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U.S. Courts of Appeals - Judicial Business 2013

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals fell 2 percent to 56,475. Decreases occurred in filings of criminal appeals, appeals of administrative agency decisions, and civil appeals. Growth was reported for prisoner petitions, bankruptcy appeals, and original proceedings.

Appeals arising from district courts dropped 4 percent to 42,175. Criminal appeals decreased 13 percent to 11,924, primarily because appeals related to non-marijuana drugs declined 27 percent. Such appeals had jumped 42 percent in 2012 as prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses became eligible to seek reductions of their sentences under a 2011 federal sentencing guidelines amendment. Appeals involving regulatory offenses and traffic offenses rose. Reductions occurred in appeals involving violent crimes, property offenses, firearms and explosives, drugs, sex offenses, justice systems offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings, such as obstruction of justice and failure to appear), immigration offenses, and general offenses (i.e., public-order crimes, such as money laundering). Civil appeals dropped by 108 cases to 30,251. Prisoner petitions rose by 11 appeals. Appeals by nonprisoners fell 1 percent. Appeals based on diversity of citizenship (i.e., cases between citizens of different states) decreased by 11 appeals.

Administrative agency appeals declined 1 percent to 8,287. Appeals challenging decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals rose 3 percent to 7,225; of these, 54 percent were filed in the Ninth Circuit and 17 percent in the Second Circuit.

Original proceedings commenced in the courts of appeals jumped 20 percent to 5,106.  This increase occurred because of a 27 percent rise in second or successive motions filed by juvenile offenders in response to Miller v. Alabama (567 U.S. ___ ) (2012), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that imposing mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment and thus violates the Eighth Amendment. Bankruptcy appeals climbed 12 percent to 907.

Appeals involving pro se litigants decreased 1 percent to 28,800. Seventy-three percent involved decisions of the district courts, 16 percent were original proceedings, 9 percent were administrative agency appeals, and 1 percent were bankruptcy appeals. (Percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.) Pro se litigants accounted for 51 percent of all appeals filed during 2013. Fifty percent of all appeals of district court cases were pro se appeals (21,062). Ninety percent of all prisoner petitions and 92 percent of all original proceedings were filed by pro se litigants.

Seventy-five percent of filings were appeals of decisions by the district courts, and 15 percent were appeals of decisions by administrative agencies. Nine percent were original proceedings, and 2 percent were appeals of bankruptcy case decisions.

Table 1 U.S. Courts of Appeals Appeals Filed, Terminated, and Pending Fiscal Years 2009 - 2013
Year Authorized Judgeships Filed Number Filed Cases per Panel Terminated Number Terminated Cases per Panel Pending
2009 167 57,740 1,037 60,508 1,087 49,885
2010 167 55,992 1,006 59,526 1,069 45,864
2011 167 55,126 990 57,357 1,030 43,614
2012 167 57,501 1,033 57,570 1,034 43,5881
2013 167 56,475 1,015 58,393 1,049 41,670
Percent Change 2012 - 2013 - -1.8 - 1.4 - -4.4
Note: This table excludes the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
1 Revised.

The number of appeals terminated increased 1 percent to 58,393. Pending appeals fell 4 percent to 41,670. The median time from filing a notice of appeal or docket date to final disposition declined from 9.8 months in 2012 to 9.0 months in 2013.

Since 2009, appeals court filings have fallen 2 percent (down 1,265 appeals). The largest numeric reduction was a drop of 1,786 filings for criminal appeals (down 13 percent). Filings of criminal appeals have spiked at times during that period in response to opportunities for prisoners to seek reductions of their sentences under the Fair Sentencing Act. Civil appeals have declined 2 percent (down 716 appeals) in the past five years. Administrative agency appeals have decreased 3 percent (down 283 appeals). Filings of original proceedings have grown 38 percent (up 1,406 appeals), and bankruptcy appeals have risen 14 percent (up 114 appeals).

For data on the activity of the appeals courts, see Tables 1 and 2 and the B series of tables.

Table 2 U.S. Courts of Appeals Sources of Appeals Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013
  2012 2013 Percent Change
Total 57,501 56,475 -1.8
U.S. District Courts 44,034 42,175 -4.2
Criminal 13,675 11,924 -12.8
Civil—Total 30,359 30,251 -0.4
Prisoner Petitions 15,020 15,031 0.1
U.S. Civil 2,655 2,649 -0.2
Private Civil 12,684 12,571 -0.9
Other Appeals 13,467 14,300 6.2
Bankruptcy 811 907 11.8
Administrative Agency 8,391 8,287 -1.2
Original Proceedings 4,265 5,106 19.7
Note: This table excludes data for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Bankruptcy Appellate Panels

Five federal judicial circuits have bankruptcy appellate panels (BAPs). In 2013, filings declined in three of those circuits, and overall BAP filings decreased 8 percent to 968 (down 83 appeals). BAP filings tend to lag bankruptcy filings by about two years, so the reduction in BAP filings in 2013 reflected the drop in petitions filed after 2010 in the bankruptcy courts.

The First Circuit had the largest decline in filings, a decrease of 20 percent (down 18 appeals). Filings fell 9 percent in the Ninth Circuit (down 62 appeals) and 8 percent in the Sixth Circuit (down 5 appeals). The Tenth Circuit alone had more filings in 2013 than 2012, an increase of 2 percent (up 2 appeals). Filings in the Eighth Circuit remained unchanged.

Since 2009, BAP filings have risen 30 percent (up 221 appeals). At the start of that five-year period, BAP filings still reflected the large drop in bankruptcy petitions associated with the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA). Between 2009 and 2013, BAP filings have climbed 59 percent in the Ninth Circuit (up 240 appeals) and 34 percent in the Tenth Circuit (up 29 appeals). Filings have declined 43 percent in the Sixth Circuit (down 44 appeals) and 3 percent in both the Eighth Circuit and First Circuit (down 2 appeals in each circuit).

For data on the activity of the BAPs, see Table B-10 and Table B-11.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

The jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is defined by subject matter rather than by geographical boundaries. This court is responsible for appeals involving customs and patents, rulings by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and decisions by several federal administrative boards.

Filings in the Federal Circuit dropped 9 percent to 1,259 (down 122 appeals). Total filings per panel declined from 346 to 315. Decreases were spread across many types of appeals, with the largest numeric reduction occurring in appeals of decisions by the Merit Systems Protection Board, which fell by 41 appeals to 213 (down 16 percent).

Appeals of decisions by the U.S. Court of Veterans Claims fell by 31 to 158 (down 16 percent). Appeals of decisions by the U.S. district courts dropped by 24 to 487 (down 5 percent). Filings of petitions for writs of mandamus and other extraordinary writs dropped by 10 to 28 (down 26 percent).

The largest numeric increase was in appeals of decisions by the U.S. Court of International Trade. These rose by 11 to 57 (up 24 percent).

Terminations of appeals decreased 5 percent to 1,302. The number of appeals pending declined 4 percent to 983.

Filings in the Federal Circuit were 8 percent lower in 2013 than in 2009 (down 108 appeals). Over the past five years, terminations of appeals have declined 8 percent (down 115 appeals), and the number of appeals pending have increased 10 percent (up 86 appeals).

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