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Question of the Month

From the Catherwood Library reference librarians

August 2007

PLEASE NOTE: The Reference Question of the Month is kept current only during the month for which it was written. Archived questions will not be updated, and over time may contain inaccurate information or broken web links. We provide archived questions as a service, since much of the information will remain accurate and of continued interest to the ILR community.

Question: I am researching the litigation explosion, where can I find information on U.S. Federal District Court Filings?

Answer: Researchers believe that the litigation explosion that occurred between 1960 and 1990 contributed to the creation and acceptance of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). An often quoted source supporting the litigation explosion is a report from the President’s Council on Competitiveness, which found that in 1989 nearly 18 million new civil cases were filed in state and federal courts; and that Federal District Court filings had almost tripled in the last thirty years – from approximately 90,000 in 1960 to more than 250,000 in 1990.

The Report cites the Federal Courts Study Committee: Working Papers and Subcommittee Reports; July 1990, vol. 2. Published within that volume is a paper, Appellate Court Caseload: A Statistical Overview, by Vincent Flanagan. Table 2 includes total federal caseloads from 1945 (100,394) to 1989 (279,288) a 178% increase. (Please note the author provided no citations for the data.)

Additionally, the Council’s Report cites the 1990 Federal Court Management Statistics, which began publication in 1983. The U.S. Courts web page for Federal Court Management Statistics provides online the statistics from 1997 – 2006. (Please note that each yearly report includes statistics from the previous four years - the 1997 report includes 1992 data.) 

The Management Statistics for United States Courts provides total federal district courts filings for 1967 to 1982 (the publication ceased in 1982 and was replaced by the Federal Court Management Statistics).

Referencing the above two sources - filings for 1967 totaled 103,168 and filings for 1992 totaled 265,612, a 156% increase.

For more information on the litigation explosion, see:

Olson, W.K. (1991). The litigation explosion: What happened when America unleashed the lawsuit. New York: Truman Talley Books-Dutton.
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Gordon, L. (2005). Disputing the alternative. Boalt Hall Transcript, Summer 2005.
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Singer, L.R. (1994) Settling disputes: Conflict resolution in business, families, and legal systems. (2nd Ed.) Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
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— Researched by Mary Newhart