Almost all of the federal courts in the Ninth Circuit saw their caseloads increase in fiscal year 2011. Here's a summary of the work of the courts last year. (See also tables below.)
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reported a slight increase in new filings and, for the second consecutive year, a significant reduction in pending caseload.
New appeals numbered 12,141 in fiscal year 2011, up 1.3 percent from the prior year. The Ninth Circuit remained the nation's busiest appellate court with 22 percent of all new appeals nationally. Appellate filings nationwide numbered 55,126, down 1.5 percent overall and by as much as 7.7 percent among the individual circuits. Only the Second, Ninth and Tenth circuits reported increased filings.
The court continued to dispose of more appeals than it received, terminating 13,025 cases in FY 2011. While terminations were down 2.4 percent from the prior year, judges and court staff were able to reduce the court's pending caseload by 5.9 percent to 14,041 cases. The court had reduced its pending caseload by 8.2 percent in the prior year.
Immigration matters and appeals brought by inmates in state or federal prisons within the circuit predominated the court's docket numerically, while more than half of all appeals were brought by litigants who were not represented by a lawyer.
District courts, which serve as trial courts in the federal judicial system, generated 8,035 appeals, or 66.2 percent of the court's FY 2011 new filings. The Central District of California, the busiest court in the circuit, generated 2,241 appeals, up 4.5 percent from prior year. The Eastern District of California had the next largest number of appeals with 1,250, up 15 percent.
Of the appeals of district court decisions, 6,411 were civil appeals and 1,624 were criminal appeals. On the civil side, the U.S. government was a plaintiff or defendant in 1,124 cases, or 17.5 percent of the total. Prisoner petitions involving habeas corpus, capital habeas corpus, civil rights, prison conditions and other matters numbered 3,108. On the criminal side, 480 appeals were for drug offenses and 436 for illegal immigration.
Appeals of agency decisions numbered 3,130, down 5.9 percent from the prior year. Within this category are appeals of decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals. BIA appeals numbered 2,963, down 6.5 percent. The court had almost 47 percent of the total BIA appeals filed nationally in FY 2011, more than any other circuit.
U.S. District Courts
The 15 district courts of the Ninth Circuit received 68,113 criminal and civil filings, up 7.2 percent from the prior year. The Ninth Circuit had 18.5 percent of the 367,692 district court filings nationally, which were up 1.8 percent.
Criminal matters constituted 31.9 percent of the total district court filings in the Ninth Circuit. District courts reported 21,740 criminal filings in FY 2011, up 12.1 percent from FY2010. Increases were reported in nearly all categories of new criminal cases.
Illegal immigration continues to generate the most new criminal cases. In FY 2011, immigration offenses were up 12.5 percent with 10,091 new cases, amounting to 46.4 of the total criminal filings in the circuit. The most common immigration offense, improper reentry by an alien, rose 16.5 percent with 8,546 total cases.
Drug offenses constituted 36.2 percent of the criminal caseload in the circuit. District courts reported 4,865 new drug offense cases, up 33.6 percent in FY 2011. Marijuana was involved in 48 percent of all drug offenses. Marijuana offenses numbered 2,309, up 38.5 percent from FY 2010. All other drug offenses numbered 2,556, up 29.5 percent.
The districts of Arizona and Southern California once again had the largest criminal caseloads stemming from drug smuggling and illegal immigration into the U.S. from Mexico. The District of Arizona reported 8,834 criminal filings, up 29.2 percent from the prior year. The Arizona court had 22 percent of all drug offense filings in the Ninth Circuit and ranked first in the nation in drug offenses. The Southern District of California reported 5,633 criminal cases, up 14.3 percent. The districts of Guam, Hawaii, Montana, and Oregon also reported increases in criminal filings.
New civil filings in the district courts of the circuit numbered 46,373, up 5 percent from FY 2010. The circuit accounted for 16 percent of the 289,252 civil filings in the district courts nationally. Civil filings increased nationally by 2.2 percent over the previous fiscal year.
Private civil cases numbered 37,861 and accounted for 81.6 percent of the total civil filings in FY 2011. Prisoner petitions were most numerous, totaling 9,882 or 26.1 percent of all new private civil cases. The U.S. government acted as a plaintiff in 2,093 cases and as a defendant in 6,419 cases, accounting for 18.4 percent of the new civil filings.
U.S. Bankruptcy Courts
After increasing steadily over the last four years, bankruptcy filings dipped in fiscal year 2010. Bankruptcy courts in the Ninth Circuit reported 382,210 new cases, down 4.3 percent from the prior fiscal year. Nationwide, new bankruptcy filings declined 8.1 percent to 1,467,221 cases.
Within the Ninth Circuit, the downturn was widespread with 14 of 15 bankruptcy courts reporting fewer bankruptcy filings. Only the Central District of California, which takes in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, saw its caseload increase in FY 2011. The Central District was once again the busiest bankruptcy court in the nation with 139,882 new cases, up 0.9 percent from FY 2010.
In the Ninth Circuit, Chapter 7 filings were most numerous, accounting for 76 percent of the total. Chapter 13 filings amounted to almost 23 percent of the circuit total with Chapters 11 and 12 making up the remainder. Nonbusiness filings involving individual debtors accounted for almost 97 percent of all new cases.
Bankruptcy courts nationally terminated 1,461,896 cases, down 2.3 percent, with 10 circuits reporting fewer cases closed. The Ninth Circuit was one of two circuits to report an increase with 379,722 terminations, up 5 percent from the prior fiscal year. The Central District of California led the way numerically with 144,486 cases terminated, up 10. 3 percent, while the District of Arizona had the greatest percentage increase, up 17.7 percent to 36,704 cases. Five districts reported fewer terminations led by Nevada, which reported 28,149 cases closed, down 17.1 percent.
Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel
The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel received 1,011 new appeals, an increase of 29 percent over fiscal year 2010. Total filings increased for the third straight year and were double the all-time low filings recorded in 2008. The BAP handled 59 percent of all FY 2011 bankruptcy appeals, and the district courts handled 41 percent. Historically, the BAP has handled between 49 percent and 60 percent of all bankruptcy appeals.
The BAP disposed of 567 appeals in FY 2011, an increase of 38 percent over FY 2010. Of those, 158 appeals were merits terminations. Oral argument was held in 143 appeals, and 15 appeals were submitted on briefs. Of the merits decisions, 29 were published opinions. The reversal rate was 11 percent. The BAP ended fiscal year 2011 with 335 appeals pending, a 50 percent increase over fiscal year 2010.