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Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics 2017

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, 2017.

  • In the U.S. courts of appeals, filings rose 10 percent.
  • The bankruptcy appellate panels reported that filings rose 1 percent.
  • Filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rose 11 percent.
  • In the U.S. district courts, filings of civil cases rose 6 percent, while filings for defendants charged with crimes dropped 5 percent.
  • The U.S. bankruptcy courts received 5 percent fewer petitions.
  • The number of persons under supervision by the federal probation system on March 31, 2017, was 1 percent lower than the total reported one year earlier.
  • The number of pretrial services cases activated in the past 12 months decreased 4 percent.

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals rose 10 percent to 58,951 (up 5,303 appeals). Most of this increase stemmed from higher filings of original proceedings and miscellaneous applications, which offset decreases in criminal appeals, appeals of administrative agency decisions, and bankruptcy appeals. Civil appeals remained nearly unchanged.

Civil appeals grew by 5 cases to 28,071.

  • U.S. prisoner petitions rose 18 percent.
  • Other U.S. civil appeals declined 7 percent.
  • Private prisoner petitions fell 4 percent, and other private civil appeals dropped 1 percent.

Criminal appeals decreased 16 percent to 10,355, largely because of reductions in appeals related to drug offenses (down 27 percent), immigration offenses (down 27 percent), and property offenses (down 14 percent).

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

Administrative agency appeals fell 6 percent to 6,463, mostly due to a 5 percent drop in appeals of decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

  • BIA appeals accounted for 82 percent of administrative agency appeals and constituted the largest category of administrative agency appeals filed in every circuit except the DC Circuit.

Original proceedings and miscellaneous applications jumped 138 percent to 13,391. The original proceedings were filed after the Supreme Court of the United States held in Welch v. United States that its earlier ruling in Johnson v. United States, which declared the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act to be unconstitutionally vague, applied retroactively, thereby allowing prisoners serving sentences enhanced under that clause to have their sentences vacated or remanded. When prisoners seek leave from the appellate courts to file successive habeas corpus petitions in the district courts, these petitions are docketed as original proceedings.

  • Eighty-seven percent of original proceedings and miscellaneous applications involved second or successive motions for writs of habeas corpus, and 10 percent involved writs of mandamus, writs of prohibition, or other extraordinary writs.
  • Of the 433 miscellaneous applications reported, class actions accounted for 53 percent of the total.

Bankruptcy appeals decreased 17 percent to 671.

Appeals Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2008 Since 2013 Since 2016
Total Filings 0.99 4.42 9.88
Criminal Appeals -17.52 -18.30 -15.64
Civil Appeals -6.64 -6.54 0.02
     U.S. Prisoner Petitions 6.21 0.40 17.81
     Other U.S. Civil -17.61 -7.44 -7.40
     Private Prisoner Petitions -16.48 -9.14 -4.00
     Other Private Civil 0.50 -6.90 -1.23
Bankruptcy Appeals -24.18 -26.59 -16.96
Administrative Agency Appeals -42.26 -21.46 -5.87
Original Proceedings and Miscellaneous Applications1 264.38 191.05 137.68
1 Beginning in March 2014, data include miscellaneous cases not included previously. 

Terminations of appeals increased 10 percent to 59,040. Pending appeals held steady, falling less than 1 percent to 40,815.

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

Bankruptcy Appellate Panels

The Bankruptcy appellate panels (BAPs) reported that total filings held steady, rising 1 percent (up 9 appeals) to 658. BAPs are units of the federal courts of appeals, and each BAP must be established by a federal judicial circuit. Five federal judicial circuits—the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits—have BAPs.

Filings rose by 31 appeals in the Ninth Circuit (up 7 percent). Filings fell by 9 appeals (down 14 percent) in the First Circuit, by 7 appeals (down 12 percent) in the Tenth Circuit, by 5 appeals (down 9 percent) in the Sixth Circuit, and by 1 appeal (down 3 percent) in the Eighth 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 11 percent to 1,926. 

  • The largest numeric increase was in appeals arising from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which climbed by 134 appeals to 680 (up 25 percent) and for the first time surpassed appeals arising from the U.S. district courts.
  • Appeals of decisions by the U.S. district courts decreased by 11 appeals to 548 (down 2 percent).
Federal Circuit Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2008 Since 2013 Since 2016
Total Filings 27 45 11
U.S. District Court Appeals 17 9 -2
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Appeals 1,183 411 25
U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board Appeals -42 8 6

Terminations of appeals rose 4 percent to 1,667 (up 63 appeals). The pending caseload increased by 259 appeals to 1,552 (up 20 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 grew by 13,598 (up 4 percent) to 367,937. Terminations rose by 12,173 (up 3 percent) to 362,628. The total for pending cases and defendants remained relatively stable, increasing by 5,242 (up 1 percent) to 447,077.

Civil Filings

Civil filings in the U.S. district courts grew 6 percent (up 17,524 cases) to 292,076.

Filings with the United States as defendant increased 56 percent to 56,987.

  • Prisoner petition filings climbed 160 percent (up 18,513 petitions) to 30,079. Motions to vacate sentence soared 260 percent (up 17,984 cases) after Welch v. United States established that Johnson v. United States applied retroactively and made prisoners serving sentence enhanced under an unconstitutional clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act eligible to have their sentences vacated or remanded.
  • Habeas corpus filings involving alien detainees rose 42 percent (up 404 cases). 
  • Social Security filings grew 8 percent to 19,295 as cases involving Social Security retirement and survivors benefits increased 41 percent (up 280 cases).

Federal question filings held steady, going up 1 percent to 151,418.

  • Prisoner petitions in this category rose 9 percent (up 3,654 petitions) as filings addressing prison conditions increased 36 percent (up 2,812 petitions).
  • Civil rights filings grew 3 percent (up 1,134 cases) as cases addressing claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (excluding employment cases) went up 26 percent (up 1,553 cases).
  • Cases related to environmental matters jumped 107 percent (up 819 cases). More than 400 cases involved the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and more than 180 cases addressed Volkswagen’s diesel engines alleged to contain software enabling vehicles to evade emissions regulations.
  • Personal property damage filings decreased 55 percent (down 1,567 cases).

Filings with the United States as plaintiff decreased 10 percent to 4,838. 

  • Cases addressing defaulted student loans declined 36 percent (down 441 cases).
  • Cases dealing with the drug-related seizure of property dropped 18 percent (down 111 cases).

Filings of cases involving diversity of citizenship (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states and/or between U.S. citizens and citizens of foreign nations) fell 5 percent to 78,820.

  • Personal property damage cases decreased 34 percent (down 1,531 cases).
Civil Case Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2008 Since 2013 Since 2016
Total Filings 19.0 7.4 6.4
Federal Question Cases 13.8 5.9 1.3
Diversity of Citizenship Cases 18.9 -2.9 -5.0
U.S. Defendant Cases 56.9 43.5 55.5
U.S. Plaintiff Cases -50.4 -53.1 -10.4

Civil case terminations increased 6 percent to 287,114. 

  • The Southern District of West Virginia terminated more than 13,888 cases. Most were part of multidistrict litigation related to pelvic repair products.
  • The Western District of Louisiana terminated more than 4,100 cases. Most were part of multidistrict litigation alleging that the diabetes drug Actos increased users’ risk of bladder cancer.

Pending civil cases grew 1 percent to 349,666. 

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 fell 5 percent (down 3,926 defendants) to 75,861.

Filings involving drug offenses, which accounted for 32 percent of total defendant filings, decreased 5 percent to 24,104.

  • Defendants charged with marijuana offenses dropped 14 percent to 4,580.
  • Defendants charged with crimes involving drugs other than marijuana fell 3 percent to 19,524.

Filings for defendants charged with immigration offenses, which constituted 27 percent of all criminal defendant filings, declined 2 percent to 20,602 (this total does not include defendants charged with immigration crimes in petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges).

  • Eighty percent of immigration defendant filings occurred in the five southwestern border districts. Immigration defendant filings within the southwestern border districts as a whole fell 3 percent.
  • Filings declined 11 percent in the District of New Mexico (after increasing 11 percent last year), decreased 7 percent in the Southern District of Texas (after rising 12 percent last year), and dropped 3 percent in the District of Arizona (after growing 3 percent last year).
  • Filings climbed 18 percent in the Southern District of California (after falling 27 percent last year) and grew 3 percent in the Western District of Texas (after decreasing 3 percent last year).

Filings associated with property offenses, which amounted to 13 percent of all defendant filings, fell 13 percent to 10,171.

  • Fraud defendants declined 15 percent to 7,138.

Defendant filings for firearms and explosives crimes climbed 5 percent to 8,904. Defendants charged with justice system offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings, such as obstruction of justice or failure to appear) rose 7 percent to 862.

Defendants accused of sex offenses decreased 8 percent to 3,163. Traffic offense filings dropped 10 percent to 2,189 (this total does not include defendants charged with traffic crimes in petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). Defendants charged with general offenses (e.g., public-order crimes such as money laundering) fell 14 percent to 1,626. 

Criminal Defendant Filings (Excluding Transfers)
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2008 Since 2013 Since 2016
Total Defendants Filed -15.6 -17.5 -4.9
Immigration Defendants 4.3 -15.9 -2
Property Defendants -36.5 -32 -13
Sex Offense Defendants 15.7 -5.2 -7.8
Drug Crime Defendants -17 -17.4 -5.3
Firearms and Explosives Defendants -4.1 6.6 5.2

Terminations for criminal defendants decreased 6 percent to 75,514. The number for defendants pending remained relatively stable at 97,411 (compared to 97,131 the previous year).

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 declined 5 percent to 794,492 (down 39,023 petitions). Of the 90 bankruptcy courts, 66 reported lower filings.

  • The largest percentage decrease was a 21 percent reduction in the Southern District of Florida.
  • The highest percentage increase was a 20 percent rise in the District of North Dakota, which occurred following a decline in oil exploration and production in that region in response to lower oil prices.

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

  • Chapter 7 filings decreased 7 percent to 488,417.
  • Chapter 11 filings decreased 4 percent to 7,105.
  • Chapter 13 filings decreased 1 percent to 298,348.
  • Chapter 12 filings grew 4 percent to 457.

Petitions filed by debtors with predominantly business debts declined 5 percent to 23,591. Debtors with consumer (i.e., largely nonbusiness) debts filed 770,901 petitions, 5 percent fewer than the previous year. Consumer cases accounted for 97 percent of all petitions.

Bankruptcy Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2008 Since 2013 Since 2016

Total Filings

14 -32 -5
Chapter 7 18 -39 -7
Chapter 11 37 -28 -4
Chapter 13 8 -16 -1

Terminations of bankruptcy cases fell 7 percent to 877,908. The number of cases pending on March 31 decreased 7 percent from the previous year’s total to 1,116,073.

Bankruptcy filings have dropped significantly 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 the 12-month period ending March 31, 2017, were 49 percent below the post-BAPCPA peak reached in 2011, but 14 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, 2017, filings of adversary proceedings decreased 13 percent to 27,932. Fifty-five 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 14 percent to 30,928. The number of pending adversary proceedings fell from the previous year to a total of 39,457.

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, 2017, fell 1 percent from the prior year to 136,296 (down 1,778 persons). Persons serving terms of supervised release on that date following release from a correctional institution decreased less than 1 percent to 117,703.

  • Eighty-six percent of persons under post-conviction supervision on March 31, 2017, were serving terms of supervised release, the same as one year earlier.
  • Thirteen 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, 2017, that involved probation imposed by district and magistrate judges dropped 7 percent from the previous year’s total to 17,395.

Persons on parole, special parole, military parole, and mandatory release on the last day of the reporting period declined 12 percent to 1,039.

The number of persons received for post-conviction supervision was 62,595, a decrease of 8 percent from the previous year.

Persons Under Post-Conviction Supervision
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2008 Since 2013 Since 2016
Total Under Supervision 15.2 3.0 -1.3
Serving Terms of Supervised Release 27.5 7.9 -0.3
On Probation -25.2 -19.1 -6.7
On Parole -59.7 -32.3 -12.4

Closings of post-conviction supervision cases (excluding transfers and deaths) rose 2 percent to 55,521 (up 875 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 2017, probation officers wrote 64,974 presentence reports, a reduction of less than 1 percent from the previous year.
  • Ninety-three 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 89,056, a decrease of 4 percent from 2016.

  • A total of 549 pretrial diversion cases were activated, a reduction of 15 percent from the previous year.
  • Defendants received for pretrial services supervision fell 4 percent to 23,338.
  • Defendants received for pretrial diversion supervision dropped 18 percent to 759. 
Pretrial Services Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2008 Since 2013 Since 2016
Total Cases Activated -8.7 -16.5 -4.3
Pretrial Services Cases Activated -7.7 -16.4 -4.2
Pretrial Diversion Cases Activated -65.3 -33.6 -14.8
Released on Supervision -28.4 -18.3 -4.0
Pretrial Supervision -27.5 -17.4 -3.4
Diversion Supervision -47 -38.6 -18.3

A total of 87,972 pretrial services cases were closed, a reduction of 4 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 49,953 defendants (down 3 percent) and prepared 86,161 pretrial services reports (down 4 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 4 percent to 25,599.

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