Court of Appeals Caseload Information

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House Bill 239 would reduce the number of judges on the court of appeals from 15 to 12. It has passed the House and awaits Senate consideration. Proponents of the bill (mostly Republicans) say that the court should contract because the number of appeals has fallen in recent years. The bill’s opponents (mostly Democrats) say that the court remains extremely busy, and that the real purpose of the bill is to prevent Governor Cooper from appointing replacements for three Republican judges who are nearing mandatory retirement age. This post presents some historical and statistical information that may help readers assess the bill for themselves. [Update: I have received several comments pointing out other factors, beyond caseload, that should be considered when determining the size of a court. Clearly, factors like disposition times, number of law clerks and staff attorneys, and case mix are all pertinent. This post presents caseload data because caseload information is relevant and readily available, but it isn’t intended as a complete analysis — interested readers are encouraged to consider the full spectrum of pertinent information. To get a sense of how complex measuring and comparing court performance is, see, e.g., W. Warren H. Binford et al., Seeking Best Practices among Intermediate Courts of Appeal: A Nascent Journey, 9 J. App. Prac. & Process 37 (2007) (noting that “[c]ourt productivity is difficult to define, let alone measure,” but finding the Court of Appeals of North Carolina to be above average in both “productivity” and “efficiency”).]

History. The court of appeals was created in 1967 with six seats. The number of judges increased over time. By 1977, the court had 12 members. It remained that way until 2000 when it grew to its current size.

Filings at the court of appeals. The Administrative Office of the Courts publishes data about appellate filings in annual statistical reports. The table below shows filings, dispositions, and filings per judge going back over 25 years. The AOC includes appeals and petitions for extraordinary writs as filings, but does not include the many motions that are filed each year in its tally. The year 2000-01 is in bold because that is when the court expanded to 15 judges.

Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions Filings Per Judge
1991-92 1660 1451 138
1992-93 1690 1465 141
1993-94 1790 1929 149
1994-95 1906 1796 159
1995-96 1932 1826 161
1996-97 2088 2018 174
1997-98 2135 2108 178
1998-99 2352 2194 196
1999-00 2268 2057 189
2000-01 2380 2155 159
2001-02 2388 2441 159
2002-03 2572 2496 171
2003-04 2674 2562 178
2004-05 2719 2731 181
2005-06 2707 2973 180
2006-07 2484 2634 166
2007-08 2424 2567 162
2008-09 2502 2307 167
2009-10 2493 2126 166
2010-11 2549 2671 170
2011-12 2594 2775 173
2012-13 2564 2490 171
2013-14 2389 2435 159
2014-15 2377 2312 158
2015-16 2183 2229 146

 

Looking at the table, filings peaked in 2004-05 and have since declined. On a per judge basis, filings approached 200 just before the court was expanded in 2000 and have since declined, though they remain higher than a few years in the early 1990s. If the current level of filings were to continue and the court were to shrink to 12 judges, annual filings per judge would be 182. Of course, no one knows for sure whether filings will fall, rise, or remain roughly constant in the future.

Caseload data from other jurisdictions. Comparisons with other states may not be “apples to apples” because of differences in accounting conventions and case mixes. With that caveat in mind, data from three nearby states are presented below. I could not quickly find recent, reliable national data.

Virginia. The Virginia Court of Appeals has 11 judges. Filing and disposition data for that court are published in annual statistical reports.

Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions Filings Per Judge
2001-02 3414 3459 310
2002-03 3292 3396 299
2003-04 3044 3322 277
2004-05 3184 2936 289
2005-06 3211 3236 292
2006-07 3095 3148 281
2007-08 3108 3137 283
2008-09 2854 3084 259
2009-10 2721 2835 247
2010-11 2615 2686 238
2011-12 2356 2475 214
2012-13 2471 2402 225
2013-14 2350 2282 214
2014-15 2073 2306 188

 

Tennessee. Tennessee has two intermediate appellate courts, the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, each of which has 12 judges. Data for the two courts are published in annual statistical reports.

Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions Filings Per Judge
2001-02 2372 2647 99
2002-03 2319 2688 97
2003-04 2335 2610 97
2004-05 2365 2717 99
2005-06 2218 2641 92
2006-07 2169 2354 90
2007-08 2276 2501 95
2008-09 2383 2457 99
2009-10 2262 2479 94
2010-11 2193 2415 91
2011-12 2329 2223 97
2012-13 2411 2603 100
2013-14 2271 2431 95
2014-15 2239 2283 93

 

Georgia. The Georgia Court of Appeals was expanded from 12 to 15 judges in 2015. Filing data are available here on the court’s website. The following table summarizes the data, with the year 2015 in bold because that is the year in which the court expanded:

Calendar Year Filings Filings Per Judge
2012 3464 289
2013 3432 286
2014 3153 263
2015 3235 216
2016 3287 219

 

Discussion. The School of Government is neutral and non-partisan, and has no position on HB 239. Of course, opinions are welcome in the comments. Research attorney Christopher Tyner collected most of the statistical information in this post and I appreciate his work.

3 comments on “Court of Appeals Caseload Information

  1. I would like to know what the position is of the people this bill will affect the most.
    The Appellate Judges and trial court lawyers should have input on this matter. If the NC BAR has taken a position it did not show up in my GOOGLE search.
    Regardless, there is no doubt in my mind that the Republicans in the legislature are in fact trying to reduce the number of Judges appointed by the Governor. Had Pat been reelected this would have never come up for discussion.

  2. everything is about power and money. they are the same. good government and the needs of the people are ignored. need a revolution

  3. […] retirement.  The legislation is House Bill 239, which Jeff mentioned a few weeks ago in a post about the court’s […]

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