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U.S. District Courts — Judicial Business 2018

Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts rose 7 percent to 370,085. Civil case filings grew 6 percent to 282,936, and filings for criminal defendants—including those transferred from other districts—increased 13 percent to 87,149.

Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants fell 2 percent to 356,177 (this total does not include the 116,086 defendants in Class A misdemeanor cases and petty offense cases disposed of by magistrate judges). The total number of pending civil cases and criminal defendants went up 3 percent to 480,213.

Civil Filings

Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts increased 6 percent, growing by 15,167 cases to 282,936. Civil filings per authorized judgeship rose from 396 in 2017 to 418 in 2018.

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 3 percent to 151,646. Cases related to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) surged 222 percent (up 1,370 cases to 1,988), primarily in response to multidistrict litigation (MDL) filings related to national prescription opiate litigation in the Northern District of Ohio. Cases addressing environmental matters climbed 134 percent (up 985 cases to 1,722), mostly because of MDL cases in the Eastern District of Louisiana (LA-E) involving the oil spill by the oil rig Deepwater Horizon. Contract cases increased 34 percent (up 1,282 cases to 5,025), largely due to cases addressing flooding in the Middle District of Louisiana (LA-M).

Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states) grew 17 percent (up 12,725 cases) to 88,547 as personal injury cases went up 23 percent to 57,702 (up 10,759 cases). The District of New Jersey (NJ) had a 238 percent increase in personal injury cases (up 9,950 cases to 14,126) resulting from directly filed MDL cases alleging injuries from Johnson & Johnson talcum powder. LA-E had a 38 percent rise in personal injury cases (up 3,629 cases to 13,146), mainly because of MDL cases involving the blood-thinning drug Xarelto and the chemotherapy drug Taxotere.

Filings with the United States as defendant fell 3 percent (down 1,369 cases) to 38,013. Such filings had risen 55 percent in 2016 as prisoner petitions soared 197 percent 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. Prisoner petitions declined in 2017, and in 2018 they dropped 12 percent (down 1,474 petitions) as motions to vacate sentence decreased 26 percent (down 1,863 petitions to 5,342). The District of Puerto Rico had the largest reduction in motions to vacate sentence (down 194 petitions to 75), followed by the Middle District of Florida (down 143 petitions to 193).

Filings with the United States as plaintiff fell 6 percent (down 281 cases) to 4,728, mainly due to a 33 percent decrease (down 232 cases to 468) in cases involving recovery of overpayments and enforcement of judgments, which stemmed largely from a 31 percent drop in defaulted student loan cases (down 186 cases to 422). The largest decline was in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where defaulted student loan case filings decreased 87 percent (down 117 cases).

Civil case terminations fell 5 percent (down 13,590 terminations) to 276,311. The Southern District of West Virginia, which in 2017 had closed nearly 15,000 MDL cases involving pelvic repair products, saw its case terminations in 2018 drop by 4,394 to 27,941. The District of South Carolina, which last year had closed more than 2,900 MDL cases addressing the cholesterol drug Lipitor, terminated 2,855 fewer cases this year (down 45 percent to 3,505). LA-E had the largest numeric increase in terminations, a rise of 2,397 (up 60 percent to 6,363), as it closed many MDL cases related to the oil spill by the oil rig Deepwater Horizon.

Table 3
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2014 - 2018
Year Authorized
Judgeships
Total Cases per Judgeship Contract Actions Prisoner Petitions Personal
Injury Cases
All
Other Cases
Terminated Pending1
2014 677 295,310 436 28,557 60,675 76,463 129,615 258,477 337,404
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 55,283 138,357 271,649 361,263
2017 677 267,769 396 23,523 57,685 53,609 132,952 289,901 366,195
2018 677 282,936 418 26,768 54,134 63,564 138,470 276,311 372,820
Percent Change
2017 - 2018
- 5.7 - 13.8 -6.2 18.6 4.2 -4.7 1.8

Revised.

Table 4
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, by Jurisdiction
Fiscal Years 2014 - 2018
Year Total U.S. 
Plaintiff
U.S.
Defendant
Federal
Question
Diversity of
Citizenship
Local
Jurisdiction
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
2017 267,769 5,009 39,382 147,552 75,822 4
2018 282,936 4,728 38,013 151,646 88,547 2
Percent Change
2017 - 20181
5.7 -5.6 -3.5 2.8 16.8 -
1 Percent change not computed when fewer than 10 cases reported for the previous period.

The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 9.2 months, down from 9.9 months in 2017. The median time in the Western District of Louisiana decreased from 30.8 months in 2017 to 11.4 months in 2018, a year after that district terminated MDL cases involving Actos Products, and the median time in the Western District of Kentucky fell from 23.5 months to 9.5 months, a year after that district terminated MDL cases addressing Skechers Toning Shoe Products.

As case filings outnumbered case terminations, pending civil cases increased 10 percent to 372,820. Most of the growth consisted of personal injury/product liability cases in the health care/pharmaceutical category in NJ, where the pending caseload grew 195 percent to 14,927 because of MDL cases related to Johnson & Johnson talcum powder.

Since 2014, civil case filings in the district courts have declined 4 percent (down 12,374 cases). Decreases have occurred in cases involving torts, personal injury/product liability, prisoner petitions, and recovery of overpayment. During the same period, district courts have reported increases in filings related to civil rights, environmental matters, immigration, RICO, consumer credit, and the Freedom of Information Act.

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

Criminal Filings

Filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) increased 13 percent to 87,149. Filings rose in 64 of 94 districts, dropped in 29 districts, and remained unchanged in 1 district.

Table 5
U.S. District Courts
Criminal Defendants Filed, Terminated, and Pending (Including Transfers)
Fiscal Years 2014 - 2018
Year Authorized
Judgeships
Total Defendants
per Judgeship
Drugs1 Terminated Pending2
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
2017 677 77,018 114 24,356 75,337 100,505
2018 677 87,149 129 24,740 79,866 107,393
Percent Change
2017 - 2018
- 13.2 - 1.6 6.0 6.9
1 Data exclude transfers.
2 Pending totals exclude defendants who were fugitives for more than one year.

The biggest numeric growth was in filings for defendants charged with immigration offenses, which increased by 7,478 (up 37 percent) to 27,916 filings and accounted for 32 percent of total criminal filings, making this the largest category of defendants prosecuted in the district courts. Defendants charged with improper reentry by an alien climbed 40 percent to 23,250, and those charged with improper entry by an alien rose 48 percent to 254. Immigration filings in the five southwestern border districts increased 39 percent to 21,781 and equaled 78 percent of national immigration defendant filings (up from 77 percent in 2017). Filings grew 66 percent in the Southern District of California, 65 percent in the Western District of Texas, 27 percent in the District of Arizona, 24 percent in the District of New Mexico, and 17 percent in the Southern District of Texas.

Filings for defendants charged with drug crimes increased 2 percent to 24,740 and constituted 28 percent of all defendant filings. Filings for defendants charged with crimes related to marijuana decreased 19 percent to 3,385. Filings for non-marijuana defendants rose 6 percent to 21,355. Filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs dropped 18 percent to 1,845 for marijuana and grew 8 percent to 18,895 for all other drugs.

Filings for defendants prosecuted for firearms and explosives offenses climbed 21 percent to 11,692 and equaled 13 percent of total criminal filings. This was the highest total for this category since 2004. Filings for defendants charged with fraud, which constituted 9 percent of total filings and 74 percent of property offense filings, increased 5 percent to 7,521. Fraud filings related to identification documents and information, which are often associated with immigration crimes, rose 21 percent to 772.

Defendants accused of general offenses increased 1 percent and amounted to 2 percent of total criminal filings. Growth also occurred in filings involving violent offenses (up 9 percent) and sex offenses (up 3 percent); each of these categories constituted 4 percent of total criminal filings.

Reductions occurred in filings related to justice system offenses (down 4 percent) and regulatory offenses (also down 4 percent); each of these categories amounted to 2 percent or less of total criminal filings. Traffic offense filings decreased 4 percent to 2,199 and accounted for 3 percent of total criminal filings.

Terminations for defendants (including defendants transferred to other districts) increased 6 percent to 79,866. Excluding defendants transferred to other districts, terminations were reported for 79,704 defendants, of whom 73,109 (92 percent) were convicted, with 71,550 of them pleading guilty. The median time from filing of proceedings to termination for criminal defendants was 6.6 months. The number of defendants pending (excluding fugitives pending more than 12 months before the end of the period) grew 7 percent to 107,393.

Since 2014, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have risen 7 percent as the increase in filings in 2018 offset decreases in recent years. This growth can be attributed, in part, to higher filings associated with immigration offenses. Such filings had steadily decreased over the prior four years, then climbed 37 percent in 2018 and constituted the largest percentage of prosecutions in the district courts.

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

Trials Completed

The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior district judges remained relatively stable, decreasing less than 1 percent to 11,088 (down 46 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.

Total civil trials declined 8 percent (down 321 trials) to 3,913. Fifty-six districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil nonjury trials fell by 182 trials to 2,496, with 53 districts reporting decreases. Civil jury trials dropped 9 percent (down 139 trials) to 1,417, with 53 districts reporting reductions.

Total criminal trials increased 4 percent to 7,175 (up 275 trials) as 52 district courts reported growth in criminal trials. Criminal nonjury trials rose 4 percent to 5,366 (up 208 trials), with 51 district courts reporting higher numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials increased 4 percent to 1,809 (up 67 trials) as 54 district courts reported more trials of this type. District judges accepted guilty pleas from 65,744 felony defendants, up 6 percent from 62,245 in 2017.

In addition to trials conducted by active and senior district judges, 4,510 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, a decline of 13 percent (down 646 trials). These proceedings comprised 653 petty offense trials, 321 civil consent trials, 50 Class A misdemeanor trials, and 3,486 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 (ADR) activities, and settlement negotiations and consultations. This year, 56 districts operated ADR programs of some form, and 53 of these districts provided mediation or judge-hosted settlement conferences. More than 25,500 civil cases were included in ADR programs.

Since 2014, the total number of trials has fallen 9 percent. Civil trials have decreased 18 percent, and criminal trials have declined 3 percent. Civil and criminal trials lasting four days or longer dropped 5 percent this year to 1,874 but have fallen 10 percent since 2014.

For data on civil and criminal trials conducted by district 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 for criminal proceedings are calculated on a per-defendant basis rather than a per-case basis. Weights are not applied in the district courts for the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, as the district judgeship positions in those courts are filled by 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, or that are directly filed in the same court that is managing a master multidistrict litigation (MDL) docket (which is known as the transferee court). 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 a judge takes to resolve various types of civil and criminal actions. Weighted filings, which are adjustments to a court’s standard counts of filings of civil cases and criminal defendants, 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 weighted as 3.72, and each criminal fraud defendant is weighted as 1.76, but a defaulted student loan case receives a weight of 0.16.

In 2018, weighted filings per authorized judgeship increased by 38 to 513. Weighted civil case filings went up from 341 to 367 (up 8 percent). Weighted criminal defendant filings grew from 131 to 142 (up 9 percent). Weighted supervised release hearings rose from 3.7 to 3.8 (up 2 percent).

Seventy of the 91 districts whose filings received weights had increases in total weighted filings, 32 more than in 2017. Twenty-eight districts had increases of 10 percent or more, versus 15 districts in 2017. Sixteen districts had 600 or more weighted filings per authorized judgeship. For the district courts, a district 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 rose in 57 districts and fell in 34 districts. Seven districts each had increases of more than 100 weighted civil filings per authorized judgeship: the District of Delaware (DE), Eastern District of Louisiana, Northern District of Florida, District of New Jersey, Southern District of Illinois, District of New Hampshire, and LA-M. The growth in DE arose from patent cases it received after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in  TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Food Group Brands LLC, 581 U.S. ___ (2017), that any patent infringement lawsuit against a corporation must be filed in the judicial district in which the defendant is incorporated. The growth in LA-M arose from insurance cases involving flooding. The growth in the other five districts stemmed from cases related to health care/pharmaceuticals and personal injury/product liability, many of them associated with multidistrict litigation, as well as from environmental matters and other personal injury cases. Weighted criminal filings increased in 68 districts and fell in 23 districts. The rise in weighted criminal filings is partly due to cases involving immigration offenses, firearms and explosives offenses, and drug offenses. Fifty-three districts reported increases in weighted supervised release hearings, and 38 reported decreases.

Since 2014, unweighted filings (i.e., civil case filings, criminal defendant filings, and supervised release hearings of the types that would qualify to receive case weights) have remained largely unchanged. However, weighted filings per authorized judgeship have risen 2 percent. Unweighted civil filings have decreased 3 percent because of reductions in cases involving personal injury/product liability, prisoner petitions, and supplemental security income. Unweighted criminal filings have risen 7 percent in response to higher filings for defendants charged with immigration crimes and firearms and explosives crimes.

For data on weighted filings and unweighted filings per authorized judgeship, see Table X-1A.