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U.S. District Courts — Judicial Business 2019

Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts rose 6 percent to 390,555. Civil case filings grew 5 percent to 297,877, and criminal defendant filings—including defendants transferred from other districts—increased 6 percent to 92,678.

Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants grew 12 percent to 397,550 (this total does not include the 125,637 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 down 2 percent to 471,553.

Civil Filings

Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts increased 5 percent, growing by 14,941 cases to 297,877. Civil filings per authorized judgeship rose from 418 in 2018 to 440 in 2019.

Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states) climbed 18 percent (up 16,256 cases) to 104,803 as personal injury cases went up 28 percent to 74,034. The District of New Jersey (NJ) had a 23 percent increase in personal injury filings (up 3,294 cases to 17,420), primarily as a result of directly filed multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases alleging that proton pump inhibitor drugs used to treat heartburn and acid reflux caused kidney injuries. The Southern District of Ohio (OH-S) had a 1,180 percent rise in personal injury cases (up 3,752 cases to 4,070), mainly because of MDL cases involving polypropylene hernia mesh products.

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, dropping less than 1 percent to 151,037. Cases related to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which had surged 222 percent in 2018, primarily in response to MDL filings concerning national prescription opiate litigation in the Northern District of Ohio, this year decreased 25 percent (down 496 cases to 1,492). Cases addressing environmental matters, which had risen 134 percent in 2018, mainly because of MDL cases in the Eastern District of Louisiana (LA-E) involving the oil spill by the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, this year declined 81 percent (down 1,395 cases to 327). Personal injury filings rose 38 percent (up 1,596 cases) to 5,806.

Filings with the United States as defendant held steady, falling less than 1 percent (down 60 cases) to 37,953. Prisoner petitions rose 2 percent (up 184 petitions to 11,463) as motions to vacate sentence grew 10 percent (up 535 petitions to 5,877). The Middle District of North Carolina had the largest numeric increase in motions to vacate sentence (up 188 petitions to 341), followed by the Eastern District of North Carolina (up 100 petitions to 193). Immigration cases, including those addressing naturalization applications and other immigration actions, jumped 25 percent (up 434 cases) to 2,141. Contract actions declined 37 percent (down 172 cases) to 292.

Filings with the United States as plaintiff went down 14 percent (down 648 cases) to 4,080, mainly due to a 39 percent decrease (down 184 cases to 284) in cases involving recovery of overpayments and enforcement of judgments, which stemmed largely from a 48 percent drop in defaulted student loan cases (down 203 cases to 219). The largest reduction was in the Southern District of Florida, where defaulted student loan case filings declined 72 percent (down 42 cases).

Civil case terminations rose 13 percent (up 35,589 terminations) to 311,900. LA-E closed 9,582 cases (up by 3,219 cases), many of them MDL cases related to the oil spill by the oil rig Deepwater Horizon. The District of Minnesota (MN) saw terminations go up by 5,357 to 8,575, primarily due to the closing of MDL cases related to Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Devices. OH-S had 5,987 terminations (up 3,640 cases), most of them in MDL cases involving water contaminated by C-8, a perfluorinated carboxylic acid manufactured by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.

Table 3
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2015 - 2019
Year Authorized
Total Cases per Judgeship Contract Actions Prisoner Petitions Personal
Injury Cases
Other Cases
Terminated Pending1
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 63,564 138,470 276,311 371,589
2019 677 297,877 440 25,264 55,018 81,530 136,065 311,900 357,566
Percent Change
2018 - 2019
- 5.3 - -5.6 1.6 28.3 -1.7 12.9 -3.8


Table 4
U.S. District Courts
Civil Cases Filed, by Jurisdiction
Fiscal Years 2015 - 2019
Year Total U.S. 
Diversity of
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
2019 297,877 4,080 37,953 151,037 104,803 4
Percent Change
2018 - 20191
5.3 -13.7 -0.2 -0.4 18.4 -
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 10.8 months, up from 9.2 months in 2018. The median time in NJ increased from 4.3 months in 2018 to 9.0 months in 2019, a year after that district received MDL cases involving proton pump inhibitors, and the median time in MN rose from 11.3 months to 21.6 months, a year after that district terminated MDL cases addressing Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Devices.

As case terminations outnumbered case filings, pending civil cases fell 4 percent to 357,566. Most of the reduction resulted from lower totals in the Southern District of West Virginia (which previously had terminated many MDL cases related to pelvic repair products) and in MN.

Since 2015, civil case filings in the district courts have grown 7 percent (up 18,841 cases). Increases have occurred in cases involving torts, personal injury/product liability, actions under statutes, and prisoner petitions. During the same period, district courts also have reported more filings related to health care/pharmaceuticals, civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, RICO, and immigration.

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 6 percent to 92,678. Filings rose in 56 of 94 districts, dropped in 37 districts, and remained unchanged in 1 district. 

Table 5
U.S. District Courts
Criminal Defendants Filed, Terminated, and Pending (Including Transfers)
Fiscal Years 2015 - 2019
Year Authorized
Total Defendants
per Judgeship
Drugs1 Terminated Pending2
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
2019 677 92,678 137 26,021 85,650 113,987
Percent Change
2018 - 2019
- 6.3 - 5.2 7.2 6.1
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 13 percent to 31,495 filings and accounted for 34 percent of total criminal filings, making immigration the largest category for defendants prosecuted in the district courts. Defendants charged with improper reentry by an alien rose 10 percent to 25,667, and those charged with improper entry by an alien climbed 81 percent to 461. Immigration filings in the five southwestern border districts increased 16 percent to 25,356 and constituted 81 percent of national immigration defendant filings (up from 78 percent in 2018). Filings grew 45 percent in the Southern District of Texas, 25 percent in the District of Arizona, 16 percent in the Western District of Texas, and 6 percent in the District of New Mexico. Filings dropped 17 percent in the Southern District of California.

Filings for defendants charged with drug crimes increased 5 percent to 26,021 and constituted 28 percent of all defendant filings. Filings for defendants charged with crimes related to marijuana decreased 28 percent to 2,432. Filings for non-marijuana drug defendants rose 10 percent to 23,495. Filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs dropped 32 percent to 1,256 for marijuana and went up 10 percent to 20,844 for all other drugs.

Filings for defendants prosecuted for firearms and explosives offenses grew 8 percent to 12,642 and amounted to 14 percent of total criminal filings. Total filings in this category have steadily increased since 2014. Filings for defendants charged with fraud, which equaled 8 percent of total filings and 76 percent of property offense filings, remained relatively stable, decreasing less than 1 percent to 7,513. Fraud filings related to identification documents and information, which are often associated with immigration crimes, fell 4 percent to 744.

Defendants accused of general offenses increased 8 percent and equaled 2 percent of total criminal filings. Growth also occurred in defendant filings related to regulatory offenses (up 9 percent), justice system offenses (up 5 percent), and violent offenses (up less than 1 percent); added together, filings in these three categories constituted 6 percent of total criminal filings.

Reductions occurred in filings related to traffic offenses (down 14 percent) and sex offenses (down less than 1 percent). Each of these categories accounted for 3 percent or less of total criminal filings.

Terminations for defendants (including defendants transferred to other districts) increased 7 percent to 85,650. Excluding defendants transferred to other districts, terminations were reported for 85,478 defendants, of whom 78,767 (92 percent) were convicted, with 77,104 pleading guilty. The median time from filing of proceedings to termination for criminal defendants was 6.7 months. The number for defendants pending (excluding fugitives pending more than 12 months before the end of the period) grew 6 percent to 113,987.

Since 2015, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have risen 16 percent. This growth can be attributed, in part, to higher filings associated with immigration offenses. Such filings had steadily decreased from 2015 to 2017, then began climbing in 2018 and increased 13 percent in 2019. 

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 Article III judges increased 3 percent to 11,415 (up 327 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 1 percent (down 51 trials) to 3,862. Forty-six districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil non-jury trials fell by 11 trials to 2,485, with 44 districts reporting decreases. Civil jury trials dropped 3 percent (down 40 trials) to 1,377, with 45 districts reporting reductions.

Total criminal trials increased 5 percent to 7,553 (up 378 trials) as 54 district courts reported growth in criminal trials. Criminal non-jury trials rose 6 percent to 5,670 (up 304 trials), with 52 district courts reporting higher numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials increased 4 percent to 1,883 (up 74 trials) as 51 district courts reported more trials of this type. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 72,822 felony defendants, up 11 percent from 65,744 in 2018.

In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 4,214 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, a decline of 7 percent (down 296 trials). These proceedings comprised 564 petty offense trials, 284 civil consent trials, 54 Class A misdemeanor trials, and 3,312 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, 60 districts operated ADR programs of some form, and 58 of these districts provided mediation or judge-hosted settlement conferences. The ADR programs affected more than 32,300 civil cases.

Since 2015, the total number of trials has fallen 1 percent. Civil trials have decreased 18 percent. Criminal trials have risen 11 percent. Civil and criminal trials lasting four days or longer increased 2 percent this year to 1,915 but have fallen 6 percent since 2015.

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 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 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 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 2019, weighted filings per authorized judgeship increased by 22 to 535. Weighted civil case filings went up from 367 to 381 (up 4 percent). Weighted criminal defendant filings grew from 142 to 150 (up 5 percent). Weighted supervised release hearings rose from 3.8 to 3.9.

Fifty of the 91 districts whose filings receive weights reported increases in total weighted filings, 20 fewer than in 2018. Twenty-four districts had increases of 10 percent or more, 4 fewer than in 2018. Nineteen 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 increased in 49 districts and fell in 42 districts. Six districts each had increases of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship: the Southern District of Ohio (OH-S), District of Delaware, Northern District of Florida, Southern District of Indiana, District of Arizona, and Eastern District of Missouri. The growth in OH-S arose from a 1,180 percent surge in personal injury cases (up 3,752 cases to 4,070) consisting mainly of multidistrict litigation cases involving polypropylene hernia mesh products.

Weighted criminal filings increased in 55 districts and fell in 36 districts. The rise in weighted criminal filings stemmed partly from cases involving immigration offenses, firearms and explosives offenses, and drug offenses. Fifty districts reported increases in weighted supervised release hearings, and 41 reported decreases.

Since 2015, 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 gone up. Unweighted civil filings have grown 9 percent due to growth in personal injury/product liability cases in the health care/pharmaceutical category. Unweighted criminal filings have climbed 16 percent as a result of higher filings for defendants charged with immigration crimes and firearms and explosives crimes. Weighted filings per authorized judgeship have risen 10 percent.

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