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Caseload of Federal Courts Remained High in FY94, March 28, 1995

In fiscal year 1994, the overall caseload of the federal court system remained high, although following a period of continuous growth, some types of case filings declined slightly, according to the 1994 Judicial Business of the U.S. Courts: Report of the Director, issued by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Shifting priorities and staff vacancies in executive branch agencies are among the factors that contributed to the decline in case filings in FY 94.

During the twelve-month period ended September 30, 1994, there were drops in the number of appeals, criminal, and bankruptcy cases filed; an increase in the number of civil case filings, as well as in the number of cases that were referred to arbitration; and the federal probation system continued to experience growth as the number of persons under supervision reached an all-time high.

The following is a summary of the workload of the federal courts in FY 94.


The number of appeals fell 4 percent from 50,224 in 1993 to 48,322 in 1994, the first decline in the total number of appeals filed in the 12 regional courts of appeals since 1978. Even so, the number of appeals filed in FY 94 was still higher than in 1992 when appeals were 47,013. In 1994 case terminations reached an all-time high, exceeding case filings for the first time since 1982.

The largest percentage decrease in FY94 was in the category of administrative agency appeals, which were down 14 percent. The declines were largely because of fewer appeals involving the Federal Communications Commission, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Internal Revenue Service, and the National Labor Relations Board.

Of appeals arising from U.S. district courts, criminal appeals experienced the greatest drop in FY94, falling 10 percent. The large number of district court judicial vacancies contributed to a decline in criminal trials completed in district courts, which in turn led to a drop in criminal appeals. Only prisoner petition appeals increased in FY94, up 2 percent.

District Courts

Civil filings rose in FY94 - up 3 percent in 1994, and 8 percent above 1990. Contributing to the overall jump was an 18 percent increase in civil rights actions, an 11 percent increase in personal injury suits, and an 8 percent increase in prisoner petitions.

In private cases, federal question litigation increased for the third consecutive year, rising 8 percent to 135,853. Personal injury/product liability cases rose 18 percent, and state prisoner petitions were up 12 percent, most of which were concentrated in civil rights suits. For the third year in a row, diversity cases rose, increasing 7 percent to 54,886. Most of the increase came from personal injury/product liability filings, which rose 17 percent.


For the second consecutive year, criminal case filings dropped, down 3 percent. The decrease in criminal filings was offset in part by a 14 percent increase in drunk driving and traffic violation cases. The primary cause of the decline was a drop in the number of drug cases, which are typically a large percentage of the criminal caseload. The smaller caseload reflects Department of Justice policies that either de-emphasize prosecutions of small-scale offenders or that have been affected by staff shortages and administrative changes arising from the transitions to new U.S. attorneys. In 1994, prosecutions of drug cases in federal courts declined 7 percent, which follows a 5 percent drop in 1993.

Decreases were seen in other categories of cases where there had been significant growth in past years. Weapons and firearms filings fell 14 percent and, despite increased prosecution of individuals involved in the savings and loan scandals, case filings for lending institution fraud fell 9 percent. Filings of income tax fraud cases dropped 8 percent. The prosecution of immigration law violations increased 4 percent in FY94; in 1993, prosecutions rose 19 percent.

Persons Under Supervision

The number of persons under supervision increased 3 percent to 89,103 in FY94, continuing an upward trend that began in 1992. The overall rise is due to the 27 percent increase in persons serving terms of supervised release. Provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, while abolishing parole, established sentencing guidelines by which prisoners who have completed their full prison sentence must enter a term of supervised release in the community. As more defendants are sentenced under the guidelines, the number of persons under supervision also will grow, even as the number of persons sentenced prior to the guidelines and still eligible for parole will decrease.


Bankruptcy filings, which prior to 1993 had increased for eight consecutive years, fell almost 7 percent to 837,797 in 1994. Both non-business and business filings declined, with a drop of 5.8 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Non-business cases accounted for 783,372 of the total 837,797 bankruptcy cases.

As in 1993, bankruptcy filings in 1994 also decreased under each chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 7 cases, totaling 571,971, fell 7.9 percent. The next largest chapter, Chapter 13, fell from 254,667 in 1993 to 248,942 in 1992, a 2.2 percent drop. Nevertheless the total number of bankruptcy petitions filed in FY 94 was more than twice the amount in FY 84.

For further information, please contact the Statistics Division of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts at (202) 273-2290.

Judicial Caseload:
FY 90; 93; 94; %Change; %Change Since Since 1990 1993

U. S. Courts of Appeals
Cases Filed: 40,858; 50,224; 48,322; 18.3%; -3.8%
Cases Terminated: 38,790; 47,790; 49,184; 26.8%; 2.9%
Cases Pending: 32,299; 38,156; 37,294; 15.5%; -2.3%

U.S. District Courts
Cases Filed: 219,051; 229,850; 236,391; 7.9%; 2.8%
Cases Terminated: 215,726; 226,165; 228,361; 5.9%; 1.0%
Cases Pending: 242,808; 218,041; 226,071; -6.9%; 3.7%

Criminal (Incls Transfers)
Cases Filed: 46,568; 46,786; 45,473; -2.4%; -2.8%
Defendants Filed: 64,025; 65,653; 62,956; -1.7%; -4.1%
Cases Terminated: 43,296; 44,800; 45,129; 4.2%; 0.7%
Case Pending: 35,308; 28,701; 29,045; -17.7%; 1.2%

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts
Cases Filed: 749,549; 897,231; 837,797; 11.8%; -6.6%
Cases Terminated: 634,838; 958,408; 869,771; 37.0%; -9.3%
Cases Pending: 984,123; 1,152,824; 1,120,850; 13.9%; -2.8%

Federal Probation System
Persons Under Supervision: 80,592; 86,823; 89,103; 10.6%; 2.6%
Presentence Reports: 42,688; 48,871; 44,434; 4.1%; -9.1%

Pretrial Services
Pretrial Srvcs Cases Activated: 47,962; 57,036; 56,070; 16.9%; -1.7%
Tot Released On Supervision: 20,427; 28,029; 27,507; 34.7%; -1.9%

From the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

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