Noticed Anything? There’s a Record Number of Cases Before Texas Appellate Courts
By Angela Morris
Texas’ 14 intermediate appellate courts saw more appeals than ever in 2019, while the Texas Supreme Court saw more petitions for review than it has seen since 2002, according to a new report on the Texas judiciary.
Those numbers emerged from the most recent Annual Statistical Report for the Texas Judiciary, which covers the state’s fiscal year of Sept. 1, 2018, to Aug. 31, 2019.
But despite their increasing workload, the appellate courts are still working efficiently, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said.
“The volume is up, and the supreme court is still clearing its docket of argued cases by the end of June. This year, certainly, we are on track,” Hecht said. “The courts of appeals’ clearance rate is down a little bit, but I think they will be back up. They work very hard.”
Texas Lawyer compiled four factoids from the report for lawyers to review and checked in with Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht to add context to the data.
1. More bustle
Intermediate appellate courts had their busiest year ever in 2019.
With 5,681 civil appeals filed in 2019, the Lone Star State’s 14 courts of appeal handled the highest civil filing numbers in their history, the report said.
When compared to last year, civil appeals increased 2%. When looking at five years, the gain was 8%, said the report.
The 14 intermediate appellate courts issued nearly 9,900 opinions total during the fiscal year. Among them, 63% were original opinions on the merit and 25% were per curiam.
It is hard to know exactly why appeals are increasing, said Hecht.
“I think it’s probably just more volume,” he said, noting that the trial courts are seeing more litigation, which naturally leads to more appeals.
2. 17% spike
Hecht said the same phenomenon of more trial court cases, and more intermediate appeals, also bumped the number of appeals in the high court.
The 981 petitions for review filed in the Supreme Court represented a 4% increase compared with 2018. There’s been a 17% increase when looking at five years of data, said the report.
3. Tidy Docket
Just because more people are filing appeals, doesn’t mean the high court is taking all of those cases. The justices in fiscal year 2019 granted only 9% of petitions for review, and 3% of petitions for writ of mandamus, the report said.
Hecht said the Supreme Court still has to review all the cases that come in the door to determine whether to grant review. Staff attorneys and law clerks help with that increased workload, he noted, and technology has also made the busy work more efficient. For example, when Hecht joined the Supreme Court 30 years ago, justices still had to carry around paper copies of petitions for review.
“You had to move them from place to place, turn it page by page,” he recalled. “Now, judges are able to access all the petitions in our case management system online. We vote online. It’s just a lot more streamlined and efficient than it was years ago.”
The impact of that efficiency may be that the court can clear cases from its docket faster than in years past.
The report said in 2019, the court still had 336 pending petitions for review at the end of the year, which is 10% fewer than in 2018. When comparing 2018 and 2019, the Supreme Court’s number of regular causes left pending at year’s end dropped by 4% and other pending petitions decreased by 6%.
4. What happened?
When the Supreme Court does expect review of an appeal, about half of the time the justices are going to reverse the court of appeals’ ruling, the report showed. The statistics show a high level of agreement among the court’s nine justices and a low level of disagreement on case outcomes.
Here’s a breakdown of the outcomes of Supreme Court appeals:
- Reversed – 50%
- Affirmed – 21%
- Modified – 17%
- Other – 11%
- Dismissed – 1%
Here’s a breakdown of the types of opinions the high court issued in 2019:
- Majority – 65%
- Per curiam – 14%
- Concurring – 8%
- Dissenting – 8%
- Concurring & dissenting – 4%