Report: Federal civil cases soared, criminal filings fell in 2020

In a year unlike any other, marked by an unrelenting pandemic and social unrest, the federal judiciary witnessed a dramatic surge in civil case filings while criminal matters sharply declined. The national trend, however, was not the experience of Indiana’s federal courts.

Those are some of the overviews of the Annual Report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts released Tuesday. Among the findings, for the 12 months ending Sept 30, 2020:

  • Civil case filings in U.S. district courts rose 58% to 470,581.
  • Criminal filings declined 20% to 73,879.
  • Combined filings rose 39% to 544,460.
  • Bankruptcy petitions nationwide fell 21% to 612, 561.
  • Filings in U.S. courts of appeal were stable, declining less than 1% to 48,190.

Indiana’s federal courts bucked the trend of increased civil case filings. Civil filings in the Southern District fell 21%, to 4,981 cases. Civil filings fell by 3.5% in the Northern District, with a total of 2,203 new cases.

The Southern District of Indiana hewed to the overall decline in criminal case filings. The 495 cases in the Southern District represented a 19.9 percent decline, nearly identical to the national trend. Criminal filings were nearly steady in the Northern District, however. The 381 criminal matters there represented a decline of less than 1 percent.

Meanwhile, the report says that while the Southern District of Indiana was one of six nationwide in which weighted civil case filings declined by more than 100 per judge.

Long considered one of the busiest district courts in the federal judiciary, the Southern District’s weighted measure fell to 880 per authorized judgeship as of Sept. 30, 2020. That’s a decline of 268 cases per judgeship since the prior year.

In the Northern District, the number of weighted filings per judgeship was 459.

The 2020 Annual Report was Administrative Office Director James C. Duff’s 11th and final report to the Judicial Conference, Congress, and the public. He retired on Feb. 1. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., appointed Chief Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, of the Eastern District of New York, to replace Duff.

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