Labor appeals in the Third Circuit: Is your chance of any success less than 1 in 10 or closer to 1 in 4?

You represent plaintiffs in a Fair Labor Standards Act case.  Yesterday you received notice that the district court granted the defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion and dismissed all your claims. Being a rational lawyer, you’ve set aside your feelings of anger and frustration and are looking for information on what the chances might be that the Third Circuit will reverse or vacate any part of the judgment on appeal.  You’d be happy with an outcome that allows you to proceed with at least some of your original claims.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Court’s recently published statistics show you that in FY 2014, 8.7% of all “Other Private Civil” appeals were reversed. See Table B-5. Based on that number, it seems you have a less than a 1 in 10 chance.  Now you’re really depressed.

But all is not lost. First, the 8.7% figure does not reflect partial victories; appeals in which the judgment was reversed in part are included in the “Affirmed” column in the Administrative Office’s statistics.  (Check out the fine print at the bottom of Table B-5).  That means 8.7% may be an estimate of complete success, but it does not reflect partial success.

Second, the best that can be said about the cases that 8.7% is based on is that they do not include criminal cases, U.S. prisoner petitions, other U.S. civil cases, private prisoner petitions, bankruptcy cases, administrative agency appeals, or original proceedings. In short, Fair Labor Standards Act cases are in the category of “other private civil” cases, but so are antitrust, intellectual property, employment discrimination, tort, contract, and a host of other cases.

Using data I’ve collected, I’ve posted before some information on the percent of various types of civil-case appeals the Third Circuit affirmed or dismissed (and thus reflect, when subtracted from 100, the percentage of appeals in which the appellant gained some change in the district court’s judgment).  That information was only for FY 2013.  I now have similarly detailed information for FY 2010 through FY 2014, along with percentages across those five years.  Percent of Other Civil Appeals Affirmed or Dismissed, by Case Type and Fiscal Year. (This Table is also posted on the Statistics page, under “Third Circuit Statistics.”)  The numbers in the Table are far from ideal – they do not reflect, for example, the percent of judgments affirmed in Fair Labor Standards Act cases – but they are more useful than what’s generally available.

Within a case-type category (e.g., Tort), the figures in the Table bounce around a bit across years.  Because the bounces generally don’t reflect a trend up or down, I’ve computed a five-year figure as well (the last column) that shows the percent affirmed or dismissed across all appeals in the same category over the FY 2010 to FY 2014 period.

Fair Labor Standards Act cases are in the “Labor” category. Per-fiscal year figures for Labor cases range from a high of 82.2% in FY 2010 to a low of 63.3% in FY 2012.  In my FY 2014 data set, the judgment was affirmed or dismissed in 67.6% of Labor appeals.  Across the five years, the number is 74.2%.  So, my data suggest that the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment or dismissed the appeal in just over 74% of the Labor appeals it decided between FY 2010 and FY 2014.  That suggests a 1 in 4 chance of getting some sort of relief from the district court’s judgment.

To get a sense of how “low” this number is, look at the comparable overall percent for all “other civil appeals” – it’s 83.2%. In short, it appears that judgments in Labor cases have a much smaller chance of being affirmed or dismissed than most every other type of civil appeal reflected in the Table.  In fact, Labor appeals in my data set had the smallest percent affirmed or dismissed of all “other” civil cases for three of the five years shown.  That translates to a higher probability of success for the appellant.

Feeling any better now?


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