Civil Lawsuits Declined Overall in October 2020 but Social Security Suits Reach Record Highs

Civil filings in federal court declined in October 2020. New filings had continued to grow during the first part of calendar year 2020 reaching a peak of nearly 60,000 in June, even as federal criminal prosecutions amid the pandemic declined. But beginning in August and continuing through the end of October, the number of new civil filings has fallen to around 30,000, their lowest point since the beginning of the year.

Figure 1. Civil Product Liability Lawsuits Filed in Federal Court vs All Other Types of Civil Suits, October 2018-October 2020.
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The earlier growth in overall civil filings, as TRAC previously reported, was due entirely to new lawsuits brought by veterans against 3M based on allegedly defective earplugs. These lawsuits are categorized as "Torts - Personal Injury - Product Liability." And these types of suits have now fallen in recent months. In October 2020, the number of these types of lawsuits totaled 9,989. This decline reduced the number of all types of new civil filings down to 29,964 in October.

Not all areas have experienced recent declines. Lawsuits involving social security reached a record high during FY 2020—a total of more than 21,000 for the year. See Figure 2. And in October 2020, federal courts received nearly 2,500 new social security filings, part of a steady increase in these types of suits since June when the number of cases each month began increasing from around 1,500.

Figure 2. Number of Civil Social Security Lawsuits Filed in Federal Court Each Fiscal Year, FY 2008-FY 2020.
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During October, the Western District of New York received the most social security suits with 250 new filings. The Central District of California was next with 141 new cases. The rest of the lawsuits were distributed across the United States with no other individual court receiving more than 100.

The significant areas of civil litigation include prisoner petitions, civil rights suits, and contracts- related suits. In October 2020, the federal courts received 4,088 new civil prisoner petitions or 13.6 percent of the total. The federal courts also received 3,644 new civil rights lawsuits or 12.2 percent of the total, up from less than 3,000 in May but consistent with the estimated range of 3,000 to 4,000 new civil rights cases filed each month over the past five years. Contract-related civil suits made up another eight percent—or 2,389—of the total new civil suits filed. Over half of these (1,203) involved insurance matters.

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.