Sharp Drop in Appeals Reaching DC’s Highest Court

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has made available caseload statistics through the end of 2016.  (I often represent litigants in the Court of Appeals, which is the highest “state” court in the District of Columbia—appeals from this Court go to the United States Supreme Court.)  One surprising trend is a dramatic drop in the Court’s caseload over the last several years.  In 2016 1,357 cases were filed with the Court (the overwhelming majority of these cases were appeals) and the Court disposed of 1,573 cases.  In 2012 2,159 cases were filed with the Court.

Interestingly, according to the same set of statistics, despite this sharp drop in the Court’s workload, the time it takes for the court to decide a case (the “Time from Argument or Submission to Court Decision”) has actually increased since 2012.  In 2012 the average time to decision was 136 days and the mean time was 56 days.  In 2016 the average was 141 days and the mean 84 days.

It’s hard to know the reason for this decline.  One factor may be a general drop in crime which would presumably produce a lower number of criminal appeals, which constitute a large chunk of the Court’s workload.  But, while crime in DC has dropped dramatically since the mid-1990s, criminal justice statistics do not seem to show a dramatic drop in crime over the last half decade.  Moreover, civil appeals are also down dramatically.  The narrative portion of the court system’s annual report is not yet available online.  It will be interesting to see if the Court of Appeals discusses the issue when the narrative does come out and, if so, what explanation it offers for this trend.