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U.S. District Courts - Judicial Business 2016

Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts grew 3 percent to 369,208 (civil case filings grew 5 percent to 291,851, but filings for criminal defendants—including those transferred from other districts—fell 3 percent to 77,357). 

Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants declined 2 percent to 349,142 (this total does not include the 86,786 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 rose 4 percent to 460,026.

Civil Filings

Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts grew 5 percent, increasing by 12,815 cases to 291,851. Civil filings per authorized judgeship rose from 412 in 2015 to 431 in 2016.

Filings with the United States as defendant climbed 55 percent (up 19,684 cases) to 55,343. This occurred largely because prisoner petitions jumped 197 percent (up 19,588 to 29,546 petitions) as motions to vacate sentence rose 350 percent (up 19,317 to 24,837 petitions) after Welch v. United States established that Johnson v. United States applied retroactively and made prisoners serving sentences enhanced under an unconstitutional clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act eligible to have their sentences vacated or remanded (for more information on these decisions, click here). The Southern District of Florida had the largest growth in motions to vacate sentence (up 966 petitions to 1,233),  followed by the Southern District of Texas (up 624 petitions to 866).

Filings with the United States as plaintiff fell 19 percent (down 1,131 cases) to 4,793. This mainly stemmed from reductions in filings related to defaulted student loans (down 577 cases), forfeiture and penalty (down 400 cases), and civil rights (down 89 cases).

Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states) declined 5 percent (down 4,532 cases) to 81,826 as personal injury/other cases dropped 30 percent to 10,413 (down 4,446 cases). Much of the change resulted from large decreases in filings of cases alleging personal injuries caused by DuPont’s use of C-8 (perfluorooctanoic acid) in the Southern District of Ohio (down 2,627 cases to 76) and of cases alleging injuries arising from pelvic repair products in the Southern District of West Virginia (WV-S) (down 2,378 cases to 86).

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) remained stable, falling less than 1 percent to 149,876. Cases related to personal property damage dropped 62 percent (down 2,442 cases to 1,480), and cases related to personal injury/product liability decreased 60 percent (down 1,457 cases to 966). Cases involving environmental matters climbed 165 percent (up 930 cases to 1,495), mainly because of multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases related to the oil spill by the oil rig Deepwater Horizon that were filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana (LA-E).

Civil case terminations held steady, declining 1 percent (down 2,978) to 271,649. The greatest numeric reductions occurred in the Southern District of Illinois, which terminated 2,325 cases (down 73 percent from 8,594), followed by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which terminated 8,454 cases (down 33 percent from 12,588). WV-S had the largest numeric increase in terminations, a rise of 4,967 (up 39 percent to 17,561 terminations); more than 7,300 of these were in MDL personal injury/product liability cases addressing pelvic repair products.

The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 9.2 months, up from 8.8 months in 2015. The median time in the Western District of Louisiana increased from 10.6 months in 2015 to 24.6 months in 2016 as that district terminated many personal injury/product liability MDL cases involving the diabetes drug Actos (Pioglitazone), and the median time in WV-S increased from 16.9 months to 31.3 months as that district terminated numerous personal injury/product liability MDL cases involving pelvic repair products.

Table 3
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2012 - 2016
Year Authorized
Filed Total Filed Cases per Judgeship Filed Contract Actions Filed Prisoner Petitions Filed Personal
Injury Cases
Filed All
Other Cases
Terminated Pending1
2012 677 278,442 411 28,713 54,300 57,151 138,278 271,572 271,141
2013 677 284,604 420 28,571 56,955 63,316 135,762 255,260 300,469
2014 677 295,310 436 28,557 60,675 76,463 129,615 258,477 337,302
2015 677 279,036 412 26,068 52,531 61,093 139,344 274,627 341,364
2016 677 291,851 431 24,486 73,725 55,283 138,357 271,649 361,566
Percent Change
2015 - 2016
4.6 -6.1 40.3 -9.5 -0.7 -1.1 5.9



Table 4
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, by Jurisdiction
Fiscal Years 2012 - 2016
Year Total U.S. 
Diversity of
2012 278,442 8,858 38,834 145,007 85,742 1
2013 284,604 7,694 40,545 147,057 89,305 3
2014 295,310 6,605 38,338 149,891 100,472 4
2015 279,036 5,924 35,659 151,083 86,358 12
2016 291,851 4,793 55,343 149,876 81,826 13
Percent Change
2015 - 20161
4.6 -19.1 55.2 -0.8 -5.2 8.3
1 Percent change not computed when fewer than 10 cases reported for the previous period.

Pending civil cases increased 6 percent to 361,566. The majority of the growth consisted of pending MDL cases related to the blood-thinning drug Xarelto (Rivaroxaban) in LA-E, where the pending caseload increased 163 percent (up 12,398 cases to 20,021).

Since 2012, civil case filings in the district courts have risen 5 percent (up 13,409 cases). Increases have occurred in cases involving prisoner petitions for motions to vacate sentence, health care/pharmaceuticals, environmental matters, immigration, and personal property damage. During the same period, district courts have reported decreases in filings related to asbestos, banks and banking, forfeiture and penalty, and recovery of overpayment.

For data on civil filings in the U.S. district courts, see Table 3Table 4, and the C series of tables.

Criminal Filings

Filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) decreased 3 percent to 77,357, the lowest total since 1998. Reductions in filings occurred in 63 of 94 districts (in 2015, 46 districts had fewer filings).

Table 5
U.S. District Courts
Criminal Defendants Filed, Terminated, and Pending (Including Transfers)
Fiscal Years 2012 - 2016
Year Authorized
Filed Defendants
per Judgeship
Terminated Pending2
2012 677 94,121 139 29,543 97,728 107,703
2013 677 91,266 135 29,094 91,506 107,895
2014 677 81,226 120 25,023 86,676 101,716
2015 677 80,069 118 25,493 81,227 98,878
2016 677 77,357 114 24,638 77,493 98,460
Percent Change
2015 - 2016
- -3.4 - -3.4 -4.6 -0.4
1 Data exclude transfers.
2 Pending totals exclude defendants who were fugitives for more than one year.

The biggest numeric decline was in filings for defendants charged with property offenses, which fell 13 percent to 10,712 filings and accounted for 14 percent of total criminal filings. Filings for defendants charged with fraud, which constituted 10 percent of total filings and 71 percent of property offense filings, dropped 13 percent to 7,557. Fraud filings related to identification documents and information, which are often associated with immigration crimes, decreased 21 percent to 758.

Drug crimes remained the offenses prosecuted most frequently in the U.S. district courts, constituting 32 percent of all defendant filings. Filings for defendants charged with crimes related to marijuana decreased 8 percent to 5,158. Filings for non-marijuana defendants fell 2 percent to 19,480. Filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs decreased 2 percent to 2,717 for marijuana and fell 1 percent to 17,391 for all other drugs.

Criminal filings for defendants charged with immigration offenses held relatively steady, dropping less than 1 percent (down 71 filings) to 20,762, and accounted for 27 percent of criminal filings. This was the lowest total since 2007. Defendants charged with improper reentry by an alien decreased 1 percent to 16,982, and those charged with improper entry by an alien fell 30 percent to 196. However, immigration filings in the five southwestern border districts rose 2 percent to 16,831 and equaled 81 percent of national immigration defendant filings, compared to 79 percent in 2015. Immigration defendant filings decreased 15 percent in the Southern District of California, 2 percent in the District of Arizona, and 1 percent in the Western District of Texas, but rose 4 percent in the Southern District of Texas and 14 percent in the District of New Mexico.

Traffic offense defendants declined 18 percent and amounted to 3 percent of total criminal filings. Reductions also occurred in filings related to general offenses (down 2 percent), regulatory offenses (down 17 percent), and justice system offenses (down 1 percent); each of these categories constituted 2 percent or less of total criminal filings.

Filings for defendants prosecuted for firearms and explosives offenses rose 9 percent to 8,734 and equaled 11 percent of total criminal filings. Filings involving sex offenses, which decreased 7 percent, constituted 4 percent of total criminal filings. However, filings addressing the sexual abuse of adults increased by 25 defendants. Defendants charged with violent offenses grew 5 percent and accounted for 4 percent of total criminal filings.

Terminations for defendants (including defendants transferred to other districts) decreased 5 percent to 77,493, the lowest total since 2000. Excluding defendants transferred to other districts, terminations were reported for 77,318 defendants, of whom 70,021 (91 percent) were convicted. Overall, 68,459 of the convictions (98 percent) resulted from guilty pleas. The median time from commencement to termination for criminal defendants was 7.1 months. The total for defendants pending (excluding fugitives pending more than 12 months before the end of the period) fell less than 1 percent to 98,460, the lowest total since 2006.

Since 2012, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have fallen 18 percent. During that period, filings related to immigration offenses have dropped 18 percent, but they have continued to constitute 27 percent of total criminal filings. Immigration defendant filings in the five southwestern border districts have grown from 74 percent of total national immigration filings in 2012 to 81 percent five years later. Filings for drug crime defendants have decreased 17 percent.

For data on criminal defendants in the district courts, see Table 5 and the D Series of the tables.

Trials Completed

The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior Article III judges increased 2 percent to 11,754 (up 186 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 criminal trials grew 5 percent to 7,182 (up 348 trials) as 54 district courts reported growth in criminal trials. Criminal nonjury trials increased 5 percent to 5,293 (up 266 trials), with 52 district courts reporting higher numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials rose 5 percent to 1,889 (up 82 trials) as 46 district courts reported more trials of this type. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 68,459 felony defendants, up 7 percent from 64,194 in 2015.

Overall civil trials decreased 3 percent (down 162 trials) to 4,572. Fifty districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil nonjury trials fell by 38 trials to 2,814, with 47 districts reporting declines. Civil jury trials dropped 7 percent (down 124 trials) to 1,758, with 49 districts reporting reductions.

In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 4,862 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, an increase of 2 percent (up 73 trials). These comprised 843 petty offense trials, 371 civil consent trials, 79 Class A misdemeanor trials, and 3,569 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, 43 districts operated mediation and arbitration programs that affected more than 22,600 civil cases.

Since 2012, the total number of trials has fallen 13 percent. Civil trials have decreased 17 percent, and criminal trials have declined 10 percent. Civil and criminal trials lasting four days or longer rose 4 percent this year to 2,109, but have fallen 12 percent since 2012.

For data on civil and criminal trials conducted by Article III judges, see the T series of tables. For data on matters handled by magistrate judges, see the M series of tables.

Weighted Filings Methodology

The current weights were developed by the Federal Judicial Center in 2016. 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, 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 different amounts of time it takes a judge to resolve various types of civil and criminal actions. Weighted filings, which are adjustments to a court’s standard counts of civil and criminal filings, vary based on the mix of cases and the average judge time required to resolve the cases. Case types that on average are more time consuming for district judges to resolve receive weight values greater than 1.00, whereas case types that are less time consuming receive lower weights. For example, in the district court weighted filings system, each antitrust case is counted as 3.72 weighted cases, and each criminal fraud defendant is counted as 1.76 weighted cases, but a defaulted student loan case receives a weight of 0.16.

In 2016, weighted filings per authorized judgeship increased by 5 to 489. Weighted civil filings rose by 8 (up 2 percent) to 355. Weighted criminal filings fell by 3 (down 2 percent). Weighted supervised release hearings were relatively stable, rising from 3.4 to 3.5.

Forty-seven of the 91 districts whose filings received weights reported declines in total weighted filings, the same as in 2015. Twelve districts had decreases of 10 percent or more, versus 15 districts in 2015. Twelve districts had 600 or more weighted filings per authorized judgeship. For the district courts, whenever a judgeship vacancy of any duration occurs in a district with weighted filings per authorized judgeship in excess of 600, the vacancy is defined as a judicial emergency.

Weighted civil filings dropped in 33 districts and grew in 58 districts. The District of Arizona, Eastern District of Louisiana, Middle District of Tennessee, and Southern District of Indiana each had increases of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship. The Middle District of Tennessee had an influx of 1,665 prisoner petition civil rights cases filed by a single plaintiff; the growth in the other four districts stemmed from cases related to health care/pharmaceuticals, environmental matters, personal injury/product liability, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and/or personal property damage, many of them associated with multidistrict litigation. Weighted criminal filings decreased in 54 districts (up from 42 in 2015), remained unchanged in 2 districts, and rose in 35 districts. Thirty-two districts reported declines in weighted supervised release hearings, 2 reported no change, and 57 reported increases.

Since 2012, unweighted filings per authorized judgeship have risen 3 percent. However, weighted filings per authorized judgeship have remained largely unchanged. Unweighted civil filings have climbed 10 percent because of growth in cases involving prisoner petitions, immigration, personal injury/product liability, copyright and patent, personal property damage, foreclosures, Social Security, claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and non-employment claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unweighted criminal filings have fallen 18 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.