U.S. Government Files 58 Percent Fewer Civil Lawsuits in Federal Courts
The latest available data from the federal courts show that during June 2019 the United States Government filed 291 new federal civil suits. This meant that during the first nine months of FY 2019 a total of 2,388 suits were filed in the 92 federal district courts where this information was readily available. If the pace of filings continues for the final quarter of the fiscal year, such government suits are estimated to reach less than 3,200. This is down from 4,273 lawsuits the federal government brought last year, and even a larger drop from ten years ago when such suits topped more than 7,500. Thus, such civil actions have fallen by approximately 58 percent since FY 2009 according to the case-by-case court records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. See Figure 1.
Figure 1. U.S. Government Initiated Civil Lawsuits in Federal Courts
(Click for larger image)
Relative to the total civil workload of the U.S. District Courts, U.S. government filed suits have always been relatively rare. U.S. initiated actions made up only 3 percent of suits filed ten years ago in these districts. This year they have dropped to just 1 percent.
The composition of these suits has also undergone some change over the past decade. Ten years ago the largest number of federal government civil filings was for recovery of defaulted student loans. They made up one out of every four government-initiated civil suits. Available statistics indicate that "a million students continue to default every year and nearly nine million are now in default." However, federal suits seeking recovery of moneys from former students are dropping. See previous TRAC Report covering these trends.
During FY 2019 drug-related seizures of property under 21 USC 881 now top the list. Thise was the second most frequent type of suit a decade ago. In third place were tax suits. These have retained their third place position across time.
While still relatively rare, both antitrust lawsuits as well as those involving Medicare actually increased in numbers. During FY 2009 a total of 13 antitrust suits were filed; so far during the first nine months of FY 2019 a total of 24 such suits have been lodged. Similarly, FY 2019 saw a total of 5 Medicare Act suits, while so far this fiscal year 13 suits have been filed.
A detailed comparison of the types and numbers of civil lawsuits filed by the federal government are shown in Table 2.
Table 1. U.S. Government Initiated Civil Lawsuits in Federal Courts*
 Comparable information was not readily available for two districts - the Central District of California (Los Angeles) and the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta). Data was also unavailable prior to FY 2015 for the Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).
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.