NCSC Report on the Landscape of Civil Litigation Informs CCJ Committee Efforts

Recently, IAALS Executive Director Rebecca Love Kourlis and I met with the other members and staff of the Conference of Chief Justices Civil Justice Improvements Committee for its fourth plenary meeting in Washington, D.C. The committee is evaluating civil justice improvement efforts around the country and developing guidelines and best practices for civil litigation, as well as caseflow management.

To inform the efforts of the Committee, the National Center for State Courts undertook a study entitled The Landscape of Litigation in State Courts to examine case characteristics and outcomes for civil cases in our state courts. The report, which examines civil cases disposed during a one-year interval in 10 urban counties in the United States, offers the following key findings:

  • More than half of the Landscape cases were low-value debt collection, landlord/tenant, and small claims cases.
  • For the entire civil caseloads, three-quarters of the judgments entered were $5,200 or less.
  • Most cases were resolved through an administrative process rather than an adversarial proceeding.
  • At least one party was self-represented in more than three-quarters of the cases.

As Mary McQueen, president of the National Center for State Courts noted:

“The findings offer a dramatically changed picture of civil caseloads compared both to caseloads of two decades ago and to perceptions held by many civil trial lawyers and judges.”

As intended, this empirical study has played an important role in the work of the CCJ Civil Justice Improvements Committee, which is expected to release its report and recommendations in 2016.