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Summary Judgment Rates Over Time, Across Case Categories, and Across Districts: An Empirical Study of Three Large Federal Districts


Theodore Eisenberg


Cornell University - Law School

Charlotte Lanvers


Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Inc.

May 28, 2008

Cornell Law School Research Paper No. 08-022

Abstract:     
Prior research on summary judgment hypothesizes a substantial increase in summary judgment rates after a trilogy of Supreme Court cases in 1986 and a disproportionate adverse effect of summary judgment on civil rights cases. This article analyzes summary judgment rates in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA) and the Northern District of Georgia (NDGA), for two time periods, 1980-81 and 2001-02. It also analyzes summary judgment rates for the Central District of California (CDCA) for 1980-81 and for other civil rights cases in the CDCA in 1975-76. The combined sample consists of over 5,000 cases. The three-district sample for 1980-81 had an overall summary judgment rate of 4.5%. The summary judgment rate increased from 6.5% to7.0% in the two-district EDPA and NDGA sample from 1980-81 to 2001-02, a statistically insignificant difference. The pattern was inconsistent across case categories. For contract, tort, and a residual category of other noncivil rights cases, there was no evidence of a significant increase in summary judgment rates over time. Interdistrict differences were not dramatic in these three areas except that NDGA had a higher rate of summary judgment in tort and contract cases than did EDPA. The most striking effect was the approximate doubling - to almost 25% - of the NDGA summary judgment rate in employment discrimination cases and a substantial increase in the NDGA summary judgment rate in other civil rights cases. Subject to the limitation that both time periods studied are removed in time from the Supreme Court's 1986 summary judgment trilogy, the only strong evidence in this study of a post-trilogy increase is in NDGA employment discrimination cases. Civil rights cases had consistently higher summary judgment rates than noncivil rights cases and summary judgment rates were modest in noncivil rights cases.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 21

Keywords: summary judgment, civil procedure, employment discrimination, civil rights

JEL Classification: K40, K41

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Date posted: May 28, 2008 ; Last revised: August 5, 2008

Suggested Citation

Eisenberg, Theodore and Lanvers, Charlotte, Summary Judgment Rates Over Time, Across Case Categories, and Across Districts: An Empirical Study of Three Large Federal Districts (May 28, 2008). Cornell Law School Research Paper No. 08-022. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1138373 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1138373

Contact Information

Theodore Eisenberg (Contact Author)
Cornell University - Law School ( email )
524 College Ave
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-6477 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)
Charlotte Lanvers
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Inc. ( email )
2212 Sixth St.
Berkeley, CA 94710
United States
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