How COVID-19 Is Pushing Down Filings Across Practices

By Natalie Rodriguez
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Law360 (May 27, 2020, 6:28 PM EDT) -- Federal court filings in many practice areas saw declines last month as the legal system continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with tax and copyright cases experiencing the most dramatic drops, according to data released Tuesday by Lex Machina.

Looking at April federal court filings and terminations and comparing them to April activity in 2019 and 2018, Lex Machina found that while litigation continued to move forward as the coronavirus spread across the country, filings for 2020 remain slightly lower year-over-year, according to data released on Tuesday. The trend, however, has not touched each practice area equally.

"Watching each specific practice area, we notice, however, that filings are trending up for some and consistently down for others in 2020 compared with previous years," Lex Machina said in a post revealing the data.

Among those surging upward in April were securities and patent litigation filings, which had also seen increases in March, according to Lex Machina. Also seeing increases so far this year have been antitrust, employment and insurance filings. Meanwhile, tax, copyright and torts case filings have all seen significant double-digit declines over the same period, while a host of other practice areas — including consumer protection, environmental, trademark and more — also saw smaller dips.

Product liability filings from two large multidistrict matters also hit the court system in April, partly skewing the data. Including those cases, which center on military earplugs and so-called PFAS chemicals, all case filings in April were up 112% from the previous year. Taking product liability out of the equation, however, all other case filings were down 16% compared to all such filings in 2019, according to Lex Machina.

On the other end of case activity, case terminations are also down 19% for 2020 compared to the previous year, Lex Machina said.

In particular, cases wrapping up via trial decisions dropped significantly last month, with 23 cases terminating via trial decision in April. This accounted for half of 2019's April numbers and was down even further from 2018, according to the data. Summary judgments, meanwhile, ticked up in April 2020 compared to the previous year, but were still down from April 2018 numbers.

"Lex Machina will continue to closely track findings at summary judgment to monitor whether the April tally was buoyed by circumstances surrounding the beginning and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic," the data company said.

Lex Machina has also seen an increasing number of complaints referencing the coronavirus pandemic, finding more than 200 such complaints filed since April 1, Lex Machina said.

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

Law360 is owned by LexisNexis Legal & Professional, a RELX Group company, which owns Lex Machina.

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