The Civil Caseload of the Federal District Courts

62 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2014 Last revised: 6 Jun 2015

Date Written: May 22, 2015


This Article responds to changes proposed by Congress and the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules to restrict civil lawsuits by reforming procedure. It argues that while these changes are purported to be based on empirical studies, there is no reference to actual government statistics about whether the civil caseload has grown, whether the median disposition time has increased, or whether the most prevalent types of civil cases have changed. Based on statistics published by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, this Article shows that the civil docket has actually stagnated, not exploded. It first looks at trends in the overall volume and duration of federal civil litigation since 1986, suggests a proper methodology for measurement, and shows that the rate of increase of civil filings is less than the growth in the country’s population and the increase in judicial resources in civil cases, noting that any increase must be attributable to the criminal docket. Next, this Article studies the rates at which cases are terminated by various methods, noting today’s primary method is before pretrial with court action due to dispositive motions and judicial management. Third, this Article tracks and explains changes in the “Big Six” categories of civil litigation. Finally, this Article emphasizes the need to look at the government’s caseload statistics to note that the federal civil caseload has been relatively stable for twenty-five years.

Keywords: federal courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, caseload statistics, Administrative Office of the United States Courts, litigation explosion

Suggested Citation

Moore, Patricia W., The Civil Caseload of the Federal District Courts (May 22, 2015). 2015 University of Illinois Law Review 1177, St. Thomas University School of Law (Florida) Research Paper No. 2014-05, Available at SSRN:

Patricia W. Moore (Contact Author)

St. Mary's University Law School ( email )

One Camino Santa Maria St
San Antonio, TX 78228
United States

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