013 to 7.0 months in 2014. The number for defendants pending (excluding fugitives pending more than 12 months before the end of the period) fell 6 percent to 101,716, the lowest total since 2007.
Since 2010, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have fallen 19 percent. During that period, filings related to immigration offenses have dropped 25 percent and declined from 29 percent of total criminal filings to 27 percent, while immigration defendant filings in the five southwestern border districts have grown from 73 percent of national immigration filings to 77 percent. Filings for drug crime defendants have decreased 15 percent in the past five years, but have grown from 29 percent of total criminal filings to 31 percent.
Data are for the 12-month periods ending September 30, 2013 and 2014. Data for an individual district may be viewed by mousing over that district.
The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior Article III judges dropped 6 percent to 12,186 (down 847 trials). For statistical purposes, district court trials include proceedings resulting in jury verdicts and other final judgments by the courts, as well as other contested hearings at which evidence is presented.
Overall civil trials fell 5 percent to 4,770 (down 257 trials) as 48 districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil nonjury trials decreased 5 percent to 2,848 (down 154 trials), with 56 districts reporting smaller numbers of these trials. Civil jury trials also decreased 5 percent, falling by 103 trials to 1,922, with 48 districts reporting reductions in trials.
Overall criminal trials declined 7 percent to 7,416 (down 590 trials) as 63 district courts reported fewer criminal trials. Criminal nonjury trials dropped 6 percent to 5,196 (down 318 trials), with 57 district courts reporting lower numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials fell 11 percent to 2,220 (down 272 trials) as 54 district courts reported fewer trials of this type. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 69,615 felony defendants, down 6 percent from 74,067 in 2013.
In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 5,434 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, a drop of 10 percent (down 575 trials). These comprised 1,384 petty offense trials, 409 civil consent trials, 83 Class A misdemeanor trials, and 3,559 evidentiary hearings.
Judges conduct many other proceedings in courtrooms in addition to trials, including hearings on motions for summary judgment and other motions, calendar calls, preliminary proceedings in criminal cases, hearings on sentencing issues, Daubert hearings on expert witnesses, and evidentiary hearings in supervised release and probation revocation proceedings. They are also heavily involved in case management efforts, alternative dispute resolution activities, and settlements. This year, 47 districts operated mediation and arbitration programs that affected more than 22,800 civil cases.
During the past five years, the total number of trials has gone down 12 percent. Civil trials have decreased 11 percent, and criminal trials have fallen 12 percent. Trials lasting four days or longer dropped 8 percent this year to 2,128 and have fallen 17 percent since 2010, in part because many criminal trials related to immigration were terminated quickly.
Weighted Filings Methodology
The Federal Judiciary has employed techniques for assigning weights to cases since 1946. The current weights were developed by the Federal Judicial Center in 2004. To calculate weighted filings per authorized judgeship, weighted filings (i.e., the sum of all weights assigned to civil cases, criminal defendants, and supervised release hearings) are divided by the number of authorized Article III judgeships assigned to each district. Weights are not applied in the districts of the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, as the judgeship positions there are Article I judgeships with term appointments. Weights are assigned only to those cases in district courts that arise as original proceedings, by removal from state court, or by interdistrict transfer. Cases that stem from reopenings, remands, appeals from magistrate judgements, or transfers by order of the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation are excluded.
Weighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship
Weighted filings data take into account the different amounts of time it takes a judge to resolve various types of civil and criminal actions. The average civil case or criminal defendant each receives a weight of approximately 1.00. More time-consuming cases are assessed higher weights (e.g., a death-penalty habeas corpus case is assigned a weight of 12.89), and cases requiring relatively little time from judges receive lower weights (e.g., a defaulted student loan case is assigned a weight of 0.10). Supervised release proceedings (including probation revocation hearings) each are assigned a weight based on whether or not evidence is introduced at the hearing. A non-evidentiary supervised release hearing receives a weight of 0.14; an evidentiary supervised release hearing receives a weight of 0.22.
In 2014, weighted filings per authorized judgeship decreased by 12 to 533 (down 2 percent). Weighted civil filings remained stable, increasing by 2 to 434. Weighted criminal filings declined by 13 to 94 (down 12 percent). Weighted supervised release hearings dropped 3 percent to 5.41.
Seventy-one of the 91 districts whose filings received weights reported declines in total weighted filings (see sidebar on weighted filings methodology). Thirty-four districts had decreases of 10 percent or more. Sixteen districts had 600 or more weighted filing per authorized judgeship. For the district courts, a judgeship vacancy of any duration in a district with weighted filings per authorized judgeship in excess of 600 is defined as a judicial emergency.
Weighted civil filings dropped in 63 districts, remained unchanged in 1 district, and rose in 27 districts as a result of increased filings of cases involving personal injury/product liability, the Americans with Disabilities Act, prison conditions, health care/pharmaceuticals, insurance, and trademark. The Southern District of West Virginia, District of Minnesota, Eastern District of Texas, Middle District of Tennessee, District of Arizona, and Eastern District of California each had increases of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship. Weighted criminal filings decreased in 74 districts, remained unchanged in 1 district, and increased in 16 districts. Forty-six districts reported increases in weighted supervised release hearings, 1 reported no change, and 44 reported declines.
Since 2010, unweighted and weighted filings per authorized judgeship alike have increased 9 percent. Unweighted civil filings have grown 22 percent because of growth in cases involving personal injury/product liability, prisoner petitions, Social Security, copyright and patents, insurance contracts, and non-employment claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unweighted criminal filings fell 19 percent as a result of declines in filings for defendants charged with crimes related to immigration, drugs, fraud, and traffic.
For data on weighted filings and unweighted filings per authorized judgeship, see Table X-1A.
Data are for the 12-month period ending September 30, 2014. Data for an individual district may be viewed by mousing over that district.