Sao Paulo State of Federative Republic of Brazil v. American Tobacco Company, Inc.

PETITIONER: Sao Paulo State of Federative Republic of Brazil
RESPONDENT: American Tobacco Company, Inc., et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court Eastern District of Louisiana

DOCKET NO.: 01-835
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 535 US 229 (2002)
DECIDED: Apr 01, 2002
GRANTED: Apr 01, 2002

Facts of the case

Sao Paulo State of Federative Republic of Brazil (Sao Paulo) sued American Tobacco Company (American Tobacco) in Louisiana state court and argued that American Tobacco knowingly did not disclose information regarding the dangers of using tobacco products. Sao Paulo sought compensation for federal funds spent on medical care for tobacco-related illnesses. The case was moved to federal court, where Judge Carl J. Barbier presided over it. American Tobacco filed a motion requesting that Judge Barbier be removed from the case because he had been involved in a former case against American Tobacco and would not be able to impartially decide the case. Nine years earlier, the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association had filed a brief in a case against American Tobacco that listed Judge Barbier as the president of the organization; however, Judge Barbier had retired six months prior and had not participated in the filing. Judge Barbier declined to remove himself from the case because he had not been involved in the previous case or any other tobacco-related cases and had no knowledge of the case at issue. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and held that, because Judge Barbier’s name was listed on the earlier brief, a reasonable person would have doubts about his impartiality.

Question

Should a judge be removed from a case when his name previously appeared on a brief for a case involving one of the parties?