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Workload keeps increasing in Southern Indiana District Court

March 14, 2018

While overall federal district courts recorded a decline in combined filings for civil cases and criminal defendants in 2017, the Southern Indiana District bucked the trend and posted a 30 percent increase.

Nationally, the combined filings fell 7 percent to 344,787 last year compared to 2016. However, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, which has been declared a judicial emergency because of the high caseload, the filings for civil cases and criminal defendants reached 5,970, an increase of 1,376 cases from the same period in 2016.

The findings are part of the 2017 Judicial Business of the United States Courts report which was released Tuesday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. All the statistics cover the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, 2017.

Overall, the federal courts recorded a decline in most kinds of filings. In addition to the drop in combined filings, the U.S. District Courts posted an 8 percent reduction in civil case filings and a less than 1 percent slip in filings for criminal defendants. Also, petition filings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts slumped 2 percent while filings in the U.S. Appeals Courts fell 16 percent.

The bump in the Southern Indiana District’s filings came from civil cases which ballooned 33.2 percent while criminal defendants accounted for just a 1.1 percent uptick.

In the Northern Indiana District Court, total filings rose 6.7 percent to 2,498. Civil cases pushed the rise with a 9 percent increase but filings by criminal defendants pulled back, dropping 4.6 percent.

Among weighted filings per judgeship, the Southern Indiana District continued to lead. In 2017, with five judges, Southern Indiana’s weighted caseload was 983, just behind the leading West Virginia Southern District with 1,147 filings per five judgeships.

Southern Indiana, with an increase of 219 cases over the previous year, was one of just four districts that had surges of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship. The growth is being attributed to cases related to health care/pharmaceuticals and personal injury/product liability.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana’s weighted caseload climbed by 14 filings to 440 total cases per five judges.

At the circuit court level, civil appeals grew 1 percent. But the 14 percent drop in criminal appeals drove the overall decline in appellate filings. Appeals fell in cases involving drugs, immigration, property, sex offenses and general offenses while appeals increased in cases related to violent crimes, firearms and explosives, justice system offenses, regulatory offenses and traffic offenses.

Moreover in the appellate courts, filings by pro se litigant plunged by 20 percent compared to 2016 but still accounted for 50 percent of the new cases. In total, 25,366 pro se cases were filed in the appellate courts in 2017. The bulk, 47 percent, were prisoner petitions.

In the 7th Circuit, 2,787 cases were commenced in 2017, down 17.6 percent from the 3,382 cases in 2016. Most of the 2017 cases were either private civil cases at 766 and private prisoner petitions at 664.

Nationwide, debtors filed 790,830 bankruptcy petitions in 2017. This was the lowest total since 2007 which was the first full fiscal year after the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 took effect. 

In the Southern Indiana District, bankruptcy filings fell 2.9 percent from the 12-month period ending September 30, 2017. The Northern Indiana District fell 6.2 percent.

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