U.S. District Courts - Judicial Business 2015
Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the district courts decreased 5 percent to 359,105.
Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants rose 3 percent to 355,854 (this total does not include the 94,349 defendants in Class A misdemeanor and petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). The total number of pending civil cases and criminal defendants remained stable, rising less than 1 percent to 440,691.
Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts fell 6 percent, decreasing by 16,274 cases to 279,036. Civil filings per authorized judgeship dropped from 436 in 2014 to 412 in 2015.
Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states) declined 14 percent to 86,358 as personal injury/product liability cases dropped 33 percent to 39,309 (down 19,187 cases). However, much of the change in personal injury/product liability filings resulted from a large increase in 2014 followed by a large decrease in 2015 in filings of cases in the Southern District of West Virginia related to pelvic repair products. When these cases in this district are excluded from the totals, national filings of diversity of citizenship cases remained stable, rising 1 percent.
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) increased 1 percent to 151,083 in response to higher filings related to personal property damage (up 2,924 cases), civil rights (up 2,108 cases), and consumer credit (up 1,235 cases).
Filings with the United States as defendant decreased 7 percent (down 2,679 cases) to 35,659. This occurred largely because of reductions of 19 percent in prisoner petition cases (down 2,399 cases) and 3 percent in Social Security cases (down 618 cases).
Filings with the United States as plaintiff fell 10 percent (down 681 cases). This mainly stemmed from decreases of 22 percent in forfeiture and penalty cases (down 400 cases) and 8 percent in cases involving contracts (down 156 cases).
Civil case terminations increased 6 percent (up 16,150) to 274,627. The greatest growth occurred in the Southern District of West Virginia (WV-S), which terminated 12,594 cases, more than 9,300 of them personal injury/product liability multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases alleging injuries arising from pelvic repair products. The Northern District of Ohio (OH-N) terminated 8,055 cases, more than 3,500 of them health care/pharmaceutical MDL cases involving DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc.
The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 8.8 months, up from 8.3 months in 2014. The median time in OH-N increased from 8.9 months in 2014 to 27.6 months, and the median time in WV-S increased from 3.0 months to 16.9 months, as those districts terminated the MDL cases noted in the previous paragraph.
Pending civil cases remained relatively stable, increasing 1 percent to 341,813. The majority of the growth consisted of pending MDL cases in WV-S (that district’s pending caseload increased by 6,204 cases as a result of cases related to pelvic-repair products).
Since 2011, civil case filings in the district courts have fallen 4 percent (down 10,216 cases). Decreases have occurred in filings related to banking, forfeitures and penalties, personal injury, contracts, and real property. During the same period, district courts have reported increases in filings related to personal property damage, antitrust, intellectual property rights, immigration, and Social Security.
Filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) remained relatively stable, falling 1 percent to 80,069. Although filings have dropped for the past four years to the lowest total since 1998, the rate of decline has decreased, and this year reductions occurred only in 46 of 94 districts (in 2014, 76 districts had fewer filings).
The biggest numeric decline was in filings for defendants charged with immigration offenses, which dropped by 1,162 filings to 20,833 (down 5 percent). Immigration defendants accounted for 26 percent of criminal filings and have fallen for the fifth consecutive year to the lowest total since 2007. Defendants charged with improper reentry by aliens decreased 6 percent to 17,176. Filings in the five southwestern border districts, which fell 3 percent to 16,477, equaled 79 percent of national immigration defendant filings, compared to 77 percent in 2014. Filings decreased 12 percent in the Southern District of California, 9 percent in the Western District of Texas, and 2 percent in the District of Arizona. Immigration filings were stable in the Southern District of Texas, dropping by 4 defendants, and grew 7 percent in the District of New Mexico as defendants accused of improper reentry by aliens rose 8 percent.
Defendants charged with property offenses fell 6 percent to 12,308 and accounted for 15 percent of total criminal filings. Filings for defendants charged with fraud, which constituted 11 percent of total filings and 71 percent of property offense filings, declined 5 percent to 8,700. Fraud filings related to identification documents and information, often associated with immigration crimes, decreased 8 percent to 956.
Traffic offense defendants declined 6 percent and were responsible for 3 percent of total criminal filings. Reductions also occurred in filings related to general offenses (down 5 defendants), regulatory offenses (down 7 percent), and justice system offenses (down 4 percent); each of these categories accounted for 2 percent or less of total criminal filings.
Drug crimes remained the offenses prosecuted most frequently in the U.S. district courts, accounting for 32 percent of all defendant filings. Filings for non-marijuana defendants grew 4 percent to 19,909. Defendants accused of marijuana crimes decreased 4 percent to 5,584. Defendants charged with the sale, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs increased for the first time since 2011 (up 3 percent to 20,320).
Filings for defendants prosecuted for firearms and explosives offenses rose 6 percent to 7,980 and equaled 10 percent of total criminal filings. Filings involving sex offenses, which increased 4 percent, constituted 4 percent of total criminal filings. Defendants charged with violent offenses grew 2 percent and accounted for 3 percent of total criminal filings.
Terminations for defendants (including defendants transferred to other districts) decreased 6 percent to 81,227, the lowest total since 2002. Excluding defendants transferred to other districts, terminations were reported for 81,024 defendants, of whom 73,125 (90 percent) were convicted, 71,330 of them after pleading guilty. The median time from commencement to termination for criminal defendants remained 7.0 months. The number for defendants pending (excluding fugitives pending more than 12 months before the end of the period) fell 3 percent to 98,878, the lowest total since 2006.
Since 2011, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have fallen 22 percent. During that period, filings related to immigration offenses have dropped 26 percent and declined from 28 percent of total criminal filings to 26 percent. Immigration defendant filings have become more concentrated in the five southwestern border districts, growing from 74 percent of total national immigration filings to 79 percent. Filings for drug crime defendants have decreased 20 percent in the past five years, but have increased from 31 percent of total criminal filings to 32 percent.
The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior Article III judges fell 5 percent to 11,568 (down 618 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 held steady, decreasing less than 1 percent (down 36 trials) to 4,734. Forty-seven districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil nonjury trials also remained stable, increasing by 4 trials to 2,852, with 41 districts reporting growth. Civil jury trials dropped by 2 percent (down 40 trials) to 1,882, with 42 districts reporting reductions.
Overall criminal trials declined 8 percent to 6,834 (down 582 trials) as 58 district courts reported fewer criminal trials. Criminal nonjury trials fell 3 percent to 5,027 (down 169 trials), with 49 district courts reporting lower numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials dropped 19 percent to 1,807 (down 413 trials) as 66 district courts reported fewer trials of this type. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 64,194 felony defendants, down 8 percent from 69,615 in 2014.
In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 4,789 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, a drop of 12 percent (down 645 trials). These comprised 967 petty offense trials, 378 civil consent trials, 69 Class A misdemeanor trials, and 3,375 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. Judges also are heavily involved in case management efforts, alternative dispute resolution activities, and settlement negotiations and consultations. This year, 46 districts operated mediation and arbitration programs that affected more than 23,000 civil cases.
During the past five years, the total number of trials has fallen 16 percent. Civil trials have decreased 12 percent, and criminal trials have declined 19 percent. Civil and criminal trials lasting four days or longer dropped 4 percent this year to 2,036 and have fallen 17 percent since 2011.
Weighted Filings Methodology
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 district courts for the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, as the judgeship positions there have 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 judgments, or transfers by order of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation are excluded.
Weighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship
Weighted filings statistics take into account the amount 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 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. The full list of case weights is available from the Federal Judicial Center (see Appendix Y).
In 2015, weighted filings per authorized judgeship decreased by 11 to 522 (down 2 percent). Weighted civil filings declined by 11 (down 3 percent) to 423. Weighted criminal filings were unchanged at 94. Weighted supervised release hearings were relatively stable, decreasing from 5.4 to 5.3.
Forty-seven of the 91 districts whose filings received weights reported declines in total weighted filings, compared to 71 districts in 2014. Fourteen districts had decreases of 10 percent or more, versus 34 districts in 2014. Fifteen districts had 600 or more weighted filings per authorized judgeship. For the district courts, when a district with weighted filings per authorized judgeship in excess of 600 has a judgeship vacancy of any duration, this is defined as a judicial emergency. On September 30, 2015, 26 judicial emergencies existed in the district courts.
Update to Case Weights
After this report was published, the Judicial Conference of the United States adopted a new case weight system for the district courts. Learn more.
Weighted civil filings dropped in 42 districts and increased in 49 districts. The District of Kansas, the Eastern District of Texas, and the Eastern District of Louisiana each had increases of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship. Weighted criminal filings decreased in 41 districts (down from 74 in 2014), remained unchanged in 4 districts, and rose in 46 districts. Forty-seven districts reported declines in weighted supervised release hearings, 3 reported no change, and 41 reported growth.
Since 2011, unweighted filings per authorized judgeship have declined 1 percent, and weighted filings per authorized judgeship have increased 3 percent. Unweighted civil filings have climbed 7 percent because of growth in cases involving personal injury/product liability, copyright and patent, personal property damage, Social Security, claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, non-employment claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Unweighted criminal filings have fallen 22 percent as a result of declines in filings for defendants charged with crimes related to immigration, drugs, fraud, and traffic.
For data on weighted filings and unweighted filings per authorized judgeship, see Table X-1A.
Data are for the 12-month periods ending September 30, 2013 and 2014. Data for an individual district may be viewed by mousing over that district.