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Civil rights trial outcomes, Prisoner litigation outcomes, Dispute selection, Expectations theory, Empirical legal studies, Success rates in civil rights trials, Trial success rates in prisoner cases, Regional trial success rates, Jury trial success rates, Judge trial success rates


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Litigation


In ideal circumstances, court cases are won or lost on their merits. But litigation does not proceed free from external social factors or from the characteristics of the participants. Factors other than the merits of cases, therefore, may help explain litigation outcomes and selection of disputes for trial. Possible factors include judge or jury bias, regional influence, the type of case, the quality of counsel, and the nature and resources of plaintiffs and defendants.

This Article uses both impressionistic conjecture about litigation and formal litigation theory to develop and test hypotheses about factors affecting outcomes in civil rights and prisoner litigation. It examines data from nearly all federal § 1983 cases, title VII employment discrimination cases, and prisoner cases tried between 1978 and 1985 for which the Administrative Office of United States Courts reported an outcome. The Article explores four topics: success rates at trial, examined by category of case; differences in case outcomes across geographical regions; differences in success rates between cases tried by judges and those tried before juries; and differences in outcomes between litigation involving the federal government and suits in which the federal government is not a party.

Publication Citation

Published in: Georgetown Law Journal, vol. 77, no. 4 (April 1989).