Sao Paulo State of Federative Republic of Brazil v. American Tobacco Co.
Annotate this Case
535 U.S. 229 (2002)
OCTOBER TERM, 2001
SAO PAULO STATE OF THE FEDERATIVE REPUBLIC OF BRAZIL v. AMERICAN TOBACCO CO., INC., ETAL.
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
No. 01-835. Decided April 1, 2002
Respondents moved the District Judge in this tobacco-products liability case to recuse himself under 28 U. S. C. § 455(a) because, before his appointment to the bench, his name appeared on a motion to file an amicus brief by the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association (LTLA) in the similar Gilboy suit against some of the same defendants. As he had done in a companion case, Republic of Panama I, the judge refused to disqualify himself on the grounds that he was erroneously listed as LTLA president on the Gilboy motion when he no longer held that post, and that he took no part in preparation or approval of the Gilboy brief. In Republic of Panama I, the judge found it un surprising that he was unaware of the brief because the LTLA affixed its president's name to all motions to file amicus briefs. The Fifth Circuit reversed, citing its prior decision reversing the judge's order denying recusal in Republic of Panama I.
Held: The Fifth Circuit's decision is inconsistent with Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp., 486 U. S. 847, which stated that §455(a) requires judicial recusal "if a reasonable person, knowing all the circumstances, would expect that the judge would have actual knowledge" of his interest or bias in the case, id., at 861 (internal quotation marks omitted and emphasis added). The Fifth Circuit considered what a reasonable person would believe without knowing that the judge's name was added mistakenly and without his knowledge to a pro forma motion to file an amicus brief in a separate controversy. The decision whether his impartiality might reasonably be questioned should not have been made in disregard of the facts that he took no part in the preparation or approval of the amicus brief and that he was only vaguely aware of that brief. When those facts are taken into account, it is self-evident that a reasonable person would not believe that he had any interest or bias.
Certiorari granted; 250 F.3d 315, reversed and remanded.
Section 455(a) of 28 U. S. C. (1994 ed.) provides that a judge "shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." In this tobacco-products liability case, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that § 455(a) required disqualification of a District Judge whose name appeared erroneously, prior to his appointment to the bench, on a motion to file an amicus brief in a similar suit against some of the same defendants. Republic of Panama v. American Tobacco Co., 250 F.3d 315 (2001) (per curiam) (Republic of Panama II). We grant the writ of certiorari and reverse.
Petitioner, Sao Paulo State, brought this suit against respondent tobacco companies in Louisiana state court. It alleged that respondents had conspired to conceal the health risks of smoking, thereby preventing it from adopting policies that would have reduced smoking by Sao Paulo citizens. It seeks compensation for the costs of treating their smoking-related health problems. The suit was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and assigned to District Judge Carl J. Barbier, who had presided over a companion case, Republic of Panama v. American Tobacco Co., No. 98-3279, 1999 WL 350030 (ED La., May 28, 1999) (Republic of Panama 1), vacated and remanded, 217 F.3d 343 (CA5 2000). As in that case, respondents filed a motion seeking Judge Barbier's recusal under § 455(a) because of his involvement, prior to appointment to the bench, in a similar suit against some of the respondents.
Almost nine years before the present suit was commenced, Judge Barbier's name appeared on a motion to file an amicus curiae brief in Gilboy v. American Tobacco Co., 582 So. 2d 1263 (La. 1991). The motion was submitted by the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association (LTLA), and erroneously listed Judge Barbier as the association's president, a position from which he had retired about six months earlier. The motion also correctly listed as a member of the LTLA's