Federal Lawsuit Filings Fell 27% In 2021: Report

An influx of new federal lawsuit filings is expected as COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed in courts nationwide.

A new report issued by the federal judiciary indicates the number of civil filings fell drastically during 2021, largely due to COVID-19 disruptions and challenges which may have discouraged plaintiffs from pursuing lawsuits.

The U.S. Courts released a Judicial Business 2021 report this month, indicating that during the 12-month period ending September 30, 2021, regional Court of Appeals filings, District Court filings and civil case filings saw significant reductions, despite efforts to keep the court system running remotely.

The report highlights concerns many individuals who would have otherwise pursued a legal claim, or otherwise become involved in a pending litigation, may not have been as willing to come forward due to uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, as many federal courts suspended in-person hearings.

During the 12-month period, U.S. District Courts had an overall 23% decrease of civil and criminal cases. Specifically, civil filings fell by 27%, while cases involving diversity of citizenship decreased 41%.

Criminal filings in the U.S. District Courts saw only a one percent overall drop, but there was an 18% drop in defendants prosecuted for immigration violations, while fraud cases increased by 18%, sex offense cases increased by 10% and crimes involving firearms and explosives increased by 8%.

As for the U.S. Court of Appeals, filings in the 12 regional federal circuit courts fell to only 44,546; a decrease of approximately 8% when compared with the previous 12-month period. In a similar trend, civil appeals caseloads dropped by almost 10%.

However, despite the decrease in caseloads seen nearly across the board, the report indicates 14% more federal cases proceeded to trial in 2021, when compared to the previous year, with an 11% increase in civil trials after “stay home” orders were lifted.

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Throughout 2021, many federal court houses and buildings remained closed, as the courts scrambled to deal with shifting many in-person events to teleconferencing and other electronic methods for conducting proceedings. In some regions, grand jury and petit jury activities were suspended.

Since March 2020, courts across the U.S. have operated under continuously evolving guidelines, based on local health conditions and it was not until May 2021, that the federal judiciary announced that some courts would be holding their first criminal jury trials since the pandemic began.

As advancements in COVID-19 vaccines and boosters help curb the spread throughout 2021, many experts are projecting an influx of new filings, now that mask mandates and social distancing guidelines have been relaxed.

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