We last reported on the Maine court statistics in this blog entry – http://www.maineappeals.com/still-here/ – covering 2012-16. The 2013-2017 period has now been posted (the FY ends June 30). The 2017 numbers reflect a continuation of the trend we commented upon in our discussion of the 2012-16 period: the total number of appeals are declining, with a big drop in civil commercial appeals. http://www.courts.maine.gov/news_reference/stats/pdf/year-trend/law-court.pdf
More specifically, the total number of civil appeals went down from 478 to 430 from FY16 to FY17, while criminal appeals declined from 174 to 160, so the total number of appeals went down from 652 to 590. Worker’s comp appeals increased from 12 to 18. 80B and 80Cs went down from 28 to 24, probate halved from 27 to 13, and “general civil” went down from 150 to 134. Family law appeals basically held steady.
The same trends seem to be on the horizon, if you look at the Superior and District Court statistics. http://www.courts.maine.gov/news_reference/stats/pdf/year-trend/statewide.pdf. The total of criminal cases is down 8.9%; civil cases are also down 7.4%. Personal injury cases in Superior Court are down from 853 to 773, and contract cases in Superior Court are down from 476 to 434, while statutory actions increased from 102 to 130. “Gen. misc.” civil cases are down from 333 to 304, title actions in Superior Court are down from 97 to 71, and foreclosures in Sup Ct are way down from 924 to 775. 80B/Cs are down from 234 to 217.
So what does this mean? I have no idea if the size of these numbers means you cannot make pronouncements that are statistically significant. But to me, on the civil front, it means that fewer people are going to the court to resolve their disputes. The total population is basically holding steady, so this decline may reflect a change in economics – less commercial development to have disputes about, etc. – or a growing view that the court is the not best forum to address those disputes. From a business point of view, you make a cost-benefit analysis, so if courts take too much time, or resources, or you are worried about unpredictability of juries or judges, then if you can put in an arbitration clause into your contractual relationship, you do, and seek resolution of other types of suits in other ways.
Or everyone has just become mellower – crime is down too. (It will be interesting to see what effect legalization of marijuana has on these stats!)