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U.S. Courts of Appeals — Judicial Business 2020

Filings in the 12 regional courts of appeals held steady, falling less than 1 percent to 48,190 filings in 2020. Reductions occurred in filings of criminal appeals, civil appeals, and bankruptcy appeals. Growth occurred in filings of appeals of administrative agency decisions, as well as original proceedings and miscellaneous applications.

Appeals by pro se litigants, which constituted 49 percent of new filings, dropped less than 1 percent to 23,546 cases. Forty-two percent of all filings by pro se litigants were prisoner petitions. Eighty-five percent of the 11,738 prisoner petitions received were filed pro se, as were 85 percent of the 5,270 original proceedings and miscellaneous applications.

Seventy-three percent of filings arose from cases originating in the U.S. district courts. Civil appeals, which amounted to 53 percent of total appellate court filings, fell 5 percent to 25,526.

Table 1
U.S. Courts of Appeals
Appeals Filed, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2016 - 2020
Year Authorized Judgeships Filed Number Filed Cases per Panel Terminated Number Terminated Cases per Panel Pending1
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 38,240
2019 167 48,486 871 47,889 860 38,841
2020 167
Percent Change 2016 - 2020 - -20.2% -20.2% -16.4% -16.4% -10.4%

Note: This table excludes data for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
1 Revised.

Criminal appeals, which accounted for 20 percent of total filings in the appeals courts, decreased 3 percent to 9,668. Reductions occurred in appeals in cases involving immigration, property, firearms and explosives, sex offenses, regulatory offenses, justice system offenses, and traffic offenses. Appeals in cases addressing drugs, violent offenses, unclassified offenses, and general offenses increased.

Administrative agency appeals went up 20 percent to 7,105 and represented 15 percent of total filings in the courts of appeals. Appeals of Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions, which increased 19 percent, constituted 85 percent of administrative agency appeals. Fifty percent of BIA appeals were filed in the Ninth Circuit, and the Second and Fifth Circuits each accounted for 12 percent of filings.

Original proceedings filed in the appellate courts grew 6 percent to 5,270. Bankruptcy appeals fell 2 percent and amounted to 1 percent of total appellate filings.

Case terminations increased 1 percent to 48,300. As terminations exceeded filings, pending cases dropped less than 1 percent to 38,731.

Since 2016, filings in the courts of appeals have declined 20 percent. Bankruptcy appeals have decreased 18 percent. Criminal appeals filings have gone down 16 percent. Civil appeals (including prisoner petitions) have fallen 8 percent. Administrative agency appeals have increased 10 percent. Original proceedings and miscellaneous applications have gone down 62 percent; such filings soared 188 percent in 2016 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.

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

Table 2
U.S. Courts of Appeals
Sources of Appeals
Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020
  2019 2020 Percent Change
Total 48,486 48,190 -0.61
U.S. District Courts 36,937 35,194 -4.72
     Criminal 10,001 9,668 -3.33
     Civil—Total 26,936 25,526 -5.23
        Prisoner Petitions 12,365 11,738 -5.07
        U.S. Civil 2,484 2,642 6.36
        Private Civil 12,087 11,146 -7.79
Other Appeals 6,564 7,726 17.70
     Bankruptcy 635 621 -2.20
     Administrative Agency 5,929 7,105 19.83
Original Proceedings and Miscellaneous Applications 4,985 5,270 5.72
Note: This table excludes data for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Bankruptcy Appellate Panels

The 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 judicial council. Five federal judicial circuits—the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits—have BAPs.

Total appeals case filings in the BAPs remained constant at 525 in 2020. The past two years saw the lowest levels of filings in the last 20 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 Ninth Circuit received nine additional filings (up 3 percent), and the Sixth and Tenth Circuits each received one additional filing (up 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively). The Eighth Circuit received six fewer filings (down 17 percent), and the First Circuit received five fewer filings (down 8 percent).

Since 2016, BAP filings have fallen 17 percent (down 110 appeals). Four of the five BAP circuits reported reductions in filings over this period. The Ninth Circuit had the greatest numeric decline, a decrease of 90 appeals (down 21 percent). The Sixth Circuit had 23 fewer appeals (down 40 percent), and the First and Eighth circuits each had five fewer appeals (down 8 percent and 14 percent, respectively). The Tenth Circuit had 13 additional appeals (up 27 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 4 percent to 1,456 in 2020 (down by 55 cases). Total filings per panel declined from 378 to 364. Decreases were spread across eight types of appeals, with the largest numeric reductions occurring in appeals of decisions by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which fell by 118 to 541 (down 18 percent), and by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which dropped by 18 to 152 (down 11 percent).

The largest numeric increase was in appeals of decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which rose by 41 to 144 (up 40 percent), and in petitions for writs of mandamus, other extraordinary writs, permission to appeal, and discretionary review, which grew by 27 to 53 (up 104 percent).

Terminations of cases declined 2 percent to 1,568. The number of pending cases fell 8 percent to 1,243.

Filings in the Federal Circuit were 21 percent lower in 2020 than in 2016 (down 384 cases). The largest numeric reduction occurred in appeals of decisions by the U.S. district courts, which fell by 236 to 325 (down 42 percent). Since 2016, case terminations have dropped 7 percent (down 110 appeals), and pending cases have decreased 15 percent (down 214 appeals).

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