In the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at the Illinois Supreme Court’s reversal rates of the Districts of the Appellate Court, and at how the Districts have fared in the past nine years with the Court’s handling of petitions for leave to appeal.
Today, we combine all that work into a new measure – the “true” reversal rate. Virtually everyone reports the fraction of cases a Supreme Court hears on the merits and reverses as the District or Circuit’s “reversal rate.” But as we’ve commented before, it’s a somewhat unfair statistic. Even for the intermediate courts with the highest reversal rates, the vast majority of cases which litigants ask the Supreme Court to review are turned away.
We derived the statistics below by aggregating each District’s output, year by year, into the possible outcomes – PLA denied, PLA denied with a supervisory order, PLA granted and affirmed, PLA granted and reversed. The true reversal rate is the number of cases reversed on the merits divided by the total number of cases acted upon by the Court from that District during the year. Since denial with a supervisory order generally suggests some level of disagreement with the District’s resolution of the case, we also report a second number below – the number of denials with a supervisory order divided by the total number of cases disposed of.
We report the true reversal rates in civil cases for the First District in Table 294. Although measured solely in terms of cases decided on the merits, most Districts are reversed forty to sixty percent of the time, we see below that the true reversal rate is microscopic. In 2007, only 3.89% of all First District civil cases acted upon by the Court were reversed on the merits. The number dipped a bit in 2008 (2.92%) and 2009 (3.08%) before rising back to almost the same level in 2010 and 2011 (3.86% and 3.88%, respectively). The true reversal rate had a one-year spike in 2012, rising to 5.73%, before settling in between 2.5% and 4% each year since.
The rate of supervisory orders wasn’t much higher. In 2007, 4.67% of all cases disposed of resulted in supervisory orders. The rate was between 2% and 3% until 2012, when it rose back to 4.12%. Supervisories dipped to below 2% in 2013 and 2014, before rising back to 3.77% last year.
The true reversal rate in the Second District has been slightly less stable. In 2007, it was comparable to the First District’s experience – 3.85% of all cases disposed of were merits reversals. That number rose to a little above 7% in 2008 and 2009 (7.32% and 7.14%), before falling to almost nothing – 1.09% – in 2010. The true reversal rate was 3.92% in 2011, 6% in 2012, 3.53% in 2013 and 3.85% in 2014. The rate declined only slightly, to 3.61%, in 2015.
Supervisory orders were quite rare in civil cases rising from the Second District. In 2007, 2.56% of all cases disposed of resulted in supervisory orders. That number was halved the next year, to only 1.22%. Supervisory orders were more common in 2009 – 5.71% of the cases – but have been almost nil in the years since.
As reflected in Table 296 below, true reversal rates in the Third District’s civil cases were somewhat higher than in the First or Second. In both 2007 and 2015, 6.12% of all cases disposed of were merits reversals. The rate was at 5.88% in 2009 and 4.44% in 2012 and 2013, and between 3% and 4% in 2008, 2010 and 2011. The rate of supervisory orders was roughly comparable to the First District – 5.89% in 2009, 4.44% in 2012, and between 1.5% and 2.5% every other year (except 2007, when the rate was 0%).
True reversal rates began somewhat high in the Fourth District for the years 2007-2009 (4.69%, 6.25% and 4.29%, respectively). However, the rate has been much lower for the most part in the years since, staying between 1% and 2% from 2010-2012 and in 2015. The true reversal rate in the Fourth spiked in 2013, rising to 8 45%, before receding to 3.03% in 2014. The rate of denials with supervisory orders was similarly somewhat high in 2007 and 2008, at 4.69% and 3.75%, respectively. But since then, it’s settled down to between 1% and 2% every year (except 2013 and 2015, when the rate was zero).
Finally, we turn to the true reversal rates in the Fifth District. Based solely on the civil cases heard by the Supreme Court on the merits, the Fifth District nearly always leads the state in reversal rates. But we see below that the true reversal rate tells quite a different story. For 2007, the true reversal rate was only 1.45%. The next year, it was 2.47%. The rate rose to 11.67% in 2009, but fell to 4.76% in 2010 and 2.9% the following year. For 2012, the true reversal rate was 9.38%, but the following year, it was nearly nothing – only 0.89% of the cases disposed of resulted in merits reversals. The rate has increased somewhat in the past two years, to 4.44% in 2014 and 7.25% in 2015.
Join us back here tomorrow as we review the true reversal rates for the criminal side of the docket.