Statistical Overview of Civil Litigation in the Federal Courts

by Terence Dunworth, Nicholas M. Pace

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This report presents a longitudinal study of filing patterns in federal district courts and of the time taken to dispose of cases in those courts. It takes as its focus private civil litigation conducted between 1971 and 1986; hence, all such cases that were terminated by the district court system during that period are included in the analysis. The study, which assesses the performance of the entire district court system and provides an in-depth examination of case processing in fast, slow, and average districts, shows that in the aggregate, private civil suits reached disposition in about the same amount of time in 1986 as in 1971, but that this measure varied considerably from district to district. A review of factors that intuitively seem likely to be associated with such time-to-disposition differences, including case mixture, processing characteristics, and resource levels, reveals that none, in fact, bears a substantial relationship to variation in disposition times. The report concludes with a consideration of further research that might shed light on the determinants of the pace of case processing.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation report series. The report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 1993 that represented the principal publication documenting and transmitting RAND's major research findings and final research.

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