The last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at reversal rates for the Appellate Court in cases at the Supreme Court. But the difficulty which few people talk about is that reversal rates are nearly always a composite statistic – either “all cases,” or at most all civil cases or all criminal. But mathematically, a high reversal rate can be explained by one of two results: (1) a very high rate in a couple of areas of law, and far lower rates in other areas; or (2) reversal rates around the baseline composite rate in a host of different areas. The difference makes a difference: ten years ago, the reversal rate at the Ninth Circuit became a political football. So was the Ninth Circuit supposedly out of step with the Supreme Court across the board? Or was the rate driven by very serious disagreements in just a few areas?
So this week, we’re splitting up the highest reversal rates at the Appellate Court by areas of law: the Fifth District (civil cases) and the Third (criminal cases).
The Fifth District is the home to St. Clair and Madison counties, which are somewhat notorious in certain circles as the venue for a substantial fraction of the asbestos cases in the country. So is the Fifth District’s reversal rate – which is significantly higher than any other Appellate Court in the state – driven by tort cases, or more than that?
First, we look at the areas of civil law which have reached the Supreme Court’s docket from the Fifth District. The cases are overwhelmingly tort law (50 cases) and civil procedure (47). After that, it drops off sharply to a mere 22 government and administrative law cases. Only two other areas are in double figures across our thirty-one year survey – insurance law (16 cases) and workers compensation (13).
In our next table, we report the reversal rates in each area of law. The overall reversal rate in civil cases is 72.43%. And we see in the chart that every area of law except government and administrative law which has contributed ten or more cases to the Court’s docket has a reversal rate over the baseline – tort (82%); civil procedure (74.47%); insurance (75%) and workers compensation (84.62%). Aside from administrative law, the areas where the Fifth District has a below-the-average reversal rate are relatively minor players on the docket, such as arbitration, domestic relations and wills & estates.
So what can we conclude? Yes, there is some evidence that the Fifth District’s very high long-term reversal rate is driven significantly on the civil side by tort and workers compensation cases.
Join us here next time as we review the criminal side of the docket.