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Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics 2015

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 604(a)(2), each year the Administrative Office of the United States Courts is required to provide a report of statistical information on the caseload of the federal courts for the 12-month period ending March 31. 

This report presents data on the work of the appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts and on the probation and pretrial services systems. Below is a summary of key findings provided for the year ending March 31, 2015.

  • In the U.S. courts of appeals, filings declined 2.5 percent.
  • Filings for the Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) fell 11 percent.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had a 21 percent increase in filings.
  • In the U.S. district courts, filings of civil cases dropped 7 percent, and filings for defendants charged with crimes decreased 8 percent.
  • The U.S. bankruptcy courts had a 12 percent reduction in petitions filed.
  • The number of persons under supervision by the federal probation system on March 31, 2015, was 1 percent higher than the total reported one year earlier.
  • The number of pretrial services cases activated in the past 12 months declined 9 percent.

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals fell by 1,379 to 54,244 (down 2.5 percent). Criminal appeals, appeals of administrative agency decisions, and original and other proceedings all had declines in filings. Civil appeals remained essentially stable, increasing only slightly. Filings of bankruptcy appeals showed growth.

Criminal appeals fell 7 percent to 10,654. This decrease resulted mainly from an 11 percent decline in appeals related to drug offenses.

  • Seventy-five percent of criminal appeals involved four offense categories: drugs, immigration, firearms and explosives, and property offenses (including fraud).

Civil appeals went up by 151 filings to 30,223.

  • Prisoner petitions decreased 3 percent, but all other civil appeals increased 4 percent.
Appeals Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2006 Since 2011 Since 2014
Total Filings -22.9 -2.7 -2.5
Civil Appeals -7.9 -2.0 0.5
Criminal Appeals -34.2 -15.3 -6.8
U.S. Prisoner Petitions -24.4 3.2 -5.6
Other U.S. Civil -8.0 -1.1 4.4
Private Prisoner Petitions -9.9 -11.5 -1.3
Other Private Civil 2.4 4.2 3.6
Bankruptcy Appeals 1.8 24.3 7.4
Administrative Agency Appeals -50.4 -7.2 -5.0
Original and Other Proceedings1 -12.7 36.1 -7.5
1 On January 1, 2014, the category of Original and Other Proceedings replaced the category of Original Proceedings and includes miscellaneous cases previously excluded.

Administrative agency appeals fell 5 percent to 7,137, largely because of a 10 percent reduction in appeals of decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

  • BIA appeals accounted for 84 percent of administrative agency appeals and constituted the largest category of administrative agency appeals in each circuit except the DC Circuit.

Original and other proceedings fell 7 percent to 5,377.

  • Sixty-three percent of original and other proceedings involved second or successive motions for writs of habeas corpus, 25 percent involved writs of mandamus, and 10 percent were miscellaneous cases.
  • Of the 549 miscellaneous cases reported, class actions accounted for 41 percent of the total.

Bankruptcy appeals grew 7 percent to 853.

Terminations of appeals decreased 3 percent to 54,756. Pending appeals fell 1 percent to 41,112.

For data on activity of the appellate courts, see the B series of tables.

Bankruptcy Appellate Panels

The Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) reported that filings decreased 11 percent to 815 (down 99 appeals). Filings fell in four of the five circuits with BAPs. One circuit had an increase in filings.

Filings dropped by 65 appeals (down 10 percent) in the Ninth Circuit, by 30 appeals (down 31 percent) in the Tenth Circuit, by 7 appeals (down 11 percent) in the Eighth Circuit, and by 2 appeals (down 3 percent) in the Sixth Circuit.

Filings grew by 5 appeals in the First Circuit (up 7 percent).

For data on activity of the BAPs, see Tables BAP-1 and BAP-2.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit climbed 21 percent to 1,631.

  • Appeals arising from the Patent & Trademark Office had the largest numeric increase, a rise of 156 appeals to 317 (up 97 percent).
  • Appeals of decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims had the largest numeric decrease, a drop of 14 appeals to 131 (down 10 percent).

Terminations of appeals increased by 124 appeals to 1,469 (up 9 percent). The pending caseload grew by 162 appeals to 1,161 (up by 16 percent).

For data on activity of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, see Table B-8.

Federal Circuit Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2006 Since 2011 Since 2014
Total Filings 1.1 34.6 20.8
U.S. District Court Appeals 18.9 37.0 6.5
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Appeals 373.1 244.6 96.9
U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board Appeals -50.2 26.3 34.5

U.S. District Courts

Combined filings for civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts decreased by 28,836 (down 7 percent) to 361,689. Terminations once again held steady, declining by 2,634 (down less than 1 percent) to 347,828. Because filings exceeded terminations, the total for pending cases and defendants rose by 12,268 (up 3 percent) to 438,808.

Civil Filings

Civil filings in the U.S. district courts declined 7 percent (down 22,212 cases) to 281,608. This reduction happened mainly because diversity of citizenship filings (i.e., cases between citizens of different states) fell 17 percent to 87,772.

  • Diversity of citizenship filings involving personal injury/product liability decreased 38 percent to 40,697.
  • In the Southern District of West Virginia, filings dropped 47 percent (down 19,217 cases). Last year, that district had received more than 25,000 multidistrict litigation cases related to pelvic repair system products.

Federal question filings remained relatively stable, decreasing 1 percent to 150,157.

  • Prisoner petitions fell 8 percent (down by 3,949 petitions) to 44,457 as prison condition cases decreased 29 percent (down by 3,788 petitions). A single Arizona state prison inmate had filed more than 5,400 petitions last year in the District of Arizona and in the Middle District of Tennessee, but a court order subsequently restricted that petitioner’s filings.
  • Prisoner civil rights petitions increased 2 percent to 17,558.
  • Contract filings declined 28 percent to 4,889 as insurance filings fell 53 percent (down 1,893 cases).
  • Cases involving environmental matters dropped 73 percent (down 865 cases) to 316.
  • Antitrust filings decreased 27 percent (down 233 cases) to 602.

Filings of cases with the United States as plaintiff dropped 13 percent (down 937 cases) to 6,325.

  • Cases addressing defaulted student loans decreased 21 percent to 1,442.
  • Cases filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dropped 30 percent to 158.

Filings of cases with the United States as defendant declined 5 percent to 37,349.

  • Prisoner petitions fell 12 percent to 11,157. Petitions related to motions to vacate sentence declined 14 percent to 6,504, and prisoner civil rights petitions dropped 21 percent to 916.
Civil Case Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2006 Since 2011 Since 2014
Total Filings 15.4 -4.3 -7.3
Federal Question Cases 11.6 6.6 -1.0
Diversity of Citizenship Cases 41.1 -18.8 -16.8
U.S. Defendant Cases -0.4 4.2 -5.4
U.S. Plaintiff Cases -35.5 -33.7 -12.9

Civil case terminations remained relatively stable, increasing 1 percent to 264,124.

  • More than 5,900 cases were terminated in the Southern District of Illinois, most of them multidistrict litigation actions related to Yasmin & Yaz oral contraceptives and Pradaxa anticoagulants.
  • The Southern District of West Virginia terminated more 3,600 multidistrict litigation cases related to pelvic repair systems.

Pending civil cases increased 5 percent to 340,925.

For data on activity related to civil cases in the district courts, see the C series of tables.

Criminal Filings

Filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) in the U.S. district courts declined 8 percent (down 6,624 defendants) to 80,081.

Filings involving drug offenses, which accounted for 31 percent of total defendant filings, fell 9 percent to 24,800.

  • Defendants charged with marijuana offenses decreased 9 percent to 5,758.
  • Defendants charged with crimes involving drugs other than marijuana dropped 9 percent to 18,958.
Criminal Defendant Filings (Excluding Transfers)
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2006 Since 2011 Since 2014
Total Defendants Filed -12.2 -22.7 -7.6
Immigration Defendants 16.8 -28.3 -8.2
Property Defendants -17.9 -28.4 -6.6
Sex Offense Defendants 70.4 2.1 -4.6
Drug Defendants -22.4 -19.5 -9.3
Firearms and Explosives Defendants -25.2 -11.9 -7.5

Defendants charged with immigration offenses, which constituted 27 percent of all criminal defendant filings, declined 8 percent to 21,174.

  • Seventy-eight percent of immigration defendant filings occurred in the five southwestern border districts. Filings decreased 14 percent in the Southern District of California, 9 percent in the Western District of Texas, and 8 percent in both the District of Arizona and the Southern District of Texas.
  • Filings increased 13 percent in the District of New Mexico.

Defendants charged with property offenses, which amounted to 16 percent of all defendant filings, fell 7 percent to 12,894.

  • Fraud defendants declined 6 percent to 8,986.

Defendant filings for firearms and explosives offenses dropped 8 percent to 7,520. Defendant filings for sex crimes fell 5 percent to 3,306. Defendants charged with general offenses (i.e., public-order crimes such as money laundering) declined 11 percent to 1,857. Regulatory offense filings went down 22 percent to 1,620.

Traffic offense filings grew 6 percent to 3,049 (this total does not include defendants charged with traffic crimes in petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). Defendants charged with violent crimes remained stable (up 19 defendants). Defendants charged with justice system offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings, such as obstruction of justice or failure to appear) increased 2 percent to 876.

Terminations for criminal defendants dropped 7 percent to 83,704. As terminations exceeded filings, the number of defendants pending declined 5 percent to 97,883.

For data on activity related to criminal defendants in the district courts, see the D series of tables.

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts

Filings of bankruptcy petitions decreased 12 percent to 911,086 (down 127,194 petitions). Of the 90 bankruptcy courts, 89 reported declines in filings.

  • The sole increase was reported by the Middle District of Alabama (up 2 percent).
  • The largest percentage decreases were reported by the Eastern and Northern Districts of California (filings were down 25 percent in both districts).

Fewer petitions were filed under each major chapter of the bankruptcy code.

  • Chapter 7 filings dropped 15 percent to 596,867.
  • Chapter 13 filings fell 7 percent to 306,729.
  • Chapter 11 filings decreased 18 percent to 7,053.

Petitions filed by debtors with predominantly business debts declined 17 percent to 26,130. Debtors with predominantly nonbusiness (i.e., largely consumer) debts filed 884,956 petitions, 12 percent fewer than the previous year. Consumer cases accounted for 97 percent of all petitions.

Terminations of bankruptcy cases fell 9 percent to 1,049,457. Because terminations exceeded filings, the number of cases pending on March 31 dropped 9 percent from the previous year’s total to 1,322,457.

Bankruptcy Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2006 Since 2011 Since 2014
Total Filings -49.2 -42.0 -12.3
Chapter 7 -58.3 -46.6 -14.7
Chapter 11 8.6 -46.0 -17.6
Chapter 13 -13.8 -30.1 -6.8

After the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) took effect in October 2005, bankruptcy filings dropped sharply. In the 12 months ending March 31, 2007, the courts received 695,575 petitions. Thereafter, filings increased every year until 2011, when 1,571,183 petitions were filed. In each of the last four years, filings have declined. As a result, the 2015 filings are 42 percent below the post-BAPCPA peak reached in 2011, but 31 percent above the 2007 filing level.

For data on the activity of the bankruptcy courts, see the F series of tables.

Adversary Proceedings

Adversary proceedings are separate civil lawsuits that arise in bankruptcy cases, including actions to object to or revoke discharges, to obtain injunctions or other equitable relief, and to determine the dischargeability of debt. Adversary proceedings may be associated with consumer bankruptcy cases, but most arise in cases filed under chapter 11. They generally reflect the level of chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions filed two years earlier.

During the 12-month period ending March 31, 2015, filings of adversary proceedings decreased 16 percent to 34,369.

Sixty-six of the 90 bankruptcy courts experienced declines in filings during this reporting period. The reductions were attributed to the overall drop in bankruptcy filings.

Terminations of adversary proceedings dropped 19 percent to 39,164. Pending adversary proceedings fell 9 percent to 48,254.

For data on adversary proceedings filed in the bankruptcy courts, see Table F-8.

Post-Conviction Supervision

The number of persons under post-conviction supervision as of March 31, 2015, rose more than 1 percent from the prior year to 133,452 (up 1,625 persons). Persons serving terms of supervised release on that date following release from a correctional institution increased more than 2 percent to 112,593.

  • Eighty-four percent of persons under post-conviction supervision on March 31, 2015, were serving terms of supervised release, the same as one year earlier.
  • Fourteen percent of persons under post-conviction supervision were under supervision following the imposition of sentences of probation, and 1 percent were on parole.
Persons Under Post-Conviction Supervision
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2006 Since 2011 Since 2014
Total Under Supervision 17.8 3.4 1.2
Serving Terms of Supervised Release 33.7 7.9 2.3
On Probation -24.7 -14.8 -4.2
On Parole -56.5 -32.0 -4.0

Cases remaining open on March 31, 2015, that involved probation imposed by district and magistrate judges decreased 4 percent from the previous year’s total to 19,306.

Persons on parole, special parole, military parole, and mandatory release on the last day of the reporting period declined 4 percent to 1,332.

The number of persons received for post-conviction supervision was 62,990, a decrease of less than 1 percent from the previous year.

Closings of post-conviction supervision cases (excluding transfers and deaths) fell more than 3 percent to 53,549 (down 1,946 cases).

In addition to their supervision duties, probation officers conduct investigations and prepare comprehensive reports to aid judges in sentencing convicted defendants. The officers’ presentence reports contain detailed background information on defendants and discuss issues related to the advisory sentencing guidelines.

  • In 2015, probation officers wrote 67,376 presentence reports, a 7 percent decrease.
  • Ninety-four percent of the presentence reports addressed offenses for which the U.S. Sentencing Commission has promulgated sentencing guidelines.

For data on post-conviction supervision activity, see the E series of tables.

Pretrial Services

The number of cases opened in the pretrial services system equaled 96,017, a decrease of 9 percent from 2014.

  • A total of 786 pretrial diversion cases were activated, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year.
  • Defendants received for pretrial services supervision fell 8 percent to 24,760.
  • Defendants received for pretrial diversion supervision rose 8 percent to 1,086.

A total of 99,258 pretrial services cases were closed, a 7 percent reduction.

Pretrial services officers prepare reports for judges to use in determining whether to order the release or detention of defendants. They also provide information judges use in establishing appropriate conditions for released defendants.

  • Pretrial services officers interviewed 49,482 defendants (down 10 percent) and prepared 93,005 pretrial services reports (down 9 percent).
Pretrial Services Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2006 Since 2011 Since 2014
Total Cases Activated -3.2 -15.1 -9.0
Pretrial Services Cases Activated -2.3 -15.1 -9.2
Reports -2.8 -15.1 -9.0
Pretrial Diversion Cases Activated -54.4 -20.8 11.5
Released on Supervision -29.3 -18.9 -8.3
Pretrial Supervision -28.8 -19.0 -9.0
Diversion Supervision -37.9 -17.0 8.0

For persons under pretrial supervision, officers monitored their compliance with release conditions set by the courts, made referrals for support services that offer alternatives to detention (such as substance abuse treatment), and informed the courts and U.S. attorneys of apparent violations of release conditions.

  • Defendants with release conditions dropped 9 percent to 26,894.

For data on pretrial services activity, see the H series of tables.