Multidistrict Litigation Drives Large Numbers of Cases Handled by Federal Civil Judges
Nationally, there were 531,164 civil cases awaiting resolution before U.S. district court judges at the end of December 2020. Over the same year, federal judges completed 242,657 civil cases.
Among civil judges, Judge Margaret Catharine Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida had the most pending cases by far with 219,337 cases pending at the end of the calendar year 2020. Judge Rodgers had eight times as many pending cases as Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the District of New Jersey, the judge with the next highest number of pending cases at 27,761.
The reason for Judge Rodger’s (and Judge Wolfson’s) high number of pending cases—like high numbers for many judges—was due to the fact that a large percentage of pending cases is 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. Court reports indicate that by the end of 2020, on December 15, there were 178 MDL ongoing dockets.
In Judge Rodger’s case, two MDL cases were pending at the end of 2020. Both of these cases were reflected in the fact that 99.6 percent of Judge Rodger’s cases are classified as Torts - Personal Injury - Product Liability cases. TRAC began reporting on the high number of 3M civil lawsuits in particular shortly after the rise in lawsuits began in early 2020 and which were filed in the Northern District of Florida.
In fact, MDL cases are much more common in “personal injury - product liability” cases than for any other type of case. Of the top 25 judges with the most pending cases of this type, the top 24 judges all have at least one MDL case. All of the "top ten" judges in the country with the most pending cases are currently handling significant multidistrict litigation. See Table 1.
Because MDL cases are consolidated, and thus a large number of individual filings are not handled individually, judges with MDL cases appear to have a far larger workload than judges without MDL cases which may not necessarily be the case. Table 1 includes judges with the most pending civil cases, including any MDL cases that were still assigned to each judge at the end of 2020.
Top Judges by Case Types (Excluding Multidistrict Litigation)
Focusing on judges without MDL cases provides another picture of the distribution of federal civil litigation. Table 2 only includes judges without any MDL cases, and shows the judge with the most pending cases in each type of case.
Some judges rank at the top of both pending cases and completed cases in certain categories at the end of 2020. At the end of December 2020, Judge James Rodney Gilstrap of the Eastern District of Texas had 286 property rights cases pending, while also completing 256 such cases—more than any other non-MDL judge in the country on both counts. Judge Gilstrap has been found to complete a large number of property rights cases according to TRAC’s previous findings (see reports in 2019 and 2018, for instance). Judge Shelly Deckert Dick of the Middle District of Louisiana also ranked highest for both pending (130) and completed (227) contract cases.
Other judges with high numbers of cases of particular types include Judge Lewis Thornton Babcock of Colorado who completed 639 prisoner petitions in 2020, while Judge Miranda Mai Du of Nevada had 388 such cases pending at the end of 2020. Judge Frank Paul Geraci, Jr. of the Western District of New York completed the most social security cases at 298, while Judge Ronald A. White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma had 131 cases pending.
Similar data can be found for the 14 types of federal civil cases listed below, including judges with the most cases of each pending at the end of 2020 and judges with the most cases of each completed at the end of 2020.
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 2020. 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.
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 free Criminal Caseload Tool provides information on criminal caseloads.
TRAC's free Civil Caseload Tool 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 and the number closed in the year prior to the last update. The Judge Information Center also provides information on 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 email@example.com or call 315-443-3563.