Main content

U.S. Courts of Appeals — Judicial Business 2018

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals fell 2 percent to 49,276 filings in 2018. Reductions occurred in filings of criminal appeals, bankruptcy appeals, appeals of administrative agency decisions, and original proceedings and miscellaneous applications. Filings of U.S. prisoner petitions also decreased, although filings of other civil appeals rose.

Appeals by pro se litigants, which constituted 50 percent of filings, dropped 3 percent to 24,680 cases. Forty-seven percent of all filings by pro se litigants were prisoner petitions. Eighty-five percent of the 13,475 prisoner petitions received were filed pro se, as were 87 percent of the 5,041 original proceedings and miscellaneous applications.

Seventy-six percent of filings arose from cases originating in the U.S. district courts. Civil appeals, which amounted to 56 percent of total appellate court filings, fell 2 percent to 27,696.

Table 1
U.S. Courts of Appeals
Appeals Filed, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2014 - 2018
Year Authorized Judgeships Filed Number Filed Cases per Panel Terminated Number Terminated Cases per Panel Pending1
2014 167 54,987 988 55,216 992 41,323
2015 167 52,698 947 53,213 956 40,662
2016 167 60,357 1,084 57,744 1,037 43,241
2017 167 50,506 907 54,347 976 39,384
2018 167 49,276 885 50,428 906 38,232
Percent Change 2017 - 2018 - -2.4% -2.4% -7.2% -7.2% -2.9%
Note: This table excludes data for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
1 Revised.

Note: Data have been revised for cases pending in 2017.

Criminal appeals, which accounted for 20 percent of total filings in the appeals courts, declined 1 percent to 9,792. Appeals in cases involving drugs, violent crimes, justice system offenses, and traffic offenses decreased. Appeals in cases related to property, firearms and explosives, sex, immigration, general offenses, and regulatory offenses increased.

Original proceedings filed in the appellate courts dropped 8 percent to 5,041.

Administrative agency appeals dropped 1 percent in 2018 to 6,089 and represented 12 percent of total filings in the courts of appeals. Appeals of Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions, which declined 1 percent, accounted for 85 percent of administrative agency appeals. Fifty-six percent of BIA appeals were filed in the Ninth Circuit, and 12 percent were filed in the Second Circuit. Appeals of decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission increased 143 percent to 112.

Bankruptcy appeals fell 10 percent and constituted 1 percent of total appellate filings.

Case terminations decreased 7 percent to 50,428. However, as terminations exceeded fillings, pending cases fell 3 percent to 38,232.

Since 2014, filings in the courts of appeals have declined 10 percent. Civil appeals (including prisoner petitions) have fallen 9 percent. Administrative agency appeals have decreased 12 percent. Criminal appeals filings have gone down 11 percent. Bankruptcy appeals have dropped 16 percent. Original proceedings and miscellaneous applications have fallen 12 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 2017 and 2018
  2017 2018 Percent Change
Total 50,506 49,276 -2.4
U.S. District Courts 38,138 37,488 -1.7
     Criminal 9,917 9,792 -1.3
     Civil—Total 28,221 27,696 -1.9
     Prisoner Petitions 14,317 13,475 -5.9
     U.S. Civil 2,484 2,515 1.2
     Private Civil 11,420 11,706 2.5
Other Appeals 6,882 6,747 -2.0
     Bankruptcy 729 658 -9.7
     Administrative Agency 6,153 6,089 -1.0
Original Proceedings and Miscellaneous Applications 5,486 5,041 -8.1
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 federal judicial circuit council. Five federal judicial circuits—the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits—have BAPs.

Total appeals case filings in the BAPs remained unchanged at 617 in 2018. The number of appeals filed had declined in each of the six prior years. BAP case filings tend to lag bankruptcy case filings by about two years.

Three of the five circuits with BAPs saw growth in filings. The largest was in the Tenth Circuit, where filings rose by 43 (up 70 percent). The First Circuit and Sixth Circuit each received four more appeals (up 7 percent and 10 percent, respectively). The number of filings in the Eighth Circuit was unchanged from 2017. The Ninth Circuit had 51 fewer filings (down 12 percent).

Since 2014, BAP filings have fallen 31 percent (down 281 appeals). Four of five BAP circuits reported reductions in filings over this period. The Ninth Circuit reported the greatest numeric decline, a decrease of 253 appeals (down 40 percent). The Eighth Circuit had 18 fewer appeals (down 35 percent), the First Circuit had 16 fewer appeals (down 21 percent), and the Sixth Circuit had 15 fewer appeals (down 25 percent). The Tenth Circuit reported 21 more appeals (up 25 percent).

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 geographic boundaries. This court is responsible for appeals involving customs and patents; rulings by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Court of International Trade, and U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; and decisions by several federal administrative bodies.

Filings in the Federal Circuit declined 12 percent to 1,530 (down by 201 cases). Total filings per panel went down from 433 to 383. Decreases were spread across many types of appeals, with the largest numeric reductions occurring in appeals of decisions by the Merit Systems Protection Board, which fell by 83 to 121 (down 41 percent); the U.S. district courts, which dropped by 82 to 424 (down 16 percent); and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which fell by 57 to 76 (down 43 percent).

The largest numeric increase was in petitions for writs, including petitions for writs of mandamus, other extraordinary writs, permission to appeal, and discretionary review, which rose by 21 to 62 (up 51 percent).

Terminations of cases declined 1 percent to 1,626. The number of pending cases fell 6 percent to 1,446.

Filings in the Federal Circuit were 3 percent higher in 2018 than in 2014 (up 39 cases). Over the past five years, the circuit has received more appeals of decisions by the Patent and Trademark Office, which likely has occurred in response to the America Invents Act of 2011. Since 2014, case terminations have risen 18 percent (up 249 appeals), and pending cases have grown 32 percent (up 349 appeals).

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