Newly released data shows the pandemic’s effect on case filings

Newly released data shows the pandemic’s effect on case filings

court data scalesDuring the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, case filings in state courts decreased by 28 percent, with some case types plummeting by 50 percent or more, according to NCSC’s Court Statistics Project.

The analysis of this data is the first broad look at the effect that the pandemic has had on case filings in state courts. The impact varies from case type to case type and from state to state.

In fact, case filings rose in some areas. Many courts faced growing backlogs as they reconfigured court spaces for social distancing, transitioned to video technology for remote hearings, staffed courthouses, and empaneled juries with new safety protocols in place. Additionally, some pending criminal cases experienced delays due to constitutional requirements that prohibit remote proceedings.

Preliminary numbers for 2021, however, show that courts are starting to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

“Early 2021 numbers show courts are beginning to catch up,” said Nicole Waters, director of the Court Statistics Project and of NCSC’s Research Division. “We anticipate the recovery to pre-pandemic numbers of filings to continue into 2022 and possibly 2023 for domestic and housing-related cases."

However, during the first year of the pandemic, case filings mostly dropped -- 26 percent in civil case filings alone.

In some areas, the declines are predictable. Federal and state eviction moratoria help explain the large decrease in landlord tenant cases. A 33-percent decrease in traffic cases and a 55-percent drop in parking cases is a result of fewer people driving to work, school, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and tourist destinations.

Another significant decrease came in child welfare cases, at least in part because children and social workers had less contact in 2020. That also helps explain why abuse and neglect cases decreased by 17 percent and parental rights termination cases were down 11 percent.

Domestic case filings dropped by 20 percent in 2020. The largest decreases in that area occurred in private child support cases (48 percent), paternity cases (31 percent), adoption and visitation cases (15 percent) and divorce cases (nine percent).

“Typically, we see trends that vary only a few percentage points year to year, but the changes we saw between 2019 and 2020 were dramatic,” Waters said. “In one year, we saw rate changes more than double of what would typically be seen over a five-to-10-year span.”

NCSC publishes additional pandemic-related data throughout the year to monitor anticipated shifts in national trends.

Wanted: 2022 O'Connor Award nominations


NCSC is soliciting nominations for the 2022 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education, which recognizes an organization, court, or individual who has significantly advanced civics education of the courts.

Nominations, which are due by March 4, must be submitted with the approval of a member of CCJ, COSCA or the NCSC Board of Directors. Include a letter detailing the nominee’s civics education accomplishments, a description of the civics program and at least two letters of recommendations.

Go here to read a full description of the award and complete nomination instructions.