Rowland v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc. et al
ORDER AND REASONS: Before the Court is a Motion to Disqualify and/or Recuse District Court Judge Wendy Vitter, filed by plaintiff, Alfonso Ernesto Rowland, Jr. 16 . After careful consideration of the parties' memoranda and the applicable law, for the reasons set forth above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion to Disqualify and/or Recuse District Court Judge Wendy Vitter is DENIED. Signed by Judge Wendy B Vitter on 1/18/23. (cg)
Case 2:22-cv-01716-WBV-JVM Document 18 Filed 01/18/23 Page 1 of 4
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
ALFONSO ERNESTO ROWLAND, JR.
BP EXPLORATION &
PRODUCTION, INC., ET AL.
SECTION: D (1)
ORDER & REASONS
Before the Court is a Motion to Disqualify and/or Recuse District Court Judge
Wendy Vitter, filed by plaintiff, Alfonso Ernesto Rowland, Jr.1
Exploration & Production Inc. and BP America Production Company (collectively,
“BP”), oppose the Motion.2 The Motion was set for submission on January 17, 2023.3
After careful consideration of the parties’ memoranda and the applicable law, the
Motion is DENIED.
R. Doc. 15. Plaintiff asserts that the undersigned should be disqualified under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a)
because the undersigned’s spouse’s role as a member of Congress, his subsequent lobbying activities,
and his employment with the law firm, Butler Snow, LLP, give rise to an appearance of impropriety
in favor of the oil and gas industry. R. Doc. 15-1 at pp. 2-11 & 14-19. Plaintiff also claims that recusal
is warranted under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5) because the undersigned and her spouse have a financial
interest that may be substantially affected by the outcome of the Deepwater Horizon litigation. Id. at
pp. 19-20. While not a model of clarity, Plaintiff appears to argue that disqualification is warranted
under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5) because the undersigned’s spouse lobbies on behalf of other petrochemical
companies and, thus, “there is substantial support that your Honor and spouse have a significant
financial interest in [the] petrochemical industry.” Id.
2 R. Doc. 17. BP asserts that, “This is the third disqualification motion filed by a DWH plaintiff. The
grounds alleged by Mr. Rowland are identical to those asserted by the unsuccessful plaintiffs in Smith
v. BP Expl. & Prod., No. 22-842, and Bice v. BP Expl. & Prod., No. 14-1155. In both cases, this Court
performed a detailed evaluation of these arguments, concluding that they lacked merit.” R. Doc. 17 at
p. 1 (citing Smith v. BP Expl. & Prod., Civ. A. No. 22-842-WBV-JVM, 2022 WL 17403568 (E.D. La.
Dec. 2, 2022) (Vitter, J.); Bice v. BP Expl. & Prod., Civ. A. No. 14-1155, 2022 WL 17844617 (E.D. La.
Dec. 22, 2022) (Vitter, J.)). BP argues that the instant Motion should be denied because: (1) Plaintiff
fails to raise any new grounds that were not already considered and rejected in Smith and Bice; (2) the
Motion fails to mention, much less distinguish, Smith or Bice; and (3) the Motion is untimely. R. Doc.
17 at p. 1.
3 R. Doc. 16.
Case 2:22-cv-01716-WBV-JVM Document 18 Filed 01/18/23 Page 2 of 4
BACKGROUND & ANALYSIS
Plaintiff asserts that, “On October 31, 2022, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Filing
Regarding Motion to Disqualify and/or Recuse District Court Judge (Doc. 16), which
notified the Court of the pendency of a Motion to Disqualify in an unrelated BELO
case, a ruling which would affect the instant case.”4 On December 2, 2022, however,
this Court issued an Order denying the motion to disqualify the undersigned in that
“unrelated BELO case,” Smith v. BP Expl. & Prod., Civ. A. No. 22-842-WBV-JVM (E.D.
La.).5 In Smith, the undersigned did not find it appropriate or necessary to recuse
herself from any and all matters arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill,
explaining that the plaintiff “raise[d] no compelling or persuasive grounds for
disqualification,” and that plaintiff’s disqualification motion “appears to be an
attempt to manipulate the integrity of the judicial system.”6
Apparently wanting a second bite at the proverbial apple, the same law firm
filed a nearly identical motion to disqualify the undersigned on behalf of two plaintiffs
in another BELO case, Bice v. BP Expl. & Prod., Civ. A. No. 14-1155 (E.D. La.).7 The
plaintiffs in that case again argued that the undersigned should disqualify herself
from all Deepwater Horizon litigation and raised the same grounds for recusal that
this Court rejected not two weeks prior in Smith.8 The Court denied the motion to
disqualify in Bice, pointing out that the memorandum in support of plaintiffs’ motion
R. Doc. 15 at p. 1 (citing R. Doc. 16 in Smith, Civ. A. No. 22-842 (E.D. La.)).
Smith, Civ. A. No. 22-842, 2022 WL 17403568.
6 Id. at *5.
7 See, R. Doc. 66 in Bice, Civ. A. No. 14-1155 (E.D. La.).
Case 2:22-cv-01716-WBV-JVM Document 18 Filed 01/18/23 Page 3 of 4
was “word-for-word the same as their memoranda in Smith.”9
The Court also
emphasized that the plaintiffs had failed to mention the Court’s prior ruling in Smith,
“despite the obvious relevance, nor do Plaintiff[s] attempt to distinguish Smith in
any way.”10 The Court further pointed out that it was “unaware of any development
in the last few weeks that undermines that Court’s position in Smith affirming that
the undersigned could act fairly and impartially in all Deepwater Horizon-related
matters,” and that, “Plaintiffs’ Motion, it appears, is little more than a motion for
reconsideration of the Court’s Order in Smith, and a frivolous one at that.”11
The Court finds that Plaintiff’s counsel has again presented the Court with a
frivolous Motion to Disqualify that merely copies the same arguments that the Court
has now twice rejected in Smith and Bice. And, for the second time, Plaintiff’s counsel
has chosen to ignore the Court’s prior rulings in Smith and Bice, wherein the Court
rejected the baseless arguments now before the Court in the instant Motion. The
Court finds no reason to disturb its conclusion in Smith and in Bice that it “would be
improper for the undersigned to disqualify herself.”12 Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion
to Disqualify is denied for the reasons stated in Smith and Bice.
A judge has an affirmative duty not to disqualify herself unnecessarily.
Because Plaintiff raises no compelling or persuasive grounds for disqualification here,
Bice v. BP Expl. & Prod., Civ. A. No. 14-1155, 2022 WL 17844617 at *2 (E.D. La. Dec. 22, 2022)
(comparing R. Doc. 66-1 in Bice, Civ. A. No. 14-1155 with R. Doc. 16-1 in Smith, Civ. A. No. 22-842).
10 Bice, Civ. A. No. 14-1155, 2022 WL 17844617 at *2.
12 Id.; Smith v. BP Expl. & Prod., Civ. A. No. 22-842-WBV-JVM, 2022 WL 17403568, at *5 (E.D. La.
Dec. 2, 2022).
Case 2:22-cv-01716-WBV-JVM Document 18 Filed 01/18/23 Page 4 of 4
and, importantly, because the undersigned can perform her duties in this matter
fairly, impartially, and diligently, it is unnecessary and, indeed, would be improper
for the undersigned to disqualify herself.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
the Motion to Disqualify and/or Recuse District Court Judge Wendy Vitter13 is
New Orleans, Louisiana, January 18, 2023.
WENDY B. VITTER
United States District Judge
R. Doc. 15.
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