We have previously looked at the rates at which the Sixth Circuit reverses the various district courts (see here and here), noting that the average and overall reversal rate fluctuates between 16% and 18%. Our clients are always interested in the reversal rates and we are frequently asked to ballpark the odds of winning a particular appeal. While each appeal must be evaluated on its facts, we also look at the overall reversal rate for districts, judges, and particular issues. Updating this information for 2015, we’ve found some surprising results.
Since the beginning of 2015, the Sixth Circuit has decided about 1,000 appeals that are available through commercial services (so this probably undercounts the number of Sixth Circuit dispositions) and more than 220 of those appeals resulted in reversals. This results in a reversal rate of 22%—which is somewhat higher than the Sixth Circuit’s historical average of 16% to 18%. We do not yet know what accounts for this higher number of reversals.
We’ve also found large changes in the districts that were most likely to be reversed. The Eastern District of Tennessee went from having one of the highest reversal rates, to one of the lowest at 16%. And the reversal rate for the Western District of Kentucky more than doubled from having one of the lowest rates a few years ago, 13%, to one of the highest in 2015, 28%. Similarly, the Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio went from having an average rate of 16% to a reversal rate of 23%. Here are the reversal rates for each district as we found them in 2015:
The Western District of Tennessee (15%)
The Eastern District of Tennessee (15%)
The Eastern District of Kentucky (16%)
The Western District of Michigan (17%)
The North District of Ohio (23%)
The Southern District of Ohio (23%)
The Eastern District of Michigan (26%)
The Western District of Kentucky (28%)
The Middle District of Tennessee (30%)
These data were gathered through various searches on different databases in Lexis and Westlaw to ensure consistency, but all produced similar results. The significant changes for 2015 in both the overall and district-specific reversal rates may reflect changes in the law resulting in a temporary glut of reversals or some other one-time issue. And, to be clear, we’re not statisticians, so we suspect that someone might quibble with extrapolating too much given the sample size and temporal restrictions. Nevertheless, the averages are something that clients will want to consider as they evaluate an appeal. We will continue to evaluate the data to see if 2015 was just a hiccup or reflects a general change in the Sixth Circuit’s willingness to reverse cases on the merits.