Looking at all civil federal court litigation, case filings have increased because of two massive product liability multidistrict litigation matters centered on military earplugs and PFAS chemicals.
Lex Machina continues to explore how courts are affected by the social changes due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Our analysis of court activity through March and the first two weeks of April in 2020 compared to the previous two years revealed the following:
- Case filings have not yet been significantly impacted year-over-year.
- Case activity is down in 2020 compared to 2018 and 2019.
We also observed the increasingly frequent appearance of COVID-19 referenced in 2020 court records:
- COVID-19 is showing up in 2020 court records mainly due to general orders. However, 200+ cases filed since April 1st mention the coronavirus pandemic in the complaint.
To understand whether these trends continue, we compared court activity for the four weeks of April 2018, 2019, and 2020. Our analysis of court activity in April revealed the following:
Year-over-year trends that continue through April of 2020:
- Case filings continue to not be significantly impacted year-over-year, and litigants continue to move forward with planned litigation. Watching each specific practice area, we notice, however, that filings are trending up for some and consistently down for others in 2020 compared with previous years.
- Case activity continues to be low in 2020 compared to previous years. Terminations and findings are lower year-over-year.
Year-over-year trend changes in April of 2020:
- Cases with findings at summary judgment in 2020 increased over 2019.
- Case terminations decreased in almost all practice areas in 2020 over 2019.
Tracking Ongoing Month-to-Month Trends in 2020:
- COVID-19 continues to show up in court records with increasing frequency, both in procedural and substantive matters.
To continue tracking court activity trends into April, we compared court activity for the months of April 2018, 2019, and 2020 (comprising 20 business days each year). The specific dates are April 1 to April 28, 2018; April 1 to April 28, 2019; and April 1 to April 28, 2020.
The table below shows the number of cases filed during the months of April 2018, 2019, and 2020.
Case filings in antitrust, employment, insurance, patent, product liability, and securities increased from 2019. These practice areas all also had increased filings in March except for antitrust. Otherwise, case filings have decreased, although not by more than 35% in any practice area other than Copyright and Tax.
Looking at all civil federal court litigation, case filings have increased because of two massive product liability multidistrict litigation matters centered on military earplugs and PFAS chemicals. We found that the overall change in filings excluding product liability was a decrease of 16%.
Case Filings By Practice Area
Case Filings by Practice Area – Large Practice Areas
Case Filings by Practice Area – IP Practice Areas
Case Filings by Practice Area – Small Practice Areas
The table below includes the number of cases that terminated during the months of April 2018, 2019, and 2020. In most practice areas, fewer cases terminated in April 2020 than in previous years. The exceptions include environmental (which has a small case set), patent (which had no increase from 2019, and a negligible increase from 2018), and securities. Terminations are, overall, down 19% from 2019.
Case Terminations By Practice Area
Terminated Cases by Practice Area – Large Practice Areas
Terminated Cases by Practice Area – IP Practice Areas
Terminated Cases by Practice Areas – Small Practice Areas
The following table shows the number of cases with a finding in the listed judgment event occurring within the relevant time periods. These are specifically the findings that Lex Machina tracks based on our practice areas.
In the month of April 2020, 23 cases had findings at trial versus 47 cases in 2019. Cases with findings at summary judgment increased 15% between 2019 and 2020, with 298 cases in 2019 and 344 cases in 2020.
Lex Machina will continue to closely track findings at summary judgment to monitor whether the April tally was buoyed by circumstances surrounding the beginning and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cases with Findings By Event
Cases with Findings by Event
We used keyword searching to gain more information about how the courts are reacting to the recent societal changes. Nearly 29,000 federal district court cases match the search string “covid OR coronavirus OR pandemic” over all PACER civil litigation documents and docket entries filed in 2020. Many of these appeared due to general orders filed in large numbers of cases regarding new court rules.
Tracking New Cases Citing COVID-19 in the Complaint
There are new cases filed in federal district court that cite the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the search string “covid OR coronavirus OR pandemic” over complaint documents in Lex Machina practice areas filed March 1, 2020 through May 2, we found 395 cases and confirmed that 287 were caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
Our team continues to monitor litigation data for changes and aims to present meaningful updates to trends as they unfold. At the month’s conclusion, a full analysis of trends for April 2020 will be explored and presented.
This data was gathered from the Lex Machina platform on May 18, 2020. The Lex Machina platform updates daily and therefore any numbers in this report will change as new cases get added to PACER with new information. This report is meant to provide trends and general research information as of the date of publication.
All charts and tables provided courtesy of Lex Machina.