Multidistrict Litigation Creates Large Caseloads for Some Judges
Nationally, there were 315,523 civil cases awaiting resolution before U.S. district court judges at the end of calendar year 2018. The largest components of this pending caseload were made up of multidistrict litigation (MDL) dockets. MDL dockets are usually complex litigation involving plaintiffs with common issues from a number of different districts. These cases are consolidated before a single judge to process the cases more efficiently as provided for under 28 USC 1407. They often involve lawsuits that make the news, such as litigation involving concussions suffered by athletes in sports leagues, national prescription opiate litigation, or data security breaches at Equifax, Yahoo, Zippos, Target and other companies.
Court reports indicate that as of February 15, 2019 there were just 206 MDL ongoing dockets. However, these involved a total of 151,530 individual cases from the court's overall pending caseload. This means that MDL litigation now accounts for just under half of the total pending caseload in the country. Five years ago, pending MDL matters involved 98,009 individual cases. Thus, MDL's pending caseload has become an increasing larger volume of the court's caseload, growing by 56 percent since 2014.
All of the "top ten" judges in the country with the most pending cases are currently handling significant multidistrict litigation. See Table 1. The judge with the most pending cases in the nation at the end of calendar 2018 was Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans). With 23,942 pending cases, he is handling two large product liability MDL cases, and recently closed a third. The first of his current cases involves Chinese drywall products liability litigation. The second concerns the prescription medication rivaroxaban (Xarelto), an anticoagulant that prevents blood clots from forming.
Currently three out of the top ten judges with the most pending cases in the country are all located in the Eastern District of Louisiana. In addition to Judge Fallon, Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has 11,609 pending cases at the end of 2018. She is handling MDL product liability litigation involving taxotere (Docetaxel), an anti-cancer drug used to destroy cancer cells. Judge Carl J. Barbier, also in that district, is continuing to handle the MDL litigation arising out of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Pending cases still before him number 4,821. See Table 1 for the remaining "top ten" judges with the largest pending caseloads.Figure 1. Small Number of MDL Dockets Account for Most Pending Cases
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While large MDL cases pushed these particular judges into the top caseload ranks, MDL litigation does not necessarily involve monstrous caseloads. In fact, almost three out of four (148) of the 206 pending MDL cases involved 100 or fewer cases. Just two dozen (24) MDL dockets involved over 1,000 cases. These large dockets, however, account for nearly nine out of ten of MDL pending cases and thus also dominate the landscape for federal civil litigation more generally. See Table 2 and Figure 1.
Large Pending Caseloads by Nature of Suit
MDL litigation is particularly common with product liability claims, and these often involve the largest number of individual cases. In other areas MDL litigation is relatively rare. Table 3 displays the judge with the largest number of pending cases within particular types of suits. While personal injury product liability claims account for the largest sector of litigation, prisoner petitions are the second largest component followed by civil rights. For these types of suits, none of the litigation involved MDL cases.
District Court Judge Ron Clark from the Eastern District of Texas (Tyler) ranked first in the nation for the largest number of prisoner suits. At the end of calendar 2018 he had 417 pending prisoner petitions. Judge Clark formerly served as the chief judge in that district, retiring February 28, 2018 when he assumed senior status. Eighty-one percent of his currently pending caseload are prisoner petitions.
The most pending civil rights lawsuits are currently being handled by Judge Edgardo Ramos in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan). Civil rights cases comprise 30 percent of his pending caseload. He had 172 pending civil rights cases at the close of 2018. The longest pending civil rights case on his docket had been filed back in 2009 (Anderson v. The City of Mount Vernon, 1:2009cv7082) and as of the end of last year had been pending 3,429 days.
For other judges with the largest caseloads involving other nature of suits, see Table 3.
Judge-by-Judge Reporting Tools
Information on the civil workloads of each federal district court judge covering calendar year 2018 is available in TRAC's Judge Information Center. The findings cover all active judges as well as senior judges who had retired from the bench but still heard cases. Information is available not only on each judge's overall caseload, but by type of suit.
In addition, detailed reports on each judge are available on a subscription basis. The civil workload reports provide detailed comparisons of the time it took each judge to close cases, as well as how long cases still pending before each judge have been waiting to be disposed of at the end of calendar year 2018. The specific cases, and the number of days they have been pending or had taken to be disposed of, are listed for those matters that have taken the longest periods of time.
 In September of 2018 Judge Fallon had closed a third MDL case involving the marketing and sales practices for the Vioxx drug.
 On progress in the Xarelto case see: https://www.northcarolinaproductliabilitylawyer.com/xarelto-lawsuits-mdl-judge-orders-1200-cases-to-be-prepared-for-trials/.
TRAC data on the workloads of federal judges are part of TRAC's Judge Information Center. TRAC compiles, verifies, and publishes information on the workloads of federal district court judges. The Center includes TRAC's free Civil Caseload Tool that provides rankings for nearly every federal district court judge in the country — by the number of civil cases pending at the time of the last update, the number closed in the year prior to the last update, and the number of defendants sentenced in the past five years. The Judge Information Center also provides information on criminal caseloads and Immigration Court judges.
In addition to the free caseload data, a subscription to the Center provides access to custom reports on each judge, showing in greater detail the composition of the judge's caseload, the time on average it takes to close cases, how those closing times compare to other judges in the district, and a detailed look at the cases the judge took the longest to close.
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 315-443-3563.