The Civil Justice Data Commons contains court data on a wide range of civil case types, but researchers are often interested in a specific kind of case. They may often come to court data from a specific policy angle, such as an interest in the debt or housing landscape, where the justice system forms an integral part of the issue but is by no means the only forum for it. 

For these researchers, identifying which cases in the Data Commons fall into their specific case type is critical for research, but can be difficult to do without a legal background or added context. Part of that difficulty is due to the wide variety in the way case types are recorded in court records.

Below is a table of the different variables in the “Case Type” field of Maryland civil case records in the Civil Justice Data Commons database which contain at least one eviction case. They are listed alongside the number of cases in each case type. 

A table of case types found in Maryland.

Although the majority of cases are categorized as “Failure to Pay Rent,” thousands more fall under other case types. These 40 different case types are pulled from among the 394 total different case types in the Maryland data. Without specialized knowledge of the data, it may be extremely difficult for any given researcher, solely focused on looking into Evictions, to ensure they are capturing all possible eviction cases in their work.

There are some broad categories that the naming schemes of these case types fall under, some of which are more challenging than others for potential researchers to identify. 

Without knowledge of how the legal system works, it’s unlikely that many researchers would realize that eviction case types could be found in the case types such as “Appeal,” “DCA – DE NOVO,” or “Judgment – Monetary,” which represent different stages in the legal process rather than the original issue of the case. Knowledge of legal terms themselves are also required to decode that case types such as “Distress / Distraint for Rent” may indicate an eviction case. Without close knowledge of the data, they are unlikely to recognize the acronyms and initialisms that stand in for other case types, such as “FTPR” for “Failure to Pay Rent,” “TNHO” for “Tenant Holding Over,” or “BROL” for “Breach of Lease.”

Some case types are also more specific than the general evictions category, such as “Failure to Pay Rent – Mobile Home,” which means that a researcher who was only looking at the “Failure to Pay Rent” case type would be receiving an inaccurate picture of eviction cases that excluded mobile homes. 

There are a variety of reasons for this large number of case type variables which all may pertain to evictions. The Maryland case data was gathered from courts across the state and covers data from the 1990s to the present. Courts have used different case type names from each other and within courts case type names have changed over the decades. 

Although unifying case type names in the future would clearly be a boon to future research, this large variety of case types will remain on historical records. To accurately conduct research into court case records, therefore, it’s important for researchers to consider seeking out expert knowledge from those familiar with the legal system or specific dataset in order to capture all the cases they are interested in.