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Federal District Court Workload Increases in Fiscal Year 2011

Caseloads for fiscal year 2011 increased in the district courts and in the probation and pretrial services system, while falling slightly in the appellate and bankruptcy courts. The caseload statistics for FY 2011 can be found in the 2011 Judicial Business of the United States Courts, released today by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The Judiciary's fiscal year 2011 is the 12-month period ending September 30.

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Filings in the regional courts of appeals fell 1.5 percent to 55,126. Criminal appeals dropped 5 percent to 12,198, primarily because appeals related to non-marijuana drugs decreased as fewer prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses sought reductions of their sentences. Appeals of administrative agency decisions decreased 3 percent to 7,550.

Civil appeals held relatively steady, falling by 207 to 30,733. Original proceedings grew 5 percent to 3,962, and bankruptcy appeals rose 1 percent to 683.

Appeals involving pro se litigants, which accounted for 49 percent of appeals filed during FY 2011, declined by 66 to 27,143. More than half of all pro se appeals, 14,057, were filed by prisoners.

U.S. District Courts

Total civil and criminal filings in the district courts rose 2 percent to 367,692 in FY 2011.

Civil Filings

Civil case filings grew 2 percent for the second consecutive year, up 6,357 cases to 289,252. The increase was caused by a 2 percent rise in federal question cases – i.e. actions under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States in which neither the United States itself nor any of its agencies and offices is a party in the case. The growth in federal question filings stemmed from increases of 5 percent in civil rights cases, 15 percent in consumer credit filings and 11 percent in intellectual property cases. For example, civil rights filings related to the Americans with Disabilities Act rose 17 percent; intellectual property rights filings involving patents jumped 24 percent.

Filings with the United States as plaintiff increased 25 percent as cases concerning defaulted student loans surged 58 percent. Filings with the United States as defendant grew 5 percent, mainly due to a 12 percent rise in Social Security filings when supplemental security income filings and disability filings rose

Criminal Filings

Filings of criminal cases (including transfers) was largely unchanged (up 12 cases to 78,440) in FY 2011, but the number of criminal defendants rose 3 percent to set a new record of 102,931. Drug offenses continued to be the crimes most commonly prosecuted in the district courts, accounting for 31 percent of all defendant filings. Twenty-eight percent of all defendant filings were associated with immigration offenses. The number of defendants accused of immigration offenses declined for the first time since 2006, dropping 3 percent to 28,239. The number of defendants charged with fraud offenses rose 3 percent to 12,973 and the most notable increase was in defendants charged with attempt and conspiracy to defraud, which grew 34 percent to 2,239. Growth in filings also occurred for defendants charged with firearms and explosive offenses, sex offenses, property offenses, and general offenses.

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts

Bankruptcy filings fell 8 percent to 1,467,221 in fiscal year 2011. This was the first decline in filings since 2007, when filings fell dramatically after enactment of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. Eighty-seven of the 90 bankruptcy courts reported fewer filings in 2011. Only three courts reported increased filings: the District of Utah (up 6 percent), the Middle District of Louisiana (up 1 percent), and the Central District of California (also up 1 percent). Three districts had reductions of 20 percent or more: the Western District of New York (down 20 percent), the Southern District of West Virginia (down 24 percent), and the District of Vermont (down 26 percent.)

The total number of nonbusiness bankruptcy petitions decreased 8 percent in fiscal year 2011, and business petitions declined 14 percent. Filings dropped 10 percent under chapter 7, 16 percent under chapter 11, and 4 percent under chapter 13.

Federal Probation and Pretrial Services System

The number of persons under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2011, was 129,780, an increase of 2 percent over the total one year earlier. Persons serving terms of supervised release at the end of FY 2011, following release from a correctional institution, increased 2 percent over the prior year's total to reach 105,037, and accounted for 81 percent of all persons under supervision.

Forty-seven percent of persons under post-conviction supervision had been convicted of drug offenses, 22 percent had been convicted of property offenses, and 12 percent had been convicted of firearms offenses.  These percentages remained unchanged from 2010. The proportion of post-conviction cases terminated successfully remained unchanged at 71 percent.

The number of cases opened in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversion cases, totaled 113,875, 2 percent more than in 2010. In 39 percent of cases opened in 2011, the major offense involved immigration. In 29 percent of pretrial services cases, the major offense charged involved drugs. Cases involving property offenses represented 13 percent of pretrial services cases opened this year and cases involving firearms offenses represented 7 percent.

A total of 32,821 defendants were released with specified conditions such as pretrial services supervision or location monitoring.

Related Topics: Appellate Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, District Courts, Probation and Pretrial Services, Statistics