While a decline in activity is expected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, several factors have proven to be significant in affecting activity in any particular area of activity or stage of a litigation.
Lex Machina monitors and reports in our COVID-19 blog posts, the publicly available COVID-19 Impact Analyzer app and in-product case identification, how courts are affected by the social changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Coronavirus) for litigation caused by COVID -19.
As the year progresses, we can see a full picture of the litigation going on in 2020. We looked at the first 10 months of the year to understand the trends at different points during the pandemic. Much of this blog post compares January through October activity to the same months in 2018 and 2019 to understand what has changed.
Our analysis of the Federal District Court’s activities revealed the following:
- The total number of cases submitted (excluding product liability cases) decreased by 10% in the first 10 months of 2020 compared to 2019. From March to October, the 2019 cases submitted were 12% lower than in 2020.
- May had the largest drop in case filing. The number of cases submitted was 26% lower in May 2020 than in May 2019.
- Insurance, patents, securities and contracts increased in 2020 compared to 2019. While insurance, securities, and contract cases filed in direct response to the pandemic, patent cases likely increased for a number of reasons discussed in the second section below.
- Copyright, bankruptcy, and torts saw the largest decrease in filed cases in 2019 compared to 2020. However, we anticipate more pandemic-related bankruptcy and torts cases will go to federal court in the coming years.
- The number of cases with findings declined for each judgment event in 2020 compared to the two previous years.
- Studies slumped in 2020 as there were only 477 results that year compared to 980 results in 2019 (a 51% decrease).
This blog post specifically focuses on civil litigation in the U.S. Federal District Court. We compared court activity from January to October 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Files by month
The first figure below shows monthly files at the Federal District Court for 2018, 2019 and 2020, excluding product liability files. Product liability records are not included as litigation in multiple counties in this area would skew the data. However, they are listed in the next section. The second number is a table that shows the records for each month and the percentage change from the previous year.
As expected, January and February started at the same level as in previous years. Then the files went back from March to May, with only 11,643 files in May 2020, a big difference from previous years. The number of cases submitted was 26% lower in May 2020 than in May 2019. Cases increased in June and reached similar numbers in July and September as in previous years. In October, however, the files decreased again compared to previous years.
Overall, the files for the first 10 months of 2020 decreased by 10% compared to 2019. From March to October, the files were down 12% in 2019 compared to 2020.
Total number of files by the Federal District Court (excluding product liability *) by month
Total number of files of the federal district court per month; Diagram courtesy Lex Machina.
Files with percentage changes (without product liability *) per month
Files with percentage changes; Diagram courtesy Lex Machina.
Files by field of activity
While the number of submitted cases without product liability has decreased by a total of 10%, the various areas of activity have developed differently in the last 10 months. As mentioned earlier, a large MDL case in product liability for military earplugs resulted in a 387% increase in file filings between 2019 and 2020. While no other activity area saw a larger increase, there was an increase in a few activity areas in 2019.
The number of insurers likely increased 15% due to incidents of business interruptions due to pandemic shutdowns. From January to October 2020, 1,394 business interruption cases were filed, up from only 417 in the same period in 2019. The majority of these cases (963) were filed in response to the pandemic.
Other increases include patent cases (15%), securities cases (5%) and contract cases (3%). While securities and contracts have a significant number of cases attributable to COVID-19, patent cases may have increased for a number of reasons. Cases in the western district of Texas have increased as there are plaintiff-friendly patent rules that increase the speed of cases and delay 101 disability determinations. Additionally, patent holders could re-evaluate their portfolios this year due to increased patent fees and the economic downturn, which may have increased conflict over valuable patents.
Copyright saw the largest drop in cases filed, down 37% from 2019. A large number of copyright cases are filed by a small number of companies in file sharing cases (BitTorrent / P2P file sharing violation claims against anonymized John Doe defendants or IP addresses of anonymous defendants). These cases have declined specifically in the first two quarters of the year.
Lex Machina pursues cases in federal district courts, and the number of bankruptcy cases has decreased by 29% since 2019. We assume that due to the pandemic, further insolvency proceedings will come before the federal court in the coming years. Torts cases were down 28% compared to 2019, but were more in line with the number of Torts cases submitted in 2018. This pattern may be due to a large number of related cases filed in 2019 related to the opiate epidemic. Pandemic-related torts cases can find their way to federal court as they near the statute of limitations or cases are resolved.
Filing cases by area of activity including percentage changes
Filing of files according to area of activity including percentage changes; Data courtesy of Lex Machina.
Activity on the results since the beginning of the year
The following bar charts from Lex Machina’s COVID-19 Impact Analyzer App show the number of cases with a finding in the listed assessment event in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Specifically, this data differs from the above data as it includes January 1 through November 8th for each of the years in question. Findings are judicially enforceable findings such as “breach of contract” or “no breach of contract”. Lex Machina tracks the results of our 16 areas of activity.
The number of cases with findings declined for each event in 2020 compared to the two previous years. While cases with a finding during the approval judgment and the default judgment each fell by 13% compared to 2019, the cases with findings in the matter decreased even more. It’s no surprise that studies declined in 2020, as there are only 477 results that year compared to 980 results in 2019 (a 51% decrease).
Federal district courts have passed online hearings and adapted protocols to facilitate access to courts (e.g. time extensions, alternative filing options, etc.). However, the pandemic is still significantly affected by the pandemic.
Cases with findings by event; Graphics courtesy of Lex Machina.
While a decline in activity is expected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, several factors have proven to be significant in affecting activity in any particular area of activity or stage of a litigation. Our team continues to monitor process data for changes and strives to present meaningful updates to trends as they develop.
This data was collected by the Lex Machina platform on November 16-18, 2020. Lex Machina has had civil cases pending in federal district courts since 2009, with the exception of prisoner rights and social security cases. We have no data on complaints. The Lex Machina platform is updated daily. Therefore, all of the numbers in this report will change as new cases with new information are added to PACER. This report is intended to include trends and general research information at the time of publication.
This article was written by Rachel Bailey for Lex Machina. LegalReader thanks our friends at Lex Machina for allowing us to republish it. You can find the original here.