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U.S. Courts of Appeals - Judicial Business 2015

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals fell 4 percent to 52,698 filings in 2015. Reductions occurred in filings of civil appeals (including prisoner petitions and other private civil cases) and filings of original proceedings and miscellaneous applications. Growth occurred in filings of criminal appeals, U.S. civil appeals excluding prisoner petitions, bankruptcy appeals, and administrative agency appeals.

Appeals by pro se litigants, which constituted 51 percent of filings, fell 4 percent to 26,883 cases. Forty-six percent of all filings by pro se litigants were prisoner petitions. Eighty-nine percent of the 13,900 prisoner petitions received were filed pro se, as were 84 percent of original proceedings and miscellaneous applications, and 30 percent of appeals of decisions by the U.S. district courts that did not involve prisoner petitions.

Seventy-six percent of filings arose from cases originating in the U.S. district courts. Civil appeals, which amounted to 54 percent of total appellate court filings, decreased 7 percent to 28,550. Prisoner petitions dropped 8 percent to 13,900. Diversity of citizenship filings (i.e., appeals of cases involving disputes between citizens of different states) declined 17 percent in 2015 after growing 14 percent the previous year as a result of personal injury/product liability cases alleging injuries from the drug Fosamax.

Table 1
U.S. Courts of Appeals
Appeals Filed, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2011 - 2015
Year Authorized Judgeships Filed Number Filed Cases per Panel Terminated Number Terminated Cases per Panel Pending
2011 167 55,126 990 57,357 1,030 43,614
2012 167 57,501 1,033 57,570 1,034 43,588
2013 167 56,475 1,015 58,393 1,049 41,979
2014 167 54,988 988 55,216 992 41,3231
2015 167 52,698 947 53,213 956 40,808
Percent Change 2014 - 2015 - -4.2% - -3.6% - -1.2%
Note: This table excludes data for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
1 Revised.

In 2014, the category of original proceedings was expanded to add miscellaneous cases not previously included in the data (such as applications under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1292(b) governing permission to appeal, 1453(c) class actions, 158(d) bankruptcy appeals from a district court or bankruptcy appellate panel, Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(f) appeals of orders granting or denying class-action certification, and miscellaneous filings). In 2015, combined filings for original proceedings and miscellaneous applications, which equaled 9 percent of total filings, dropped 16 percent to 4,786. Excluding miscellaneous applications, filings of original proceedings fell 18 percent to 4,203.

Criminal appeals, which constituted 22 percent of total filings in the appeals courts, rose 3 percent to 11,380. Appeals involving the sale, distribution, or dispensing of drugs other than marijuana jumped 24 percent to 3,615. Appeals involving sex offenses and justice system offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings, such as obstruction of justice and failure to appear) also grew. Decreases were reported for appeals involving violent offenses, property offenses, immigration cases, firearms and explosives offenses, general offenses (i.e., public order crimes such as bribery and money laundering), and regulatory offenses.

Administrative agency appeals, which represented 14 percent of total appeals court filings, grew 3 percent to 7,141 as appeals of decisions by the National Labor Relations Board rose by 201 to 379. Appeals of Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions were relatively stable, dropping 1 percent, and accounted for 83 percent of administrative agency appeals. Fifty-eight percent of BIA appeals were filed in the Ninth Circuit, and 13 percent were filed in the Second Circuit.

Bankruptcy appeals increased 7 percent and constituted 2 percent of total appellate filings.

Case terminations declined 4 percent to 53,213. Because terminations exceeded filings, pending cases fell 1 percent to 40,808, the lowest level since 2002.

Since 2011, filings in the courts of appeals have decreased 4 percent. Criminal appeals filings have fallen 7 percent, and administrative agency appeals have declined 5 percent. Overall, prisoner petitions have dropped 11 percent, and non-prisoner petition civil appeals have decreased 3 percent. Original proceedings have increased 6 percent over the last five years, and bankruptcy appeals have grown 23 percent.

For data on the activity of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, see the B series of tables.

Table 2
U.S. Courts of Appeals
Sources of Appeals
Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015
  2014 2015 Percent Change
Total 54,998 52,698 -4.2%
U.S. District Courts      
Criminal 11,003 11,380 3.4%
     Civil—Total 30,568 28,550 -6.6%
     Prisoner Petitions 15,180 13,900 -8.4%
     U.S. Civil 2,610 2,748 5.3%
     Private Civil 12,778 11,902 -6.9%
Other Appeals      
Bankruptcy 784 841 7.3%
Administrative Agency 6,927 7,141 3.1%
Original Proceedings 5,706 4,786 -16.1%
Note: This table excludes data for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Bankruptcy Appellate Panels

Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are three-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. BAPs are units of the federal courts of appeals, and each BAP must be established by a circuit council. Five federal judicial circuits—the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits—have BAPs.

Total filings in the BAPs declined 22 percent (down 202 appeals) to 696 in 2015, with reductions occurring in all five circuits. This was the lowest number of BAP filings reported since 2008. BAP filings tend to lag bankruptcy filings by about two years, so the decrease in BAP filings in 2015 likely reflected the drop in petitions filed in the U.S. bankruptcy courts after 2012.

The Ninth Circuit had the largest percentage reduction in filings, a decrease of 27 percent (down 167 appeals). Filings declined 20 percent in the Tenth Circuit (down 17 appeals), 15 percent in the Sixth Circuit (down 9 appeals), 8 percent in the Eighth Circuit (down 4 appeals), and 7 percent in the First Circuit (down 5 appeals).

Since 2011, BAP filings have fallen 36 percent (down 389 appeals). All five BAP circuits reported reductions in filings over this period, with the Ninth Circuit having the greatest numeric decline, a drop of 238 appeals (down 34 percent). The Tenth Circuit had 53 fewer appeals (down 45 percent), the Eighth Circuit had 38 fewer appeals (down 44 percent), and the Sixth and First Circuits each had 30 fewer appeals each (down 37 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

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

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 bodies.

Filings in the Federal Circuit rose 15 percent to 1,710 (up 219 cases). Total filings per panel went up from 373 to 428. Increases were spread across many types of appeals, with the largest numeric growth occurring for the second consecutive year in appeals of decisions by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which climbed by 173 to 411 (up 73 percent).

Appeals of decisions by the U.S. district courts increased by 66 to 632 (up 12 percent). Filings of petitions by the Merit Systems Protection Board rose by 18 to 258 (up 7 percent).

For the second year in a row, the largest numeric decrease occurred in appeals of decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. These dropped by 30 to 109 (down 22 percent).

Terminations of cases increased 10 percent to 1,513. As filings exceeded terminations, the number of pending cases grew 18 percent to 1,295.

Filings in the Federal Circuit were 27 percent higher in 2015 than in 2011 (up 361 cases). Over the past five years, the circuit has received more appeals of decisions by the PTO, which likely has occurred in response to the America Invents Act of 2011. Since 2011, case terminations have risen 21 percent (up 266 appeals), and pending cases have grown 28 percent (up 283 appeals).

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