CJAC: Civil Justice Association of California

What New Report on Court Caseloads Says...and Does Not Say

Posted on 10/31/2012 @ 01:00 PM

Tags: Courts, Legal Climate

Last week a report on state court caseloads was released by the Court Statistics Project, a joint effort of the Conference of State Court Administrators, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Center for State Courts.

Included among the report's findings is that the total incoming civil caseload across all states is up 20% since 2001. Additionally California courts have been unable to clear cases from their dockets in a timely manner. The pending caseloads for civil and criminal cases continues to grow, and in fact the state's clearance rate for criminal cases was the lowest in the nation in 2010. This is a sad reminder that this growing caseload combined with unprecedented court budget cuts will only mean longer and longer delays in resolving disputes.

These court delays mean businesses must spend great amounts of time and money on cases where they are wrongfully sued – meaning they could eventually prevail on a demurer, or win a summary judgment motion - but only after spending months or years in litigation and thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars on their own defense attorneys.

The plaintiffs' bar, meanwhile, is trying to claim that the report shows California does not suffer from excessive litigation (the report found that in 2010 the number of civil cases filed per capita in California was below the national median).

There are a few things we must note on this point.

First, the report doesn’t tell you anything about the cases. According to the report there were still 1,235,421 civil cases filed in California in 2010 – more than any other state. The state-by-state comparison doesn't say anything about the scale of the cases, the dollar amounts involved, the impact they had, or how many could be considered frivolous.

Second, the report looks only at 2010 - just a one-year snapshot of filings.

Finally, this statistic doesn't include settlements that are reached prior to an actual filing - something we know happens regularly with ADA cases, for example.

We are very appreciative of the work the Court Statistics Project is doing to shine a light on the state of our court systems and we hope others will pay careful attention to what their work says, and what it does not say.

You can read the full report here.

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