The Law on Evidence for Foreign Arbitrations Returns to the Supreme Court

By Bryanna Rainwater

The question of whether a foreign or international tribunal includes arbitration panels for the purposes of providing evidence under a federal court order is back before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is being briefed and is expected to be added for a conference in which the Court’s members will decide whether to hear the case.

The issue had been set as one of the first tasks for the Court in the opening week of the new 2021-2022 term, earlier this month.

 But in September, the Court dismissed the case at the parties’ request, and the issue about the reach of 28 U.S.C. §1782—”Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals”–disappeared from the court’s docket.

The latest case, ZF Automotive US, Inc., v. Luxshare, Ltd., Docket No. 21-401, filed Sept. 10, presents the identical question as the dismissed case, with one key difference. The issue presented is:

Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1782(a), which permits litigants to invoke the authority of United States courts to render assistance in gathering evidence for use in “a foreign or international tribunal,” encompasses private commercial arbitral tribunals, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th and 6th Circuits have held, or excludes such tribunals, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd, 5th and 7th Circuits have held.

The difference in the new version of the case, according to the petitioners, is that it is a “live controversy” and therefore “free from a potential jurisdictional hurdle” that plagued Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, No. 20-794, the case that was dismissed by the nation’s top Court on Sept. 29.

The hurdle referred to by the ZF Automotive petitioners, a Michigan auto parts manufacturer and a subsidiary of Germany’s ZF Friedrichshafen AG, and two executives associated with the company, is Servotronics’ mootness, because the discovery in the case was no longer needed in the face of the arbitration proceedings and the award. (The cert petition is available here.)

Servotronics had sought to end the Circuit split about the interpretation of the meaning “foreign international tribunal.” The Fourth and Sixth U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have held that 28 U.S.C. § 1782 encompasses private commercial arbitrable tribunals, as noted in the new ZF Automotive petition and its question presented, while the Second, Fifth, and Seventh Circuits have gone with a more limited approach which does not consider these private arbitrable tribunals to fit within the meaning of  the statute and, therefore, have denied discovery requests.

Servotronics was scheduled for oral argument on Oct. 5, the second day of the Court’s term, but removed from the calendar after the arbitration in the case was conducted in the spring, and the parties moved to dismiss the case in the wake of a July award.

For more on the Servotronics case dismissal and the case history, see Bryanna Rainwater, “Case Dismissed: Supreme Court Lightens Its Arbitration Load as Servotronics Is Removed from 2021-22 Docket,” CPR Speaks (Sept. 8) (available here).

The ZF Automotive petitioners urge the Court to clear up the circuit split and decide the true interpretative meaning of §1782. They argue that Servotronics amicus briefs warn that without resolving the §1782 issue for private international tribunals, there could be a disincentive for parties from entering into international contractual agreements.

Respondent Luxshare, a Hong Kong limited liability company, bought ZF AG’s Global Body Control Systems business in August 2017. During this transaction, the parties signed a Master Purchase Agreement which provides that disputes are to be governed under German law. The petitioners noted that Luxshare waited to file a §1782 application for discovery for more than two years after the transaction’s closing in pursuit of the purchaser’s fraud allegations.

Because the arbitration agreement specified that the DIS—that is, the German Arbitration Institute–would provide the panel to arbitrate the issues between the parties, the petitioner argues that the panel does not satisfy the requirement of being a “tribunal” within the meaning of §1782.

Luxshare filed the original claim in Michigan’s federal Eastern U.S. District Court under §1728 to seek discovery—documents and testimony–from ZF Automotive US and the officers before the arbitration. U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti granted the discovery in a limited scope, and ZF Automotive US’s subsequent motion to stay was denied by the district court.

Arguing that the interpretation of the Sixth Circuit—which oversees Michigan cases–is mistaken, the petitioners cite legal scholars, the Court’s own precedent and dictionary definitions to support their proposition that §1728(a) “includes only governmental or intergovernmental adjudicative bodies, and excludes private arbitrators that have no sovereign authority.”

In its reply brief, Luxshare counters that the case is a poor vehicle to examine the statute. “[T]he question presented may not be dispositive of this case, and may not even be necessary to resolve this case,” the reply notes, because even if the foreign tribunal definition included the DIS arbitration panel, their adversaries maintain that there are case-specific reasons for vacating discovery in the case. (The reply brief in opposition to certiorari is available here.)

Moreover, the reply notes that, like Servotronics, the case is likely to become moot before the Court can rule due to the unlikelihood of the petitioners agreeing to extend the time for arbitration.

In fact, the petitioners filed an Oct. 15 application for a Supreme Court stay on discovery to avoid the mootness issue with Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is the Court’s justice for the Sixth Circuit. (Available here.)

In a response filed yesterday, Luxshare contended that the ZF Automotive petitioners had not met the standards to grant a stay, and added that the stay would injure the company because it “will deny Luxshare the basic right to have its fraud claims against ZF US adjudicated based on the evidence.” 

Luxshare also wrote in its reply that the Court should deny the stay “for the additional reason that it would disserve the public interest, by both frustrating Congress’s purpose in enacting § 1782(a) and permitting fraud to go unremedied.”

An order had not been issued as of this post.

In addition:  ZF Automotive is no longer alone before the Court on § 1782.  The Luxshare brief advocating that the Court deny the cert petition points out that AlixPartners, LLC v. Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, covers the same turf.  The Oct. 5 petition (available here) for certiorari asks, similarly, “Whether an ad hoc arbitration to resolve a commercial dispute between two parties is a ‘foreign or international tribunal’ under 28 U.S.C. § 1782(a) where the arbitral panel does not exercise any governmental or quasi-governmental authority.”

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The author, a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Fall Intern. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed to this post.

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