Mother Nature Swells Louisiana East's Contract Cases

The eight federal judges who closed the most contract cases in the one-year period ending Sept. 30th all sit in the Eastern District of Louisiana, according to a new analysis of federal court records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The reason? Judge Martin Feldman — who topped the contract-law category with 179 closures from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014 — believes it is a combination of Mother Nature, timing, and a court culture in Louisiana East that seeks to resolve cases quickly.

"A lot of those cases are insurance claims related to Hurricane Isaac, and there may even be a few Hurricane Katrina cases still in the mix," Feldman said, referring to the 2012 and 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes. "Some of it, then, is just the progression of those cases. But I believe some of it might also be the culture of this district, where we respond to motions very quickly. I personally have a three-day rule. I also give credit to our Bar. There's not a lot of false theatrics and there is a general willingness to negotiate fairly and quickly."

TRAC's analysis supports Feldman's claim that he and his colleagues resolve cases quickly. The Eastern District of Louisiana leads the country with the speediest median times for closing contract cases — 140 days for cases closed during the year period under examination. Contract cases in the federal district court in South Dakota took the longest at 469 days. The national average was 216 days.

So, what's it like working on that many insurance claims cases? Not fun, Feldman said.

"Most of them are federal flood insurance cases, and that's a very, very complicated program," Feldman said. "Then, there's the language of the individual policies, which are almost indecipherable. In one case, I blurted out 'what idiot wrote this?' and to my surprise a hand went up in the back of the courtroom. The policies are so poorly written that it creates litigation risk on both sides, which in turn leads to a willingness to settle. No one wants to find out who is right for fear they may be wrong."

The analysis that shows Feldman and his Louisiana East colleagues with the most contract-case closures was done using TRAC's new civil case tool in its Judge Information Center. The tool lets any user, free of charge, filter by the most pending cases and closed cases by different nature of suit categories, as well as by district. Subscribers can also use the tool to generate custom reports on every federal district court judge in the country who presided over at least 50 cases in the year, nearly 1,000 judges in all.

Table 1 shows the results for most closed cases by nature of suit.

The judge with the most closed cases for the period is David R. Herndon of the Southern District of Illinois, who is handling two different multidistrict litigations (MDL) that fall into the product liability nature of suit category. MDL cases have many suits bundled together because there are common issues of fact and law that need to be determined. MDL cases don't entirely act as one big case, nor as many small cases, and therefore are difficult to compare to other workloads. Herndon's total number of closed cases for the period was 3,675, of which 3,351 were in the product liability category.

The largest number of non-MDL closures for the year period belongs to James R. Gilstrap in the Eastern District of Texas, who closed 1,208 cases, including 1,003 property rights cases, tops in that category. Most of those cases are patent cases, which plaintiffs often bring in Texas East for a variety of reasons.

Table 1. Most Closed Civil Cases by Nature of Suit
for the One-year Period Ending September 30, 2014
Judge District Nature of Suit Closed Cases
Jed S. Rakoff New York South Bankruptcy 875
Loretta A. Preska New York South Civil Rights 450
Martin L.C. Feldman Louisiana East Contract 179
Clay D. Land Georgia Middle Immigration 38
Virginia E. Hopkins Alabama North Labor 406
Norma L. Shapiro Pennsylvania East Prisoner Petitions 857
James R. Gilstrap Texas East Property Rights 1,003
John J. McConnell Jr. Rhode Island Real Property 720
Donetta W. Ambrose Pennsylvania West Social Security 115
James E. Kinkeade Texas North Tax 14
David R. Herndon Illinois South Personal Injury - Product Liability 3,351
Robert C. Chambers W. Virginia South Personal Injury - Other 772
Barbara M. Lynn Texas North Personal Property Tort 40
Malcolm F. Marsh Oregon Forfeiture/Penalty 43

In addition to the civil tool on which the numbers in this TRAC Report are based, the Judge Information Center includes tools that allow users to examine the sentencing practices of the district court judges on criminal matters, as well as asylum denial rates for administrative Immigration Court judges.

TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center at the Whitman School of Management and Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.