Cornell colleague Ted Eisenberg finds that civil rights plaintiffs are making less -- and less successful -- use of federal courts over time in a recent paper, Four Decades of Federal Civil Rights Litigation. While much of the scholarly literature of late emphasizes recently-heightened pleading standards, Eisenberg notes the influence of increased settlements. The abstract follows.
"Civil rights cases constitute a substantial fraction of the federal civil docket but that fraction has substantially declined from historic peaks. Trial outcomes, as in other areas of law, constitute a small fraction of case terminations and have changed over time. The number of employment discrimination trials before judges has been in decline for about 30 years, a trend also evident in contract and tort cases. The number of employment trials before juries increased substantially after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 but has been in decline since 1997. In constitutional tort cases, the number of judge trials has been declining for about 30 years; the number of jury trials has been reasonably constant over that time period. Civil rights plaintiff win rates at trial have been steady in both judge trials and jury trials for at least a decade. The success of civil rights litigation, as measured by trial win rates and settlement rates, has been quite low compared to contract and tort cases. Median awards in civil rights trials have increased more than the rate of inflation but median trial awards in both constitutional tort cases and employment cases are below the awards in contract cases and tort cases."