Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ever Thought Civil Cases Take Too Long? So Does the IAALS

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System has put together an extremely comprehensive study on the time consumed by civil cases in American federal district courts.  It purports to be concerned primarily with the discrepancy between the time certain types of cases take in one district court as opposed to another, why the discrepancy exists.  It also focuses on what can be done to remedy the unnecessary delay seen in some districts.  It begins with a series of findings, some of which seem rather obvious:

Finding #1: Cases in which: (1) a trial date is set early, (2) discovery issues are raised and
resolved within the set discovery period, and (3) dispositive motions are filed as early as possible
tend to be resolved more quickly than cases where these things do not occur.

Finding #2: About one-third of civil cases take more than a year to resolve.

Finding #3: Rule 16 scheduling conferences are held in less than half of all civil cases.

Finding #4: The time it takes a judge to rule on motions on disputed discovery, motions to
dismiss, and motions for summary judgment varies significantly across courts.

Finding #5: Motions to dismiss were frequently filed and granted, even before the Twombly

Finding #6: Holding a hearing is associated with faster times to ruling for motions on disputed
discovery, although the evidence is less clear with respect to dispositive motions.

Finding #7: Many cases settle shortly after a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary
judgment is denied.

Finding #8: About 90% of all motions to extend deadlines are granted in every court, but in
courts with faster average overall times, many fewer motions to extend deadlines are filed.

Finding #9: External reporting of case management data does appear to encourage courts to
rule more rapidly on certain motions than might otherwise be the case.

Finding #10: An attitude of efficiency, especially when embraced by both the bench and bar, can
contribute to lower disposition times.

The abstract describes it as:

This is an investigation into civil case processing in the United States District Courts. It broadly addresses two main issues: (1) the variation in the techniques, steps, and procedures that different judges and attorneys use to manage their civil cases, despite the existence of an (at least facially) uniform set of civil rules; and (2) the relationship between those techniques, steps, and procedures, and the amount of time it takes for cases to proceed from filing to disposition. Our objective is to explain how judges, attorneys and parties contribute to the overall length of a case through the procedures they adopt, tactics they use, and schedules to which they adhere.

Based on review of the dockets of nearly 7700 closed civil cases in eight federal district courts, the study examines statistical correlations between the overall time to disposition of a case and the presence and timing of typical events in the course of litigation (such as a Rule 16 conference, discovery disputes, and motion practice). It also sets out descriptive statistics concerning the use of scheduling conferences, discovery and dispositive motions, and extensions of time. The study concludes with a discussion of non-quantitative factors that may affect case processing, including local legal culture, public reporting of caseflow management data, and judicial leadership.

The entire article can be found here.

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