TRAC's new on civil litigation is based on hundreds of thousands of records obtained from each federal district court that has been supplemented with Department of Justice data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a result of a long series of lawsuits.
The project to develop the data and the interactive tool for federal civil litigation broadens and extends TRAC's longer term Judge Information Center.
The effort to develop judge-specific data concerning the processing of both civil and criminal workload by U.S. Article III judges — as well as information about federal administrative judges — began several decades ago. As part of this larger work, sustained FOIA efforts — including the filing of five lawsuits — were required.
The first was a FOIA lawsuit brought against the Executive Office for U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department in 1998. A second suit, also filed in 1998, sought judicial review of agency actions in the destruction of records classified for permanent retention. The last two of this group of FOIA suits were filed in 2000 and 2002. Some issues in these two suits remain unresolved and are still pending before the federal Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. A fifth suit against the Justice Department's Civil Division was filed in 2006. The five suits were brought successfully thanks to generous and persistent pro bono legal efforts by attorneys with the Public Citizen Litigation Group and with Ropes & Gray, LLP.
In addition to data obtained via FOIA, the expanded functionality of the judiciary's Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) has allowed TRAC to add this data source to its burgeoning warehouse of case-by-case information.
The following are definitions of the categories and statistics used in TRAC's civil interactive judge tool:
Name of Judge. This is the name of the federal district court judge assigned to the case.
Civil Cases. Federal district court cases assigned a "cv" docket number.
Office. Based on the numerical code that designates the office or courthouse where that case was assigned, although sometimes it designates a special class of cases.
Nature of the Suit. The type of civil suit based upon category codes assigned to each case by the federal courts.
Filed Cases. Civil cases currently assigned to the judge that were filed or reopened during the previous 12-month period.
Closed Cases. Civil cases that were assigned to the judge and were closed during the previous 12-month period. Note that cases that were closed during the past 12-months but then reopened would be considered a pending rather than a closed matter. That is, a case's status — pending or closed — always reflects whether it is either pending or closed as of the end of the reporting period.
Pending Cases. Civil cases assigned to the judge that are currently pending.
Weighted Cases. Each case filed in a district court is assigned a relative weight by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) to represent the average amount of judge time the case is expected to require. For example, on average, a case with a relative weight of 4.0 would be expected to require four times as much judge time as a case with a weight of 1.0, while a case assigned a weight of 0.2 would be expected to take only one-fifth of the time as a case with a weight of 1.0. These weights are assigned to each nature of suit category and can vary from a low of 0.10 in a recovery of a student loan suit to 12.89 in a habeas corpus death penalty case. When each case's weight is summed, a weighted case total is derived that represents the relative amount of time required on average to handle this caseload.
To facilitate judge and district comparisons, TRAC has standardized these weights so that the weighted and unweighted counts will be the same if the composition of a district's or judge's caseload is similar in its complexity and time requirements to national averages for a caseload of this given size. For example, if Judge X had a pending caseload of 400 and the weighted pending caseload was also around 400 then the expected time requirements for handling these cases is typical — that is, average for the nation's district court judges. If the weighted pending caseload, however, was 600 rather than 400, then the judge's caseload is more complex and expected to take 50 percent longer to handle than a typical caseload of 400 cases in the country. Weighted case counts that are lower than unweighted ones indicate that Judge X had a simpler mix of cases and that less time would be needed than an average caseload of 400.
CAUTION: The weighting scheme is based upon national averages for the time needed for a given type of case. However, time requirements of particular cases of the same type can also vary. While these weights adjust for the differences in time requirements among different categories of cases, they ignore any variation in time requirements from case to case within the same category. If cases are randomly assigned to judges within a district, however, then any potential case-to-case differences will average out if the judge's workload is compared with district averages. However, comparisons of weighted caseloads among districts will only imperfectly adjust for differences in actual time requirements if some districts — because of their location in a large metropolitan city, or in the nation's capital, or for some other specialization reason — have become the locus for resolving more complex, ground-breaking cases within a given type. The weighted case figures for these districts can still under-represent actual time requirements. These weights were also developed more than a decade ago based upon time requirements in an earlier era. They have not been revised should time requirements have changed since then. A detailed description of the weighting procedure currently in use can be found in Appendix Y of the Federal Judicial Center's (FJC) 2003-2004 District Court Case-Weighting Study.
District and U.S. "Per Judge" Average Caseloads. The "per judge" average weighted and unweighted district and U.S. caseloads — number of cases filed, cases closed, and cases pending — are based upon the average caseload figures for active judges. Active judges are those federal district court judges who served for the entire 12-month period and who had not retired as of the end of the reporting period. Newly appointed judges who had not served for the entire 12 months were not included. Also, the atypical caseloads of otherwise active judges handling large multi-district litigation (MDL) were not considered in computing these averages to avoid skewing a particular district's figures. Only the actual caseloads being handled by these active judges are considered in computing the averages to ensure that results reflect the actual average caseload for a full-time equivalent (FTE) judge in that district, and in the nation as a whole.
Average and Median Pending Times. The average pending time is calculated by taking the number of days from the date each pending case was filed (or the last reopen date, if the case was reopened) until the end of the reporting period, summing these days for each pending case assigned to that judge, and dividing by the judge's number of pending cases. The median pending time is calculated by ordering the number of pending days for each case from lowest to highest, and selecting the middle case and its number of pending days from this ordered list. When there is an even number of pending cases and thus no single case is in the middle, the middle two times are averaged for the median. When case is transferred to a different judge, the judge inherits the time elapsed under the previous judge. District and U.S. average and median times are calculated in a similar manner, where the average includes all cases handled by active judges in that district and in the country as a whole.
Average and Median Closing Times. The average closing time is calculated by taking the number of days from the date each closed case was filed (or the last reopen date, if the case was reopened) until it was closed, summing these days for each closed case assigned to that judge, and dividing by the judge's number of closed cases. The median closed time is calculated by ordering the number of closed days for each case from lowest to highest, and selecting the middle case and its number of days for closure from this ordered list. When there is an even number of closed cases and thus no single case is in the middle, the middle two times are averaged for the median. When case is transferred to a different judge, the judge inherits the time elapsed under the previous judge. District and U.S. average and median times are calculated in a similar manner, where the average includes all cases handled by active judges in that district and in the country as a whole.
TRAC has compiled a much larger body of case-by-case civil records beyond those used in the civil interactive judge tool. These records cover all district court cases filed since FY 2007. New filing records are added on a monthly update cycle.
TRAC also maintains a specialized website, FOIAproject.org, which is updated daily and includes coverage of all FOIA district and appellate court litigation with court documents as well as statistical data.