U.S. District Courts - Judicial Business 2017
Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts fell 7 percent to 344,787. Civil case filings dropped 8 percent to 267,769, while filings for criminal defendants—including those transferred from other districts—changed little at 77,018.
Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants rose 5 percent to 365,238 (this total does not include the 76,345 defendants in Class A misdemeanor and petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). The total number of pending civil cases and criminal defendants dropped 4 percent to 439,636.
Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts declined 8 percent, decreasing by 24,082 cases to 267,769. Civil filings per authorized judgeship dropped from 431 in 2016 to 396 in 2017.
Filings with the United States as defendant fell 29 percent (down 15,961 cases) to 39,382. Such filings had risen 55 percent in 2016 as prisoner petitions soared 197 percent after Welch v. United States established that Johnson v. United States applied retroactively and made prisoners serving sentences enhanced under an unconstitutional clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act eligible to have their sentences vacated or remanded. In 2017, prisoner petitions dropped 57 percent (down 16,793 petitions) as motions to vacate sentence decreased 71 percent (down 17,632 petitions to 7,205). The Southern District of Florida had the largest decline in motions to vacate sentence (down 839 petitions to 394), followed by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (down 726 petitions to 123).
Filings with the United States as plaintiff grew 5 percent (up 216 cases) to 5,009, mainly due to a 35 percent increase (up 208 cases to 802) in real property cases that stemmed from a 37 percent rise in foreclosure cases (up 194 cases to 713). The largest growth was in the Western District of Kentucky (KY-W), where foreclosure filings grew 140 percent (up 35 cases).
Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states) declined 7 percent (down 6,004 cases) to 75,822 as personal property damage cases dropped 40 percent to 2,725 (down 1,824 cases). The District of Kansas had a 97 percent drop in other personal property damage cases (down 464 cases to 13) after reporting an increase in 2016 because of multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases asserting that plaintiffs suffered economic losses after purchasing genetically modified corn seeds from Syngenta AG. The Northern District of California had a 56 percent decrease in personal property fraud cases (down 47 percent to 64).
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) fell 2 percent to 147,552. Cases addressing environmental matters, which had climbed 165 percent in 2016 primarily in response to MDL case filings in the Eastern District of Louisiana involving the oil spill by the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, decreased 51 percent in 2017 (down 758 cases to 737). Cases related to personal injury/product liability decreased 41 percent (down 396 cases to 570), and cases related to personal property damage dropped 35 percent (down 512 cases to 968).
Civil case terminations grew 7 percent (up 18,252 terminations) to 289,901. The Southern District of West Virginia (WV-S) again had the largest numeric increase in terminations, a rise of 14,774 (up 84 percent) to 32,335, with most of its terminated cases consisting of MDL personal injury/product liability cases related to pelvic repair products. The District of South Carolina (SC) terminated an additional 2,522 cases (up 66 percent to 6,360) as it closed more than 2,900 MDL cases alleging that the cholesterol drug Lipitor caused type 2 diabetes. KY-W terminated 1,274 cases (up 101 percent to 2,538) as it closed more than 1,000 MDL cases asserting personal injury/product liability claims related to Skechers Toning Shoe Products.
2016 - 20171
|1 Percent change not computed when fewer than 10 cases reported for the previous period.|
The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 9.9 months, up from 9.2 months in 2016. The median time in KY-W increased from 9.2 months in 2016 to 23.5 months in 2017, and the median time in SC rose from 8.3 months to 17.4 months, as both districts terminated large numbers of MDL cases.
Pending civil cases decreased 6 percent to 339,131. Most of the reduction stemmed from lower numbers of personal injury/product liability cases in WV-S, where the pending caseload dropped 37 percent to 42,595 after that district terminated many MDL cases.
Since 2013, civil case filings in the district courts have declined 6 percent (down 16,835 cases). Decreases have occurred in cases involving personal injury/product liability, contracts, real property, intellectual property, and recovery of overpayment. During the same period, district courts have reported increases in filings related to civil rights; consumer credit; immigration; and securities, commodities, and exchanges.
Filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) held relatively steady, dropping less than 1 percent to 77,018, the lowest total since 1998. Filings increased in 58 of 94 districts and decreased in 35 districts (in 2016, 63 districts had reductions in filings).
The biggest numeric decline was in filings for defendants charged with property offenses, which fell 6 percent to 10,115 filings and accounted for 13 percent of total criminal filings. Filings for defendants charged with fraud, which constituted 9 percent of total filings and 71 percent of property offense filings, dropped 5 percent to 7,165. Fraud filings related to identification documents and information, which are often associated with immigration crimes, decreased 16 percent to 639.
Drug crimes remained the offenses prosecuted most frequently in the U.S. district courts, constituting 32 percent of all defendant filings. Filings for defendants charged with crimes related to marijuana decreased 19 percent to 4,181. Filings for non-marijuana defendants rose 4 percent to 20,175. Filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs decreased 17 percent to 2,249 for marijuana and rose 1 percent to 17,560 for all other drugs.
Criminal filings for defendants charged with immigration offenses fell 2 percent to 20,438 and accounted for 27 percent of criminal filings. This was the lowest total since 2007. Defendants charged with improper reentry by an alien decreased 3 percent to 16,554, and those charged with improper entry by an alien dropped 12 percent to 172. Immigration filings in the five southwestern border districts declined 7 percent to 15,638 and constituted 77 percent of national immigration defendant filings, compared to 81 percent in 2016. Filings fell 32 percent in the District of New Mexico, 16 percent in the Southern District of Texas, and 5 percent in the District of Arizona, but rose 51 percent in the Southern District of California and 6 percent in the Western District of Texas.
General offense defendants declined 5 percent and amounted to 2 percent of total criminal filings. Reductions also occurred in filings related to violent offenses (down 1 percent) and sex offenses (also down 1 percent); each of these categories constituted 4 percent or less of total criminal filings.
Filings for defendants prosecuted for firearms and explosives offenses rose 11 percent to 9,672 and represented 13 percent of total criminal filings. Filings involving justice system offenses, which increased 5 percent, constituted 1 percent of total criminal filings. Defendants charged with regulatory offenses grew 3 percent and accounted for 2 percent of total criminal filings. Traffic offense filings increased 2 percent to 2,292 and accounted for 3 percent of total criminal filings.
Terminations for defendants (including defendants transferred to other districts) decreased 3 percent to 75,337, the lowest total since 1999. Excluding defendants transferred to other districts, terminations were reported for 75,163 defendants, of whom 69,016 (92 percent) were convicted (67,418 of them after pleading guilty). The median time from commencement to termination for criminal defendants was 7.1 months. The number for defendants pending (excluding fugitives pending more than 12 months before the end of the period) increased 2 percent to 100,505.
Since 2013, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have fallen 16 percent. During that period, filings related to immigration offenses have dropped 15 percent, but they have continued to constitute 27 percent of total criminal filings. Immigration defendant filings in the five southwestern border districts have increased from 75 percent of total national immigration filings in 2013 to 77 percent five years later. Filings for drug crime defendants have decreased 16 percent.
The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior Article III judges decreased 5 percent to 11,134 (down 620 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 declined 7 percent (down 338 trials) to 4,234. Forty-nine districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil nonjury trials fell by 136 trials to 2,678, with 42 districts reporting decreases. Civil jury trials dropped 11 percent (down 202 trials) to 1,556, with 47 districts reporting reductions.
Overall criminal trials decreased 4 percent to 6,900 (down 282 trials) as 50 district courts reported reductions in criminal trials. Criminal nonjury trials declined 3 percent to 5,158 (down 135 trials), with 50 district courts reporting lower numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials fell 8 percent to 1,742 (down 147 trials) as 51 district courts reported fewer trials of this type. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 62,245 felony defendants, down less than 1 percent from 62,468 in 2016.
In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 5,156 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, an increase of 6 percent (up 294 trials). These proceedings comprised 1,075 petty offense trials, 336 civil consent trials, 81 Class A misdemeanor trials, and 3,664 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. Judges also are heavily involved in case management efforts, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) activities, and settlement negotiations and consultations. This year, 51 districts operated ADR programs of some form, and 48 of these districts provided mediation or judge-hosted settlement conferences. The ADR programs affected more than 25,500 civil cases.
Since 2013, the total number of trials has fallen 15 percent. Civil trials have decreased 16 percent, and criminal trials have declined 14 percent. Civil and criminal trials lasting four days or longer dropped 7 percent this year to 1,971, but have fallen 14 percent since 2013.
Weighted Filings Methodology
The current weights were developed by the Federal Judicial Center in 2016. 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 for criminal proceedings are calculated on a per-defendant basis rather than a per-case basis. Weights are not applied in the district courts for the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, as the district judgeship positions in those courts are filled by 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, or that are directly filed in the same court that is managing a master multidistrict litigation (MDL) docket (which is known as the transferee court). Cases that stem from reopenings, remands, or transfers by order of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation are excluded.
Weighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship
Weighted filings statistics take into account the different amounts of time it takes a judge to resolve various types of civil and criminal actions. Weighted filings, which are adjustments to a court’s standard counts of civil and criminal filings, vary based on the mix of cases and the average judge time required to resolve the cases. Case types that on average are more time consuming for district judges to resolve receive weight values greater than 1.00, whereas case types that are less time consuming receive lower weights. For example, in the district court weighted filings system, each antitrust case is counted as 3.72 weighted cases, and each criminal fraud defendant is counted as 1.76 weighted cases, but a defaulted student loan case receives a weight of 0.16.
In 2017, weighted filings per authorized judgeship decreased by 14 to 475. Weighted civil case filings decreased from 355 to 341 (down 4 percent). Weighted criminal defendant filings held steady, rising from 130 to 131. Weighted supervised release hearings rose from 3.5 to 3.7 (up 6 percent).
Fifty-three of the 91 districts whose filings received weights reported declines in total weighted filings, 6 more than in 2016. Fifteen districts had decreases of 10 percent or more, versus 12 districts in 2016. Twelve districts had 600 or more weighted filings per authorized judgeship. For the district courts, whenever a judgeship vacancy of any duration exists in a district with weighted filings per authorized judgeship in excess of 600, the vacancy is defined as a judicial emergency.
Weighted civil filings dropped in 57 districts and grew in 34 districts. Four districts each had increases of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship: the District of Delaware, District of Minnesota, Southern District of Indiana, and Eastern District of Missouri. The growth in the District of Delaware arose from patent cases it received after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Food Group Brands LLC, 581 U.S. ___ (2017), that any patent infringement lawsuit against a corporation must be filed in the judicial district in which the defendant is incorporated. The growth in the other three districts stemmed from cases related to health care/pharmaceuticals and personal injury/product liability, many of them associated with multidistrict litigation, as well as from other personal injury cases. Weighted criminal filings decreased in 35 districts and rose in 56 districts. The increase in weighted criminal filings is partly due to cases involving firearms offenses. Thirty-four districts reported declines in weighted supervised release hearings and 57 reported increases.
Since 2013, unweighted filings (i.e., civil case filings, criminal defendant filings, and supervised release hearings of the types that would qualify to receive case weights) and weighted filings per authorized judgeship have both fallen 7 percent. Unweighted civil filings have decreased 6 percent because of declines in cases involving contract actions, foreclosures, intellectual property rights, personal injury/product liability, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and supplemental security income. Unweighted criminal filings have dropped 16 percent as a result of reductions in filings for defendants charged with crimes related to fraud, drugs, immigration, traffic, and money laundering.
For data on weighted filings and unweighted filings per authorized judgeship, see Table X-1A.