The Thurgood Marshall Courthouse in New York Bumble Dee; Shutterstock
US Federal District Court case activity slowed in March and the first two weeks of April compared to the same periods in the previous two years as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country, according to an analysis by Lex Machina.
Overall case filings, excluding product liability cases, fell 16% during March and the first half of April to 11,157. Lex Machina excluded product liability cases from its analysis as the numbers were skewed by two large ongoing multi-district litigation matters, which lifted the number of product liability case filings to 34,573 — a 321% jump compared to the previous two years.
Gloria Huang, legal content associate at Lex Machina, said: “Case filings [are not] significantly impacted year-over-year, and litigants continue to move forward with planned litigation, though the overall total remains slightly down in 2020 compared to previous years. Watching each specific practice area we notice, however, that filings are trending up for some and consistently down for others in 2020 compared with previous years.”
Practice areas that saw a sustained uptick in filings during the periods measured were antitrust and securities cases, according to the research.
Employment, insurance and patent cases all rose in 2020, arresting declines experienced in 2019, the data show. Practice areas that continued to a see a downward trend in case filings in 2020 included contracts, copyright, environmental, ERISA and torts cases.
Case terminations fell 19% in 2020 compared to previous years, mainly driven by a drop off in copyright case terminations, which decreased by 61% to 229. Case findings also mainly fell, though there was an increase in summary judgments, which rose 15% to 344. Judgments by trial fell the most, dropping 51% to 23.
Lex Machina also examined how courts are being directly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. Huang noted that almost 29,000 Federal District Court cases had the words ‘covid’, ‘coronavirus’ or ‘pandemic’ contained within civil litigation documents and docket entries filed this year. Many of those appeared due to general orders filed in large numbers of cases regarding new court rules, Huang said.
Lex Machina also found 395 cases that were potentially caused by the pandemic, confirming 287 of them.
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