With some exceptions, the data I collect reflects information the parties have at the time they file their notices of appeal or petitions for review. I generally do not focus on the specific errors claimed by the appellant, or the rationale the Court of Appeals uses to reach its decision.
I review each opinion and order posted on the Court of Appeals’ website (or in the Court’s archives), both non-precedential and precedential. I do not collect information for all opinions and orders the Court issues (e.g., if the Court does not post denials of certificates of appealability on its website, those are not included in the data set). For every opinion or order posted, I first record the appellate case number or numbers. For each unique case number, I collect:
- The type of case (e.g., civil, criminal, agency, miscellaneous, criminal-habeas, civil-habeas), based usually on the docket number assigned by the district court or agency. For original proceedings (e.g., mandamus, prohibition), I record whether the underlying case is a criminal or civil case.
- The date the opinion or order was filed.
- The court or agency whose decision is being challenged (e.g., EDPA, Tax, BIA).
- Whose decision is being challenged (district court judge, immigration judge (if identified), ALJ, bankruptcy judge, or magistrate judge). Where multiple judges were involved in the district court, I only record the name of the judge whose decision is being challenged. I record only one name; I do not record the names of all judges on a panel whose decision is being challenged.
- The federal or local rule under which the appeal was submitted to the appellate panel (e.g., FRAP 34(a)(2); Third Circuit local rule 27.4).
- The date of the most recent oral argument, if any.
- Whether the U.S. government (or agency) is a party, and if so, whether the U.S. government was the plaintiff, defendant, intervenor, or other.
- Who appealed (e.g., plaintiff, defendant, attorney, claimant, objector, etc.). In the case of appeals from agency decisions, I record whether the petitioner is an individual or organization.
- Whether the appellant is pro se in the appellate process. For most appeals, I get this from Justia.com because that information appears to be as of the time the appeal was docketed. If not available from Justia.com, I collect the information from the opinion, if available there, or from PACER. For criminal cases, I record whether an Anders brief was submitted.
- The judgment triggering the appeal. For civil cases, this is the “final” judgment from which the appeal is taken (e.g., dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), summary judgment, judgment after jury trial, denial of a Rule 60 motion). This can differ from the decision actually being challenged on appeal. For example, the final judgment may be from a grant of a summary judgment motion on claims not dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6), and the challenge may be to the earlier dismissals. In such instances, I record the summary judgment decision as the “final” judgment. Where dismissals and summary judgments come in short succession or in the alternative, I record the summary judgment rather than the dismissal. For bankruptcy appeals, I record whether district court affirmed or reversed the bankruptcy court’s judgment, or took some other action (e.g., dismissed the appeal). For criminal cases, I record whether the defendant (1) pleaded guilty or no contest or was convicted by a jury (or after a bench trial); (2) whether sentence was imposed; (3) whether the case involved a judgment revoking supervised release, or (4) whether a decision on some other motion is the judgment from which appeal is taken. For agency cases, no comparable information is collected.
- The disposition of the appeal (e.g., affirmed, vacated, vacated in part, reversed, reversed in part, dismissed, petition denied or granted, in whole or in part, petition dismissed). Where the entire appeal is dismissed, I record the reason for the dismissal (e.g., jurisdiction, mootness, waiver).
- The date on which the appeal is docketed. I get this information from Justia.com, if available, or from PACER.
- The nature of the case. For civil cases, I record the nature of the case as initiated (e.g., civil rights, contract, tort, prisoner petition, bankruptcy appeal). This information comes from the opinion, if available, from the district court’s orders or opinions, or from Justia.com. The categories I use combine both the listing of types of cases used at intake and the listing that Justia.com uses. If the plaintiff in a civil case has made both federal- and state-law claims, the federal claims are used to record the nature of the case. For prisoner petitions, I record whether the case is a habeas case (death penalty, general, or motion to vacate sentence), a civil rights case, or a challenge to prison conditions. For agency cases, I record the nature of the statute being administered by the agency (e.g., immigration, tax, labor, black lung). The exception is criminal cases: for these I record what is challenged on appeal (conviction, sentence, conviction and sentence, or other). I do not record the criminal statute(s) involved in the case.
- Whether the opinion or order is precedential or non-precedential.
If the posted opinion or order vacates a prior opinion or order (e.g., because rehearing has been granted), the earlier opinion or order is removed from the data set. Where the Court of Appeals makes no decision as to the judgment under review and remands (e.g., so that the district court can provide a more detailed explanation), the case is not included. Remands from the U.S. Supreme Court are included in the data set only where the Court of Appeals must make a determination in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. Where the Supreme Court directs that the Court of Appeals take action without further consideration (e.g., directs that the lower court’s judgment be reinstated), the Court of Appeals’ order is not included in the final data set.
The Appellate Case (Not the Opinion) is Unit of Observation
The end result of the collection process is a data set in which the appellate case – as shown by a unique appellate case number – is the unit of observation and only cases in which the Court of Appeals has made a final determination as to the judgment under review are included. Thus, for cross appeals involving only two appellants, the coding process results in two observations: one for the appeal and one for the cross-appeal. For cases involving multiple parties each filing their own appeal and for consolidated appeals, the coding process results in one observation for each appellant. I constructed the data set so that I can identify those opinions or orders that dispose of multiple appellate cases, so I can determine both the number of opinions and orders and the number of appellate cases.
Using the appellate case as the unit of observation allows me to capture differences in how each appeal was handled. For example, where two criminal defendants were tried separately and their appeals consolidated, but the Court of Appeals vacates only one defendant’s sentence, that difference in disposition can be captured.