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Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics 2016

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, 2016.

  • In the U.S. courts of appeals, filings held steady, dropping 1 percent.
  • The bankruptcy appellate panels reported a 20 percent reduction in filings.
  • Filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit grew 6 percent.
  • In the U.S. district courts, filings of civil cases decreased 2.5 percent, while filings for defendants charged with crimes fell less than 1 percent.
  • The U.S. bankruptcy courts received 9 percent fewer petitions.
  • The number of persons under supervision by the federal probation system on March 31, 2015, was 3 percent higher than the total reported one year earlier.
  • The number of pretrial services cases activated in the past 12 months dropped 3 percent.

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals remained relatively stable, falling by 595 to 53,649 (down 1 percent). Civil appeals, appeals of administrative agency decisions, and bankruptcy appeals all had declines in filings. Increases occurred in filings of criminal appeals and of original proceedings and miscellaneous applications.

Civil appeals dropped by 2,157 filings (down 7 percent) to 28,066.

  • Prisoner petitions decreased 7 percent.
  • Civil appeals not filed by prisoners declined 8 percent.

Criminal appeals increased 15 percent to 12,275. This growth resulted from a 45 percent rise in appeals by persons convicted of drug offenses, most of them seeking reductions in their sentences following the implementation of the United States Sentencing Commission’s Amendment 782, which adjusted by two levels the Drug Quantity Table used for sentencing pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3582(c).

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

Administrative agency appeals fell 4 percent to 6,866, largely because of a 7 percent reduction in appeals of decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

  • BIA appeals accounted for 81 percent of administrative agency appeals and constituted the largest category of administrative agency appeals filed in each circuit except the D.C. Circuit.

Original proceedings and miscellaneous applications went up 5 percent to 5,634.

  • Sixty-seven percent of filings in the original proceedings and miscellaneous applications category involved second or successive motions for writs of habeas corpus, 21 percent involved writs of mandamus, and 10 percent were miscellaneous cases.
  • Of the 583 miscellaneous applications reported, class actions accounted for 56 percent of the total.

Bankruptcy appeals decreased 5 percent to 808.

Appeals Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2007 Since 2012 Since 2015
Total Filings -11.57 -5.25 -1.10
Criminal Appeals -12.91 -5.90 15.21
Civil Appeals -9.12 -8.78 -7.14
     U.S. Prisoner Petitions -14.98 -13.06 -16.34
     Other U.S. Civil -8.46 -5.99 -5.44
     Private Prisoner Petitions -12.98 -9.88 -1.73
     Other Private Civil -3.47 -6.87 -8.12
Bankruptcy Appeals 3.46 11.91 -5.28
Administrative Agency Appeals -38.62 -16.15 -3.80
Original Proceedings and Miscellaneous Applications1 51.25 44.39 4.78
1 Beginning in March 2014, data include miscellaneous cases not included previously. 

Terminations of appeals decreased 2 percent to 53,673. Pending appeals remained relatively unchanged, falling less than 1 percent to 40,922.

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 20 percent to 649 (down 166 appeals). Filings fell in all five circuits with BAPs. The BAPs are units of the federal courts of appeals, and each BAP must be established by a circuit council.

Filings dropped by 125 appeals (down 22 percent) in the Ninth Circuit, by 18 appeals (down 32 percent) in the Eight Circuit, by 8 appeals (down 12 percent) in the Tenth Circuit, by 8 appeals (down 11 percent) in the First Circuit, and by 7 appeals (down 11 percent) in the Sixth Circuit.

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

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit grew 6 percent to 1,736.

  • Appeals arising from the United States Patent and Trademark Office had the largest numeric increase, a rise of 229 appeals to 546 (up 72 percent).
  • Appeals of decisions by the U.S. district courts had the largest numeric decrease, a drop of 33 appeals to 559 (down 6 percent).
Federal Circuit Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2007 Since 2012 Since 2015
Total Filings 3 28 6
U.S. District Court Appeals 24 18 -6
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Appeals 825 296 72
U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board Appeals -46 -11 -10

Terminations of appeals increased by 135 appeals to 1,604 (up 9 percent). The pending caseload rose by 132 appeals to 1,293 (up 11 percent).

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

U.S. District Courts

Combined filings for civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts decreased by 7,350 (down 2 percent) to 354,339. Terminations held steady, rising by 2,627 (up less than 1 percent) to 350,455. The total for pending cases and defendants remained fairly stable, growing by 3,285 (up less than 1 percent) to 441,846.

Civil Filings

Civil filings in the U.S. district courts fell 2.5 percent (down 7,056 cases) to 274,552.

Diversity of citizenship filings (i.e., cases between citizens of different states) declined 5 percent to 82,990.

  • Diversity of citizenship filings involving personal injury/product liability decreased 5 percent to 38,652.
  • Driving this overall decline was a reduction of more than 3,500 multidistrict litigation cases involving personal injury/product liability in the Southern District of West Virginia. The previous year, that district had received more than 21,000 such cases alleging injuries from pelvic repair system products.

Federal question filings remained relatively stable, decreasing less than 1 percent to 149,509.

  • Personal injury/product liability cases dropped 40 percent to 40,139 (down 987 cases) in response to lower filings of asbestos cases (down 464 cases) and other product liability cases (down 426 cases).
  • Contract filings declined 17 percent to 4,058 as insurance cases fell 34 percent (down 574 cases).
  • Intellectual property rights filings fell 4 percent to 13,257, mainly due to a 17 percent reduction in trademark cases (down 644 cases).

Filings of cases with the United States as defendant decreased 2 percent to 36,641.

  • Social Security filings went down 7 percent to 17,931 as supplemental security income cases dropped 11 percent.

Filings with the United States as plaintiff fell 15 percent to 5,401.

  • Forfeiture and penalty cases dropped 34 percent (down 592 cases), largely in response to declines in other forfeiture and penalty suits (down 345 cases) and cases addressing the drug-related seizure of property (down 246 cases).
  • Cases involving defaulted student loans decreased 16 percent to 1,212.
Civil Case Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2007 Since 2012 Since 2015
Total Filings 6.6 -1.4 -2.5
Federal Question Cases 5.6 4.5 -0.4
Diversity of Citizenship Cases -10.3 -13.2 -5.4
U.S. Defendant Cases 4.7 0.9 -1.9
U.S. Plaintiff Cases -41.1 -47.6 -14.6

Civil case terminations increased 2 percent to 270,515.

  • The Southern District of West Virginia terminated more than 8,400 multidistrict litigation cases related to pelvic repair system products.

Pending civil cases grew 1 percent to 344,715.

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 remained stable, falling less than 1 percent (down 294 defendants) to 79,787.

Filings involving drug offenses, which accounted for 32 percent of total defendant filings, increased 3 percent to 25,454.

  • Defendants charged with marijuana offenses dropped 7 percent to 5,347.
  • Defendants charged with crimes involving drugs other than marijuana rose 6 percent to 20,000.

Defendants charged with immigration offenses, which constituted 26 percent of all criminal defendant filings, declined less than 1 percent to 21,016.

  • Eighty percent of immigration defendant filings occurred in the five southwestern border districts.
  • Filings decreased 27 percent in the Southern District of California and 3 percent in the Western District of Texas.
  • Filings grew 12 percent in the Southern District of Texas, 11 percent in the District of New Mexico, and 3 percent in the District of Arizona.

Filings associated with property offenses, which amounted to 15 percent of all defendant filings, fell 9 percent to 11,697.

  • Fraud defendants declined 7 percent to 8,392.

Defendant filings for firearms and explosives crimes climbed 13 percent to 8,466. Defendants accused of sex offenses rose 4 percent to 3,430. Defendants charged with general offenses (i.e., public-order crimes such as money laundering) increased 2 percent to 1,897.

Traffic offense filings decreased 21 percent to 2,423 (this total does not include defendants charged with traffic crimes in petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). Defendants charged with justice system offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings, such as obstruction of justice or failure to appear) fell 8 percent to 804.

Criminal Defendant Filings (Excluding Transfers)
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2007 Since 2012 Since 2015
Total Defendants Filed -8.5 -19.5 -0.4
Immigration Defendants 23.8 -20.9 -0.7
Property Defendants -25.7 -28.8 -9.3
Sex Offense Defendants 59.1 -1.4 3.8
Drug Defendants -15.7 -19.8 2.6
Firearms and Explosives Defendants -11.7 -3.9 12.6

Terminations for criminal defendants dropped 5 percent to 79,940. As terminations slightly exceeded filings, the number for defendants pending declined 1 percent to 97,131.

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 fell 9 percent to 833,515 (down 77,571 petitions). Of the 90 bankruptcy courts, 84 reported declines in filings.

  • The largest percentage decrease was a 20 percent reduction in the Southern District of Florida.
  • Percentage increases were reported by the  District of Alaska (up 6 percent), Northern District of Alabama (up 4 percent), Southern District of Mississippi (up 3 percent), Middle District of Alabama (up 2 percent), Southern District of Alabama (up 2 percent), and Western District of Virginia (up 1 percent).

Fewer petitions were filed under chapters 7 and 13 of the bankruptcy code. More petitions were filed under chapters 11 and 12.

  • Chapter 7 filings dropped 12 percent to 523,394.
  • Chapter 13 filings fell 1 percent to 302,193
  • Chapter 11 filings rose 5 percent to 7,380.
  • Chapter 12 filings increased 25 percent to 440.

Petitions filed by debtors with predominantly business debts declined 5 percent to 24,797. Debtors with predominantly nonbusiness (i.e., consumer) debts filed 808,718 petitions, 9 percent fewer than the previous year. Consumer cases accounted for 97 percent of all petitions.

Bankruptcy Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2007 Since 2012 Since 2015

Total Filings

-54 -47 -9
Chapter 7 -64 -53 -12
Chapter 11 14 -44 5
Chapter 13 -15 -31 -2

Terminations of bankruptcy cases fell 10 percent to 947,587. Because terminations exceeded filings, the number of cases pending on March 31 dropped 9 percent from the previous year’s total to 1,208,606.

Bankruptcy filings have fluctuated since the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) took effect in October 2005. The courts received 695,575 petitions in the 12 months ending March 31, 2007. Thereafter, filings increased every year until 2011, when 1,571,183 petitions were filed. In each of the last five years, filings have declined. Total filings for 2016 are 47 percent below the post-BAPCPA peak reached in 2011, but 20 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, 2016, filings of adversary proceedings decreased 6 percent to 32,227. Fifty-nine 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 8 percent to 35,910. Pending adversary proceedings fell 8 percent to 44,687.

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, 2016, rose 3 percent from the prior year to 138,074 (up 4,622 persons). Persons serving terms of supervised release on that date following release from a correctional institution increased 5 percent to 118,099.

  • Eighty-six percent of persons under post-conviction supervision on March 31, 2016, were serving terms of supervised release, up from 84 percent 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.

Cases remaining open on March 31, 2016, that involved probation imposed by district and magistrate judges decreased 3 percent from the previous year’s total to 18,643.

Persons on parole, special parole, military parole, and mandatory release on the last day of the reporting period declined 11 percent to 1,186.

The number of persons received for post-conviction supervision was 67,911, an increase of 9 percent from the previous year.

Persons Under Post-Conviction Supervision
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2007 Since 2012 Since 2015
Total Under Supervision 20.1 4.3 3.5
Serving Terms of Supervised Release 35.0 9.4 4.9
On Probation -24.2 -17.1 -3.4
On Parole -57.1 -30.8 -11.0

Closings of post-conviction supervision cases (excluding transfers and deaths) rose 2 percent to 54,646 (up 1,097 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 2016, probation officers wrote 65,021 presentence reports, a 3 percent decrease from the previous year.
  • Ninety-two 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 93,005, a decrease of 3 percent from 2015.

  • A total of 644 pretrial diversion cases were activated, a drop of 18 percent from the previous year.
  • Defendants received for pretrial services supervision fell 2 percent to 24,301.
  • Defendants received for pretrial diversion supervision dropped 14 percent to 929. 
Pretrial Services Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2007 Since 2012 Since 2015
Total Cases Activated -2.1 -16.7 -3.3
Pretrial Services Cases Activated -1.1 -16.6 -3.1
Pretrial Diversion Cases Activated -59.0 -30.5 -18.1
Released on Supervision -25.9 -19.1 -1.9
Pretrial Supervision -25.4 -18.6 -1.3
Diversion Supervision -37.7 -30.1 -14.5

​A total of 91,676 pretrial services cases were closed, a reduction of 8 percent.

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 51,717 defendants (up 5 percent) and prepared 90,050 pretrial services reports (down 3 percent).

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 1 percent to 26,583.

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