Continuing the practice of highlighting the work of our c0-editors, I am delighted to call attention to a newly posted article by Theodore Eisenberg and Michael Heise. The article, entitled Plaintiphobia in State Court? An Empirical Study of State Court Trials on Appeal, follows on Eisenberg and Kevin Clermont's 2002 article, Plaintiphobia in the Appellate Courts: Civil Rights Really Do Differ From Negotiable Instruments. That earlier article documented differences in reversal rates depending on such factors as the nature of the lawsuit, the nature of the trial court decision (bench vs. jury), and who brought the appeal (plaintiff or defendant). The new article extends the research into state courts, and the findings are both interesting and different. The abstract follows:
Two findings dominate prior empirical studies of federal civil appeals.
First, appeals courts are more likely to disrupt jury verdicts than bench
decisions. Second, trial court defendants fare better than plaintiffs on
appeal. But federal cases are limited by subject matter and comprise a small
of the nation's civil litigation activity. This study, which exploits a uniquely comprehensive database of state court trials and civil appeals, presents the first statistical models of the appeals process for a comprehensive set of state court civil trials. Using data from 46 large counties consisting of 8,038
trials and 549 concluded appeals, we find that state court appellate reversal rates for jury trials and appeals by defendants exceed the reversal rates for bench trials and appeals by plaintiffs. The reversal rate for trials appealed by plaintiffs is 21.5% compared to 41.5% for trial outcomes appealed
by defendants. The reversal rate for jury trials is 33.7% compared to 27.5% for judge trials. Both descriptive analyses as well as more formal selection models point to appellate judges' attitudes toward trial-level adjudicators as an important explanation for these asymmetric outcomes of civil appeals in state courts. Our results are generally consistent with prior research on federal court appeals but also suggest a higher reversal rate of trial outcomes in state court compared to federal court.