Supreme Court Preview: Wednesday’s Combined Arguments Will Seek to Extend Federal Discovery Law to Arbitration Tribunals

By Tamia Sutherland

The U.S. Supreme Court will continue its two-week, four-argument deep dive into arbitration law and practice on Wednesday morning with an international law case.  It will consider the consolidated arguments in ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, and AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518.

The issue that the Court has agreed to decide is whether 28 U.S.C. § 1782 can be invoked in international arbitrations to obtain U.S.-style discovery for evidence. The question is whether the statutory language—“foreign or international tribunal”—extends to arbitration panels.

There is a circuit split on the issue, which is detailed at length at John Pinney, “International Arbitration Is Back at the Supreme Court with Today’s Cert Grant on Two Section 1782 Cases,” CPR Speaks (Dec 10, 2021) (available here).

ZF Automotive US, ZF Friedrichshafen AG (ZF AG) is a German corporation. It sold its Global Body Control Systems business unit to respondent Luxshare, a Hong Kong limited liability company. Luxshare alleges that after the deal with ZF AG closed, it learned that ZF US―a Michigan-based automotive parts manufacturer and a subsidiary of ZF AG―fraudulently concealed material facts during the negotiation and diligence process.

The Master Purchase Agreement provided that the transaction is to be governed by German law, and requires that all disputes be resolved “by three (3) arbitrators in accordance with the Arbitration Rules of the German Institution of Arbitration (DIS).”

In contrast to the private arbitration of ZF Automotive, AlixPartners focuses on investor-state arbitration, in which one of the parties is the government. In AlixPartners, the respondent Fund now before the Supreme Court is a Russian entity pursuing claims before an ad hoc UNCITRAL-rules arbitral tribunal against Lithuania for investors’ financial losses resulting from the insolvency of a Lithuanian bank.

The Fund brought its § 1782 request for discovery in New York against AlixPartners, a financial consulting firm that had advised the Lithuanian government regarding the bank’s insolvency.

More information on the cases and their parallels to Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce, PLC, No. 20-794 , a case dismissed by the Court last September before its hearing in the wake of an arbitration award, is available in John Pinney’s post linked above. [The post also contains links to a CPR amicus brief in AlixPartners authored principally by Pinney urging the Court to take the case, but not in support of either side.]

On Wednesday, the consolidated arguments will include an argument by the U.S. Solicitor General, Elizabeth Barchas Prelogar.  In an amicus brief in support of the petitioners, Prelogar and her office argue that Section 1782 “does not authorize judicial assistance to obtain discovery for use in an arbitration, before a nongovernmental adjudicator, to which the parties consent.”

The amicus defines a foreign or international tribunal under the law as “a governmental adjudicator that exercises authority on behalf of one or more nation-states. It criticizes the approaches of the two federal circuits courts permitting arbitration discovery as “unsound.”

The Court’s calendar with the arguments’ timing is available here; the arguments will be available live, audio-only, via www.supremecourt.gov.

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For an amicus argument against allowing Sec. 1782 discovery, see analysis by Derek T. Ho & Eliana M. Pfeffer, “Discovery in Aid of Foreign Arbitration Proceedings Unfairly Imposes Tremendous Costs on U.S. Companies,” 40 Alternatives 58 (April 2022) (available at https://bit.ly/3JUXs13).

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.

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