Product Liability Cases Up, Habeas Corpus Petitions Down Says New Data on Federal Civil Lawsuits

New data on federal civil litigation from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) show that the wave of veteran lawsuits against 3M for defective earplugs is back up while the number of habeas corpus petitions filed for detained immigrants is at its lowest point in at least five years.

The number of civil lawsuits in federal court ticked upward in September 2021 to more than 32,000, the highest point since December of last year. The number of new civil cases filed in federal court was driven largely by the number of personal injury-product liability cases, more than 13,500 last month alone (41% of all cases), most of which were filed in court in Florida as part of a lawsuit by veterans against the 3M company for allegedly defective earplugs. The number of these filings peaked in 2020, apparently unhindered by the pandemic, then declined for several months before starting to climb again in July 2021. By September, these cases reached 41 percent of all civil filings in federal court, making them once again an important driver in the number of civil filings nationally. TRAC previously reported on these cases in April 2020, June 2020, and July 2020.

Figure 1 shows the number of personal injury-product liability cases compared to all other federal civil filings. Table 1 shows the list of ten judicial districts that received the most personal injury-product liability cases in September 2021.

Figure 1. New Civil Personal Injury-Product Liability Cases and All Other Civil Lawsuits Filed in Federal Court, September 2016—September 2021
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Table 1. Top Ten Judicial Districts by Number of New Personal Injury-Product Liability Cases
Judicial District Percapita Count Rank 1yr ago 5yrs ago
Fla, N 6,760.7 12,734 1 1 49
Cal, N 30.4 255 2 3 22
S Car 22.5 116 3 5 33
New Hamp 12.5 17 4 8 36
Ind, S 11.2 46 5 20 4
Ohio, S 10.8 65 6 2 31
Fla, S 6.6 49 7 4 42
W Virg, S 5.8 5 8 9 1
La, E 2.4 4 9 6 5
Penn, E 2.4 14 10 18 2

The number of habeas corpus petitions for immigrant detainees filed in federal court has declined significantly and is now at the lowest levels in at least five years. The number of habeas corpus petitions spiked early in the pandemic as immigration attorneys and other advocates grew concerned about exposure to the COVID-19 virus inside detention facilities as well as the lack of adequate medical care. However, habeas corpus petitions have declined from a high of 439 in April 2020 to just 32 in September 2021. This could be due in part to the fact that Immigration and Customs Enforcement's most recent data (as of October 7, 2021) show that the average number of days spent in detention dropped significantly from 86.5 days in October 2020 to 20.3 days in September 2021. With shorter stays may come less need and opportunity to file petitions in court to release detained persons. Altogether 980 habeas corpus petitions were filed in FY 2021, with many filings concentrated in districts with detention centers.

Figure 2 shows the trend in habeas corpus petitions filed in federal court each month over the past five years, and Table 2 shows the top ten judicial districts by the number of habeas corpus filings in FY 2021 (October 2020 to September 2021).

Figure 2. Habeas Corpus-Immigrant Detainee Petitions Filed in Federal Court, September 2016—September 2021
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Table 2. Top Ten Judicial Districts by Number of Habeas Corpus Filings By Immigrant Detainees in FY 2021
Federal Judicial District Number
Ga, M 100
La, W 91
N. Y., W 90
N. J. 68
Minnesota 66
Penn, M 63
Wash, W 48
Texas, N 43
N. Y., S 39
Okla, E 35
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.