Take the Fifth: January 2021 statistics

We report after each month on interesting statistics from the data we generate from the daily opinion summaries from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and at the end of a year we will aggregate that–all of which provides useful insights into the inner workings of the Court, the relative success of various appeals, and more.

The January 2021 statistics are based on 156 total opinions released by the Court.

Where the appeals are coming from

  • The most appellate decisions came from the Northern District of Texas, with 44 decisions from the 5th Circuit on cases originating there.
  • No district had a perfect affirmance rate in the 5th Circuit in January.
  • From decisions out of the Western District of Texas, there were 31 affirmances/appeal dismissals; against just 1 full reversal.
  • From the Southern District of Texas, there were 26 affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 full reversal; and 2 full vacaturs.
  • From the Eastern District of Texas, there were 9 affirmances/appeal dismissals; and 1 full vacatur/remand.
  • From the Northern District of Texas, there were 41 affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 partial reversal/partial affirmance; 1 full reversal; and 1 full vacatur/remand.
  • From the Eastern District of Louisiana, there were 6 affirmances/appeal dismissals; and 1 partial affirmance/partial reversal/vacatur.
  • From the Middle District of Louisiana, there were 4 affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 partial reversal/partial affirmance; 2 full reversals; and 1 full vacatur/remand.
  • From the Western District of Louisiana, there were 8 affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 partial reversal/partial affirmance; and 1 full vacatur/remand.
  • From the Northern District of Mississippi, there was 1 affirmance/appeal dismissal; and 1 full vacatur/remand.
  • From the Southern District of Mississippi, there were 2 affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 partial reversal/partial affirmance; and 1 full vacatur/remand.

What the appeals are about

  • The largest number of appeals are of criminal conviction and/or sentencing issues. 77 resulted in full affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 was a full reversal; and 4 were full vacaturs/remands.
  • In post-conviction relief cases, including state and federal habeas petitions, there were 10 full affirmances/appeal dismissals/COA denials; 1 full reversal; and 1 full vacatur/remand.
  • In immigration cases, there was 1 affirmance; and 13 dismissals of petitions for review of Board of Immigration Appeals orders.
  • In prisoner suits, there were 5 full affirmances/appeal dismissals; and 1 full reversal.
  • In commercial – civil cases, there were 11 full affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 partial affirmance/partial reversal/vacatur; and 1 full vacaturs.
  • In civil rights/constitutional claims (non-prisoner-suits), there were 6 full affirmances/appeal dismissals.
  • In qualified immunity cases, there was 1 full affirmances/appeal dismissals; and 1 full reversal.
  • In employment/labor law cases, there were 5 full affirmances/appeal dismissals; 2 partial affirmances/partial reversals/vacaturs; 1 full reversals; 1 full vacatur/remand; and 1 affirmance of an NLRB decision.
  • In personal injury/non-commercial tort cases, there were 6 full affirmances/appeal dismissals; and 1 partial affirmance/partial reversal/vacatur.
  • In environmental law/toxic tort decisions, there was 1 partial affirmance/partial reversal/vacatur.
  • In maritime/admiralty law cases, there was 1 full affirmances/appeal dismissals.
  • In bankruptcy, there were 2 full affirmances/appeal dismissals.
  • In social security cases, there was 1 full affirmance.
  • In election law cases, there was 1 full affirmance/appeal dismissal.

How much law is being made?

  • Of the 156 opinions released by the 5th Circuit in January 2021, 31 were designated for publication. 19 of those were full affirmances; 4 were partial affirmances/partial reversal/vacaturs; 2 were full reversals; 2 were full vacaturs/remands; 2 were denials of petitions to review a BIA order; 1 was a denial of a petition to review an agency decision; and 1 was a granting of a petition to review an agency decision.
  • 129 of the January opinions were unpublished, including 108 full affirmances/appeal dismissals; 1 partial affirmance/partial reversal/vacatur; 3 full reversals; 6 full vacaturs; and 11 denials of petitions to review BIA orders.

Who was doing what on the Court?

Who was the busiest, in that they were on the most panels issuing opinions in January? (Judges Jones and Elrod, followed closely by Judges Smith, Graves, Higginson, and Willett.) Who was the busiest writer, authoring the most opinions? (Judge Higginson.) How many opinions did the Court issue per curiam, with no author listed? (124, with 123 of those unpublished.) Who participated in making the most law, participating in the most panels with published opinions? (Judge Jones, followed closely by Judges Elrod and Willett.) We have all that below (senior-status judges in italics):

JudgeOn
panel
In
majority
Author
majority
Author
concur
Author
dissent
PublishedUnpublished
Owen88344
Jones28284820
Smith27273621
Stewart1515114
Dennis1717512
Elrod2828721
Southwick22221418
Haynes24242321
Graves27261126
Higginson27276522
Costa1919118
Willett272731720
Ho232321419
Duncan26263620
Engelhardt2323419
Oldham1817111414
Wilson18181612
Reavley
King1515114
Jolly16162610
Higginbotham15151114
Davis13121112
Duhe
Wiener1717413
Barksdale999
Benavides
Clement1515213
per curiam1241123

Conclusions? Most decision, as always, are unanimous, with only 3 dissenting opinions in January and 3 concurrences out of 156 opinions. By far the most decisions are per curiam, at 124, against 32 authored opinions. The Fifth Circuit continues to have a very active senior-status bench, with Judges King, Jolly, Higginbotham, Clement, and Wiener participating in an equivalent or greater number of panels to some of the active-status judges. Meanwhile, among active-status judges, the lightest production in January was from Chief Judge Owen.

Wrap it all together, and an opinion in January 2021 was most likely to be an unpublished per curiam affirming a criminal decision from the Northern District of Texas, with Judges Jones, Smith, and Elrod on the panel.