U.S. District Courts - Judicial Business 2013
Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the district courts rose 1 percent to 375,870.
Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants fell 6 percent to 346,766 (the total does not include the 123,156 defendants in Class A misdemeanor and petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). As filings exceeded terminations, the total number of pending civil cases and criminal defendants grew 8 percent to 408,380.
Filings of civil cases in the U.S. district courts increased 2 percent, rising by 6,162 cases to 284,604. This caused civil filings per authorized judgeship to climb from 411 to 420.
Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., cases between citizens of different states) grew 4 percent to 89,305, mainly because personal injury/product liability cases increased 15 percent to 48,546 (up 6,266 cases). Federal question cases (i.e., actions under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States in which the United States is not a party in the case) rose 1 percent to 147,057 in response to higher filings related to prisoner petitions (up 3,039 cases), intellectual property rights (up 1,584 cases), contracts (up 1,385 cases), environmental matters (up 756 cases), and personal property damage (up 641 cases).
Filings with the United States as defendant increased 4 percent (up 1,711 cases) to 40,545. This growth stemmed from Social Security cases, which rose 13 percent (up 2,328 cases) as supplemental security income filings climbed by 1,386 cases and disability filings increased by 916 cases.
Filings with the United States as plaintiff decreased 13 percent (down 1,164 cases). This reduction occurred as cases involving defaulted student loans fell 31 percent (down 813 cases)
Civil case terminations dropped 6 percent (down 16,312) to 255,260. The greatest reductions were in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which terminated fewer asbestos cases this year (down from 19,328 in 2012 to 3,785 in 2013), and the Middle District of Florida, which terminated fewer personal injury/product liability cases against large tobacco companies (down from 7,215 in 2012 to 1,554 in 2013).
The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 8.5 months, up from 7.8 months in 2012. The median time in the Eastern District of Arkansas increased from 45.3 months in 2012 to 54.1 months in 2013 as the district terminated personal injury/product liability cases that were part of multidistrict litigation (MDL) involving the hormone-replacement drug Prempro.
Pending civil cases increased 11 percent to 300,485. Growth in pending MDL cases took place in the Southern District of West Virginia (up 26,953 cases as a result of cases related to pelvic repair products), Eastern District of Louisiana (up 2,719 cases as a result of cases involving the Deepwater Horizon oil spill), Northern District of Texas (up 2,369 cases as a result of cases addressing hip implants), and Southern District of Illinois (up 2,231 cases as a result of cases alleging injuries from contraceptives).
Since 2009, civil filings in the district courts have grown 3 percent (up 8,207 cases). Increases have occurred in cases related to actions under statutes, Social Security, intellectual property rights, real property, prisoner petitions, civil rights, and consumer credit. During the same period, district courts have reported declines in civil filings related to contracts; personal injury; securities, commodities, and exchanges; and immigration.
Filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) fell 3 percent to 91,266 in 2013. This was the lowest total since 2008.
Decreases in defendant filings (excluding transfers) from 2012 to 2013 were reported for traffic offenses, firearms offenses, immigration offenses, property offenses, justice system offenses (i.e., crimes related to judicial proceedings such as obstruction of justice and failure to appear), and drug offenses. Increases occurred in sex offenses, violent offenses, and regulatory offenses. Defendant filings associated with general offenses (i.e., public order crimes such as bribery and money laundering) remained stable.
Although drug offense defendants fell 1 percent to 29,094, they continued to claim the largest percentage of prosecutions in the district courts, accounting for 32 percent of total defendant filings, up from 31 percent in 2012. Defendants charged with crimes involving marijuana fell 8 percent to 6,766 as filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana decreased 27 percent to 3,423. Defendants charged with non-marijuana drug offenses increased 1 percent to 22,226 (up 125 filings).
Defendants charged with immigration offenses, which constituted 26 percent of total criminal defendant filings, decreased 5 percent to 23,942. Immigration defendant filings declined for the third straight year and were 18 percent below the high of 29,149 reached in 2010. Aliens accused of improper reentry (84 percent of all immigration defendant filings) fell 5 percent to 20,120. Five southwestern border districts had 75 percent of the nation's immigration defendant filings: the District of Arizona (where immigration defendant filings dropped 22 percent), the Western District of Texas (where immigration defendant filings dropped 12 percent), the Southern District of California (where immigration defendant filings dropped 12 percent), the Southern District of Texas (where immigration defendant filings rose 4 percent) and the District of New Mexico (where immigration defendant filings rose 44 percent because of a surge in defendants accused of improper reentry).
The number of defendants charged with property offenses decreased 3 percent to 14,759. Fraud offense defendant filings, which constituted 11 percent of total criminal defendant filings and 69 percent of property offense defendant filings, dropped 8 percent to 10,168. The most notable decline occurred in filings involving fraud related to identification documents and information, which fell 24 percent to 1,270. This type of fraud commonly is associated with immigration law violations.
Defendants charged with firearms offenses decreased 6 percent to 8,384 and accounted for 9 percent of total defendant filings. Filings involving traffic offenses, which amounted to 3 percent of total defendant filings, went down 12 percent. Filings related to justice system offenses, which equaled 1 percent of total defendant filings, fell 3 percent.
Defendants charged with sex offenses grew 10 percent to 3,593, accounting for 4 percent of total defendant filings, as offenses related to sexually explicit material increased 8 percent and crimes involving the sexual abuse of minors rose 23 percent. Filings for violent offense defendants, which constituted 3 percent of total defendant filings, went up 3 percent. Defendants charged with regulatory offenses, 2 percent of total defendants, rose 1 percent.
Terminations for defendants decreased 6 percent to 91,506. Excluding transfers, the district courts reported terminations for 91,234 defendants, of whom 83,709 (92 percent) were convicted, including 81,567 (89 percent) who pled guilty. The median time from filing to disposition for criminal defendants rose from 6.7 months in 2012 to 6.8 months in 2013. The number for defendants pending (including transfers) increased by 192 defendants (less than one-half of one percent) to 107,895.
Since 2009, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have declined 7 percent. Over the last five years, filings involving immigration offenses (excluding transfers) have fallen 11 percent and decreased from 28 percent of total defendant filings to 26 percent. Immigration offense defendants have been concentrated in the five southwestern border districts, which accounted for 75 percent of total immigration defendant filings in 2013, up from 73 percent five years earlier.
Data are for the 12-month periods ending September 30, 2012 and 2013. Data for an individual district may be viewed by mousing over that district.
The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior Article III judges fell 3 percent to 13,033 (down 413 trials). For statistical purposes, district court trials include proceedings resulting in jury verdicts and other final judgments by the courts, as well as other contested hearings at which evidence is presented.
Overall civil trials declined 8 percent to 5,027 (down 451 trials) as 56 districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil nonjury trials decreased 10 percent to 3,002 (down 340 trials), with 53 districts reporting smaller numbers of these trials. Civil jury trials dropped 5 percent, falling by 111 trials to 2,025, with 53 districts reporting reductions in trials.
Overall criminal trials increased less than 1 percent to 8,006 (up 38 trials) as 44 district courts reported more criminal trials. Criminal nonjury trials rose 2 percent to 5,514 (up 104 trials), with 46 district courts reporting higher numbers of these trials. However, criminal jury trials declined 3 percent to 2,492 (down 66 trials) as 50 district courts reported fewer trials of this type. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 74,067 felony defendants, down 7 percent from 79,423 in 2012.
In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 6,009 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, a drop of 21 percent (down 1,599 trials). These comprised 1,860 petty offense trials, 455 civil consent trials, 101 misdemeanor trials, and 3,593 evidentiary hearings.
Judges conduct many other proceedings in courtrooms in addition to trials, including hearings on motions for summary judgment and other motions, calendar calls, preliminary proceedings in criminal cases, hearings on sentencing issues, Daubert hearings on expert witnesses, and evidentiary hearings in supervised release and probation revocation proceedings. They are also heavily involved in case management efforts, alternative dispute resolution activities, and settlements. This year, 42 districts operated mediation and arbitration programs, which affected 21,640 civil cases.
During the past five years, the total number of trials has fallen 2 percent. Civil trials have declined 5 percent, and criminal trials have decreased 1 percent. Trials lasting four days or longer dropped 4 percent to 2,309 this year and have fallen 16 percent since 2009, in part because many criminal trials addressing immigration were terminated quickly.
Weighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship
Weighted Filings Methodology
The Federal Judiciary has employed techniques for assigning weights to cases since 1946. The current weights were developed by the Federal Judicial Center in 2004. To calculate weighted filings per authorized judgeship, weighted filings (i.e., the sum of all weights assigned to civil cases, criminal defendants, and supervised release hearings) are divided by the number of authorized Article III judgeships assigned to each district. Weights are not applied in the districts of the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, as the judgeship positions there are Article I judgeships with term appointments. Weights are assigned only to those cases in district courts that arise as original proceedings, by removal from state court, or by interdistrict transfer. Cases that stem from reopenings, remands, appeals from magistrate judgements, or transfers by order of the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation are excluded.
Weighted filings statistics take into account the different amounts of time it takes a judge to resolve various types of civil and criminal actions. The average civil case or criminal defendant each receives a weight of approximately 1.00. More time-consuming cases are assessed higher weights (e.g., a death-penalty habeas corpus case is assigned a weight of 12.89), and cases requiring relatively little time from judges receive lower weights (e.g., a defaulted student loan case is assigned a weight of 0.10). Supervised release proceedings (including probation revocation hearings) each are assigned a weight based on whether or not evidence is introduced at the hearing. A non-evidentiary supervised release hearing receives a weight of 0.14; an evidentiary supervised release hearing receives a weight of 0.22.
In 2013, weighted filings per authorized judgeship rose 5 percent to 545 (up 25 filings). Weighted civil filings per judgeship increased 7 percent to 432. Weighted criminal filings per judgeship fell 3 percent to 107. Weighted supervised release hearings per judgeship rose 3 percent to 6.
Forty-eight of the 91 districts whose filings receive weights reported gains in total weighted filings. Twenty-one districts reported 600 or more weighted filings per authorized judgeship. For the district courts, a judgeship vacancy of any duration in a district with weighted filings per authorized judgeship in excess of 600 is defined as a judicial emergency.
Weighted civil filings grew in 44 districts, declined in 46 districts, and remained unchanged in 1 district. Increases in personal injury/product liability cases in the Southern District of West Virginia and the Eastern District of Louisiana and increases in patent filings in the District of Delaware and the Eastern District of Texas led each of these districts to report over 100 additional weighted civil filings. Forty-six districts reported higher criminal weighted filings, 43 districts had decreases, and 2 districts had no change. Fifty-five district courts reported increases in weighted supervised release hearings.
From 2009 to 2013, total weighted filings per authorized judgeship have climbed 14 percent. During that period, unweighted filings per authorized judgeship have increased 13 percent, driven by a 22 percent increase in unweighted civil filings arising from higher filings of cases related to real property, civil rights, consumer credit, Social Security, labor laws, and intellectual property. Unweighted criminal filings have declined 7 percent since 2009 due to decreases in immigration offenses, traffic offenses, property offenses, and drug offenses.
For data on weighted and unweighted filings per authorized judgeship, see Table X-1A.
Data are for the 12-month period ending September 30, 2013. Data for an individual district may be viewed by mousing over that district.