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Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics 2020

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. The following is a summary of key findings provided for the year ending March 31, 2020.

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals rose 5 percent to 50,258 (up 2,281 appeals) in 2020. This increase stemmed from higher filings of other private civil appeals and of criminal appeals, which more than offset decreases in U.S. prisoner petitions and private prisoner petitions.

Civil appeals increased by 732 cases to 27,500.

Criminal appeals grew 8 percent to 10,425, mainly because of a 19 percent increase in appeals related to drug offenses.

Appeals of administrative agency decisions rose 9 percent to 6,356, mostly due to growth in appeals of decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

Original proceedings and miscellaneous applications climbed 7 percent to 5,346.

Bankruptcy appeals declined 3 percent to 631.

Appeals Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2011 Since 2016 Since 2019
Total Filings -9.9 -6.3 4.8
Criminal Appeals -17.1 -15.1 7.5
Civil Appeals -10.9 -2.0 2.7
     U.S. Prisoner Petitions -14.3 -0.7 -8.6
     Other U.S. Civil -7.0 -0.5 3.1
     Private Prisoner Petitions -24.5 -13.2 -0.6
     Other Private Civil 1.8 6.3 9.5
Bankruptcy Appeals -8.0 -21.9 -3.2
Administrative Agency Appeals -17.3 -7.4 8.6
Original Proceedings and Miscellaneous Applications1 35.3 -5.1 6.7
1 Beginning in March 2014, data include miscellaneous cases not included previously. 

Case terminations rose 1 percent to 49,057. Pending cases increased 3 percent to 39,014.

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 decreased 11 percent to 527 (down 63 appeals). BAPs are units of the federal courts of appeals, and each BAP must be established by a circuit judicial council. Five federal judicial circuits—the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits—have BAPs.

This year, BAP filings fell in three circuits, increased in one circuit, and remained constant in one circuit. Filings dropped by 41 appeals (down 43 percent) in the Tenth Circuit, by 16 appeals (down 35 percent) in the Sixth Circuit, and by 9 appeals (down 13 percent) in the First Circuit. Filings grew by 3 appeals (up 9 percent) in the Eighth Circuit and were unchanged at 343 appeals in the Ninth 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 fell 3 percent to 1,435.

Federal Circuit Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2011 Since 2016 Since 2019
Total Filings 18.4 -17.3 -2.91
U.S. District Court Appeals -24.3 -41.5 -11.62
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Appeals 480.4 -2.2 -16.95
U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board Appeals -37.6 -45.0 -18.75

Terminations of appeals declined 2 percent to 1,595 (down 30 appeals). The pending caseload fell 12 percent to 1,231 (down 161 appeals).

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 in the U.S. district courts for civil cases and criminal defendants increased by 49,183 (up 13 percent) to 425,945. Terminations held steady, falling by 564 (down less than 1 percent) to 389,102. As filings exceeded terminations, the total for pending civil cases and criminal defendants rose by 36,419 (up 8 percent) to 511,666.

Civil Filings

Civil filings in the U.S. courts increased 16 percent (up 46,443 cases) to 332,732.

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) rose 49 percent to 140,812.

Filings with the United States as defendant increased 6 percent to 38,919.

Filings with the United States as plaintiff dropped 8 percent to 4,021.

Federal question filings decreased 1 percent to 148,976.

Civil case terminations declined 2 percent to 300,372.

Pending civil cases rose 9 percent to 397,492.

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

Civil Case Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2011 Since 2016 Since 2019
Total Filings 13.0 21.2 16.2
Federal Question Cases 5.7 -0.4 -1.3
Diversity of Citizenship Cases 30.3 69.7 49.5
U.S. Defendant Cases 8.6 6.2 5.8
U.S. Plaintiff Cases -57.8 -25.6 -7.8

 

Criminal Filings

Criminal defendant filings (including transfers) in the U.S district courts grew 3 percent (up 2,740 defendants) to 93,213.

Filings for defendants charged with immigration offenses, which constituted 36 percent of all criminal defendant filings, rose 11 percent to 33,663 (this total does not include defendants charged with immigration crimes in petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges).

Filings involving drug offenses, which accounted for 27 percent of total defendant filings, increased 1 percent to 25,466.

Defendants prosecuted for crimes in the category of general offenses (e.g., public-order crimes such as money laundering) increased 14 percent to 1,928. Filings for defendants accused of sex offenses remained relatively stable, decreasing less than 1 percent to 3,234. Defendant filings for firearms and explosives crimes dropped 3 percent to 12,122. Traffic offense filings fell 8 percent to 1,858 (this total does not include defendants charged with traffic crimes in petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges).

Filings associated with property offenses, which amounted to 10 percent of all defendant filings, fell 5 percent to 9,674.

Defendants charged with justice system offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings, such as obstruction of justice or failure to appear) went down 1 percent to 838.

Criminal Defendant Filings (Excluding Transfers)
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2011 Since 2016 Since 2019
Total Defendant Filings -9.9 16.9 3.1
Immigration Offense Defendants 14.0 60.2 11.4
Drug Crime Defendants -17.3 0.0 1.4
Firearms and Explosives Crime Defendants 42.1 43.2 -3.2
Sex Offense Defendants -0.1 -5.7 -0.4
Property Crime Defendants -46.2 -17.3 -4.9

Terminations for criminal defendants increased 8 percent to 88,730. The number for defendants pending rose 4 percent to 114,174.

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 1 percent to 764,282 (down 8,364 petitions). Of the 90 bankruptcy courts, 54 reported lower filings.

Fewer petitions were filed under chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code. More petitions were filed under chapters 7, 9, 11, 12, and 15.

Petitions filed by debtors with predominantly business debts rose 4 percent to 23,114. Debtors with nonbusiness (i.e., largely consumer) debts filed 741,168 petitions, 1 percent fewer than the previous year. Nonbusiness cases accounted for 97 percent of all petitions.

Bankruptcy Court Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2011 Since 2016 Since 2019

Total Filings

-51.4 -8.3 -1.1
Chapter 7 -57.2 -8.4 0.4
Chapter 11 -46.8 -6.0 0.7
Chapter 13 -36.8 -8.2 -3.7

Terminations of bankruptcy cases fell 1 percent to 788,373. The number of cases pending on March 31 decreased 2 percent from the previous year’s total to 989,129.

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 nine years, filings have declined. Total filings for 2020 are 51 percent below the post-BAPCPA peak reached in 2011, but 10 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 whether debt is dischargeable. Adversary proceedings may be associated with consumer bankruptcy cases, but most arise in cases filed under chapter 11. Because of time limits imposed by Section 546 of the bankruptcy code, the number of adversary proceedings filed usually is related to the number of chapter 11 cases filed two years earlier.

During the 12-month period ending March 31, 2020, the number of adversary proceedings filed rose 4 percent to 24,492. Thirty-four of the 90 bankruptcy courts experienced increases in filings during this reporting period, 55 bankruptcy courts reported declines in filings, and filings in 1 district remained unchanged. The growth in filings of adversary proceedings occurred despite the overall drop in bankruptcy filings.

The number of adversary proceedings terminated fell 5 percent to 23,766. The number of pending adversary proceedings rose 6 percent from the previous year to 24,427.

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, 2020, fell 1 percent from the prior year to 126,875 (down 1,245 persons). Persons serving terms of supervised release on that date following release from a correctional institution remained relatively steady, decreasing less than 1 percent to 111,710.

Cases remaining open on March 31, 2020, that involved probation imposed by district and magistrate judges dropped 7 percent from the previous year’s total to 14,063.

Persons on parole, special parole, military parole, and mandatory release on the last day of the reporting period declined 6 percent to 837.

Persons Under Post-Conviction Supervision
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2011 Since 2016 Since 2019
Total Under Supervision -1.7 -8.1 -1.0
Serving Terms of Supervised Release 7.1 -5.4 -0.2
On Probation -38.0 -24.6 -7.4
On Parole -57.3 -29.4 -6.3

The number of persons received for post-conviction supervision was 62,721, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year.

Closings of post-conviction supervision cases (excluding transfers and deaths) dropped 1 percent to 54,957 (down 577 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.

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 109,036, an increase of 5 percent from 2019.

The number of defendants received for supervision in the pretrial services system was 26,598, 7 percent above the number received in 2019.

A total of 100,190 pretrial services cases were closed, an increase of 7 percent.

Pretrial Services Filings
Percent Change Over Time
  Since 2011 Since 2016 Since 2019
Total Cases Activated -4.0 16.9 4.7
Pretrial Services Cases Activated -3.6 17.2 4.7
Pretrial Diversion Cases Activated -56.1 -32.3 -4.2
Released on Supervision -12.9 9.5 7.0
Pretrial Supervision -11.2 11.0 7.3
Diversion Supervision -51.1 -30.4 -2.6

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.

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.

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