U.S. District Courts — Judicial Business 2020
Combined filings of civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts rose 39 percent to 544,460. Civil case filings increased 58 percent to 470,581, while criminal defendant filings—including defendants transferred from other districts—decreased 20 percent to 73,879.
Overall terminations for civil cases and criminal defendants fell 14 percent to 342,881 (this total does not include the 58,771 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 43 percent to 671,764.
Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts increased 58 percent, going up by 172,704 cases to 470,581. Civil filings per authorized judgeship rose from 440 in 2019 to 695 in 2020. This growth occurred because of more than 200,000 multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases directly filed in a single district alleging that the 3M Company sold its Combat Arms earplugs to the U.S. military without disclosing defects that reduced hearing protection. Excluding these cases, civil filings would have fallen 10 percent this year, mainly in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
Filings of diversity of citizenship cases (i.e., disputes between citizens of different states) climbed 172 percent (up 179,800 cases) to 284,603 as personal injury cases went up 242 percent to 252,943. The Northern District of Florida (FL-N) had a 5,662 percent increase in personal injury filings (up 199,649 cases to 203,175), primarily as a result of the directly filed MDL cases involving 3M Company earplugs. The Southern District of Ohio (OH-S) had a 30 percent rise in personal injury cases (up 1,234 cases to 5,304), mainly because of directly filed MDL cases involving polypropylene hernia mesh products manufactured by Davol, Inc. and C.R. Bard, Inc.
Filings with the United States as defendant climbed 16 percent (up 6,162 cases) to 44,115. Prisoner petitions rose 24 percent (up 2,698 petitions to 14,161) as motions to vacate sentence increased 16 percent (up 957 petitions to 6,834). The District of Maryland had the largest numeric growth in motions to vacate sentence (up 319 petitions to 462), followed by the District of Nevada (up 117 petitions to 163). Immigration cases, including those addressing naturalization applications and other immigration actions, rose 19 percent (up 400 cases) to 2,541. Contract actions declined 19 percent (down 55 cases) to 237.
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) decreased 8 percent to 138,455. Cases related to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) dropped 44 percent (down 659 cases to 833), primarily in response to lower MDL filings concerning national prescription opiate litigation. The largest reduction in such filings occurred in the Northern District of Ohio, which reported a decrease of 69 percent (down 392 cases to 178). Cases addressing environmental matters dropped 35 percent (down 113 cases to 214). Personal injury filings, which had jumped 38 percent in 2019, declined 19 percent this year (down 1,096 cases) to 4,710.
Filings with the United States as plaintiff went down 16 percent (down 673 cases) to 3,407, mainly due to an 81 percent decrease (down 229 cases to 55) in cases involving recovery of overpayments and enforcement of judgments. This reduction stemmed largely from an 88 percent drop in defaulted student loan cases (down 193 cases to 26). The largest decline was in the Southern District of Texas, where defaulted student loan case filings decreased 98 percent (down 60 cases).
Civil case terminations fell 13 percent (down 40,644 terminations) to 271,256 as district courts closed fewer MDL cases this year. The Southern District of West Virginia terminated 3,321 cases (down 38,342 cases), many of them MDL cases related to pelvic repair products. The District of Minnesota saw terminations go down by 4,952 to 3,623, primarily due to the closing of MDL cases related to the Stryker Rejuvenate and ABG II hip implant products. The Eastern District of Louisiana had 16,978 terminations (up 7,396 cases), most of them in MDL cases involving the blood-thinning drug Xarelto (rivaroxaban).
2019 - 20201
|1Percent change not computed when fewer than 10 cases reported for the previous period.|
The median time from filing to disposition for civil cases was 8.9 months, down from 10.8 months in 2019. The median time in OH-S decreased from 41.6 months in 2019 to 9.7 months in 2020, a year after that district terminated MDL cases alleging injuries arising from the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company product C-8 (perfluorooctanoic acid). In the District of Kansas, the median time fell from 20.7 months to 8.2 months a year after that district terminated MDL cases related to Syngenta AG MIR162 corn seed.
As case filings outnumbered case terminations, pending civil cases grew 56 percent to 556,366. Most of the growth consisted of cases in the category of personal injury/product liability-other in FL-N, where the pending caseload grew 8,764 percent to 202,717 because of MDL cases addressing 3M Company earplugs.
Since 2016, civil case filings in the district courts have grown 61 percent (up 178,730 cases). Increases have occurred in cases involving torts and personal injury/product liability. During the same period, district courts also have reported more filings related to health care/pharma, civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, RICO, and immigration.
For data on civil filings in the U.S. district courts, see Table 3 and Table 4 and the C series of tables.
Filings for criminal defendants (including defendants transferred from other districts) decreased 20 percent to 73,879. Filings fell in 81 of 94 districts and rose in 13 districts. The reduction in defendant filings has been attributed mainly to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The highest numeric decline was in filings for defendants charged with traffic offenses, which decreased 29 percent to 1,350 filings. The second-highest numeric decrease was filings for defendants charged with property offenses, which dropped 28 percent to 7,132.
Defendants charged with immigration offenses went down 25 percent to 23,618, accounting for 32 percent of total criminal filings—the same as in 2019—and constituting the largest category of defendants prosecuted in the district courts. Defendants charged with improper entry by an alien dropped 70 percent to 137, and those charged with improper reentry by an alien decreased 25 percent to 19,233. Immigration filings in the five southwestern border districts fell 22 percent to 19,871 and equaled 84 percent of national immigration defendant filings (up from 81 percent in 2019). Filings decreased 44 percent in the Southern District of California, 34 percent in the District of New Mexico, 23 percent in the Western District of Texas, 22 percent in the District of Arizona, and 4 percent in the Southern District of Texas.
Filings for defendants charged with drug crimes declined 17 percent to 21,677 and constituted 29 percent of all defendant filings, up from 28 percent last year. Filings for defendants charged with crimes related to marijuana decreased 27 percent to 1,775. Filings for non-marijuana drug defendants dropped 16 percent to 19,825. Filings related to the sale, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs decreased 19 percent to 1,016 for marijuana and went down 20 percent to 16,728 for all other drugs.
Filings for defendants prosecuted for firearms and explosives offenses fell 13 percent to 11,042 and amounted to 15 percent of total criminal filings. Filings for defendants charged with fraud, which equaled 7 percent of total filings and 76 percent of property offense filings, decreased 27 percent to 5,454. Fraud filings related to identification documents and information, which are often associated with immigration crimes, dropped 34 percent to 492.
Defendants accused of general offenses decreased 13 percent and equaled 2 percent of total criminal filings. Reductions also occurred in defendant filings related to regulatory offenses (down 23 percent), justice system offenses (down 20 percent), and violent offenses (down 19 percent); added together, filings in these three categories constituted 6 percent of total criminal filings. Defendant filings related to sex offenses went down 7 percent and accounted for 4 percent of total criminal filings.
Terminations for defendants (including defendants transferred to other districts) decreased 16 percent to 71,625. Excluding defendants transferred to other districts, terminations were reported for 71,485 defendants, of whom 66,113 (92 percent) were convicted, with 64,887 pleading guilty. The median time from filing of proceedings to termination for criminal defendants was 7.0 months. The number for defendants pending (excluding fugitives pending more than 12 months before the end of the period) grew 1 percent to 115,398.
Since 2016, filings for criminal defendants (including transfers) have dropped 4 percent. As noted above, this decrease can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also stems, in part, from a 40 percent reduction in filings associated with traffic offenses. Such filings increased from 2016 to 2017, but have fallen each year thereafter.
For data on criminal defendants in the district courts, see Table 5 and the D series of tables.
The number of civil and criminal trials completed in the district courts by active and senior Article III judges decreased 30 percent to 7,981 (down 3,434 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. The reduction in completed trials has been attributed mainly to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Total civil trials declined 34 percent (down 1,314 trials) to 2,548. Seventy-six districts reported fewer civil trials. Civil nonjury trials fell by 596 trials to 1,889, with 65 districts reporting decreases. Civil jury trials dropped 52 percent (down 718 trials) to 659, with 78 districts reporting reductions.
Total criminal trials decreased 28 percent to 5,433 (down 2,120 trials) as 79 district courts reported reductions in criminal trials. Criminal non-jury trials dropped 24 percent to 4,329 (down 1,341 trials), with 73 district courts reporting lower numbers of these trials. Criminal jury trials decreased 41 percent to 1,104 (down 779 trials) as 73 district courts reported more trials of this type and totals in five district courts stayed the same. Article III judges accepted guilty pleas from 61,991 felony defendants, down 15 percent from 72,822 in 2019.
In addition to trials conducted by active and senior Article III judges, 3,055 trials were conducted by magistrate judges, a decline of 28 percent (down 1,159 trials). These proceedings comprised 319 petty offense trials, 166 civil consent trials, 30 Class A misdemeanor trials, and 2,540 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, 61 districts operated ADR programs, with 58 of these districts conducting mediation or judge-hosted settlement conferences. The ADR programs affected more than 36,800 civil cases.
Since 2016, the total number of trials has fallen 32 percent. Civil trials have decreased 44 percent. Criminal trials have declined 24 percent. Civil and criminal trials lasting four days or longer dropped 49 percent this year to 983 and have fallen 53 percent since 2016.
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 2020, weighted filings per authorized judgeship increased by 146 to 681. Weighted civil case filings went up from 381 to 554 (up 45 percent). This growth was fueled largely by multidistrict litigation cases directly filed in a single district that addressed 3M Company earplugs. Weighted criminal defendant filings fell from 150 to 124 (down 17 percent). Weighted supervised release hearings decreased from 3.9 to 3.1 (down 21 percent).
Twenty-two of the 91 districts whose filings received weights reported increases in total weighted filings, 28 fewer than in 2019. Six districts had increases of 10 percent or more, 18 fewer than in 2019. Seventeen 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 37 districts and fell in 54 districts. Six districts each had decreases of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship: The Eastern District of Louisiana (LA-E), District of Arizona, Southern District of Indiana, District of Delaware, District of New Jersey, and Eastern District of Missouri. The decrease in LA-E stemmed from a 100 percent drop in personal injury cases consisting mainly of multidistrict litigation cases involving the drug Xarelto (rivaroxaban) manufactured by Janssen Research & Development, LLC.
Weighted criminal filings increased in 18 districts and fell in 73 districts. The drop in weighted criminal filings stemmed partly from reductions in cases involving violent offenses, property offenses, and immigration. Thirteen districts reported increases in weighted supervised release hearings, and 78 reported decreases.
Since 2016, 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 increased 46 percent. Unweighted civil filings have risen 66 percent due to growth in personal injury/product liability cases in the health care/pharmaceutical category. Unweighted criminal filings have decreased 4 percent.
For data on weighted filings and unweighted filings per authorized judgeship, see Table X-1A.