By Tamia Sutherland & Russ Bleemer
Here is a deeper dive into today’s U.S. Supreme Court consolidated decision in ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, which was consolidated with and covers AlixPartners LLP v. Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518. Does the new decision, which restricts discovery under a law aiding foreign governmental entities in U.S. courts, also limit discovery under the Federal Arbitration Act?
Our post covering the opinion from this morning can be found on CPR Speaks here.
In today’s unanimous 9-0 opinion, available here, the Court held that the use of 28 U.S.C. § 1782 for discovery in international proceedings was limited. “Only a governmental or intergovernmental adjudicative body constitutes a ‘foreign or international tribunal’ under 28 U. S. C. §1782,” wrote Justice Amy Coney Barrett in her first arbitration decision since ascending to the bench in 2020, “and the bodies at issue in these cases do not qualify.”
The statute, as the opinion notes, “permits district courts to order testimony or the production of evidence ‘for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.’”
Specifically, Section 1782 states:
The district court of the district in which a person resides or is found may order him to give his testimony or statement or to produce a document or other thing for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal, including criminal investigations conducted before formal accusation.
Justice Barrett focused in the opinion on the phrase “foreign or international tribunal,” citing Black’s Law Dictionary and the Court’s only previous Sec. 1782 holding, Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices Inc., 542 U. S. 241 (2004) (available at https://bit.ly/3xKIMO5), which permitted discovery to a foreign tribunal but didn’t decide the arbitration-application issue. She parses the definitions individually of “foreign,” “international,” and “tribunal.”
Citing the U.S. government’s brief, which sought a limited use of the statute that didn’t include arbitration, Barrett writes,
“Tribunal” is a word with potential governmental or sovereign connotations, so “foreign tribunal” more naturally refers to a tribunal belonging to a foreign nation than to a tribunal that is simply located in a foreign nation. And for a tribunal to belong to a foreign nation, the tribunal must possess sovereign authority conferred by that nation.”
John B. Pinney, counsel to Cincinnati’s Graydon Head & Ritchey–who is counsel of record on an AlixPartners amicus brief urging the Court to accept the case on behalf of CPR, publisher of this blog (details here)–says that the government’s intervention in the case was pivotal. He cites the government brief and, in particular, Assistant Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler’s participation in the March 23 Supreme Court hearing.
“Between the lines,” notes Pinney in an email, “Kneedler’s argument on behalf of the United States did change the momentum of the proponents’ arguments as well as bolstering the opponents’ arguments. . . . Justice [Stephen G.] Breyer, whose early questions seemed to put him in the proponent’s camp, appeared to move toward the opponents’ position during Kneedler’s argument when he made a comment that the well-heeled users of international arbitration could petition Congress if they wanted authorization for federal court judicial assistance. In other words: the view that the operative phrase, ‘foreign or international tribunal,’ in Sec. 1782 ought not be expansively interpreted and that, as a result, it should be up to Congress to be clear if it truly wanted federal courts to have jurisdiction to provide discovery assistance for international arbitral tribunals.”
The Supreme Court opinion’s section on the meaning of the statutory wording concludes by excluding private matters, stating,
“[F]oreign tribunal” and “international tribunal” complement one another; the former is a tribunal imbued with governmental authority by one nation, and the latter is a tribunal imbued with governmental authority by multiple nations.
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The opinion then compares 28 U.S.C. 1782 discovery to the Federal Arbitration Act. It notes that limiting the law’s use to “only bodies exercising governmental authority is consistent with Congress’ charge to the Commission,” referring to the Commission on International Rules of Judicial Procedure, which studied U.S. judicial assistance to foreign countries, and recommended improvements, including the law.
Barrett discusses the effects of adopting a broader reading, and, rejecting the plea, notes:
[T]he animating purpose of §1782 is comity: Permitting federal courts to assist foreign and international governmental bodies promotes respect for foreign governments and encourages reciprocal assistance. It is difficult to see how enlisting district courts to help private bodies would serve that end. Such a broad reading of §1782 would open district court doors to any interested person seeking assistance for proceedings before any private adjudicative body—a category broad enough to include everything from a commercial arbitration panel to a university’s student disciplinary tribunal. [The opinion cites petitioner ZF Automotive’s brief.]
An extension to private bodies of Section 1782 would create “significant tension with the FAA” because the discovery allowed under Section 1782 is broader, Barrett explains.
But in discussing the contrast, the passage that followed also appears to refine the FAA’s use, and is sure to raise questions about the limits among veteran practitioners:
Among other differences, the FAA permits only the arbitration panel to request discovery, see 9 U. S. C. §7, while district courts can entertain §1782 requests from foreign or international tribunals or any “interested person,” 28 U. S. C. §1782(a). In addition, prearbitration discovery is off the table under the FAA but broadly available under §1782. See Intel, 542 U. S., at 259 (holding that discovery is available for use in proceedings “within reasonable contemplation”).
“This wouldn’t be the first time the Court made arbitration law via dicta,” notes Fordham University School of Law adjunct George H. Friedman, a former longtime senior vice president of dispute resolution at FINRA in an email, adding, “Manifest disregard” [which had been used in addition to FAA Sec. 10 to overturn awards] was announced via dicta in Wilko v. Swan back in 1953.” For more on the Court’s FAA gloss, see George H. Friedman, “SCOTUS Decides ZF Automotive: Yet Another Unanimous Decision, This One Holding that Section 1782 Discovery in Foreign Arbitrations Applies Only to Governmental Tribunals,” Securities Arbitration Alert (June 13) (available here).
Barrett concludes the Court’s Section 1782 definition by noting,
§1782 requires a “foreign or international tribunal” to be governmental or intergovernmental. Thus, a “foreign tribunal” is one that exercises governmental authority conferred by a single nation, and an “international tribunal” is one that exercises governmental authority conferred by two or more nations. Private adjudicatory bodies do not fall within §1782.
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In looking at the facts in the two arbitration cases on appeal to the Supreme Court, the opinion analyzed whether the “adjudicative bodies” were “governmental or intergovernmental,” concluding that the matters were private arbitration, and not subject to Section 1782 discovery.
It was an easy call on the ZF Automotive case:
[P]rivate entities do not become governmental because laws govern them and courts enforce their contracts—that would erase any distinction between private and governmental adjudicative bodies. [Respondent] Luxshare’s implausibly broad definition of a governmental adjudicative body is nothing but an attempted end run around §1782’s limit.
The opinion quickly notes, however, that the AlixPartners case involving the Lithuanian government is harder. It features a government on one side of a case where the arbitration option is contained in an international treaty rather than a private contract, making the case appear to be an intergovernmental dispute under Section 1782.
“Yet neither Lithuania’s presence nor the treaty’s existence is dispositive, because Russia and Lithuania are free to structure investor-state dispute resolution as they see fit,” the opinion states.
Instead, wrote Barrett, “What matters is the substance of their agreement: Did these two nations intend to confer governmental authority on an ad hoc panel formed pursuant to the treaty?”
The Supreme Court analyzed the parties’ contractual arbitration options, which included using court-related processes, as well as Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and the International Chamber of Commerce’s Court of Arbitration.
But the parties chose “an ad hoc arbitration in accordance with Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).”
That, wrote Justice Barrett, “by contrast, is not a pre-existing body, but one formed for the purpose of adjudicating investor-state disputes. And nothing in the treaty reflects Russia and Lithuania’s intent that an ad hoc panel exercise governmental authority. For instance, the treaty does not itself create the panel; instead, it simply references the set of rules that govern the panel’s formation and procedure if an investor chooses that forum. In addition, the ad hoc panel “functions independently” of and is not affiliated with either Lithuania or Russia.”
The opinion adds, “So inclusion in the treaty does not, as the [respondent] Fund suggests, automatically render ad hoc arbitration governmental.” Still, after its focus on the ad hoc nature of the investor-state bilateral investment treaty dispute resolution process, the opinion notes that in the future, sovereign parties may be able to “imbue an ad hoc arbitration with official authority.”
In reversing the lower court decisions in both consolidated cases, Justice Barrett lays out the new rule of law on overseas discovery under 28 U.S. 1782 succinctly in her conclusion:
In sum, only a governmental or intergovernmental adjudicative body constitutes a “foreign or international tribunal” under §1782. Such bodies are those that exercise governmental authority conferred by one nation or multiple nations. Neither the private commercial arbitral panel in the first case nor the ad hoc arbitration panel in the second case qualifies.
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Sutherland, a former year-long 2021-2022 CPR intern, will be a third-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C. this fall. Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR and John Wiley & Sons.