Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Whether Section 1782 Allows Discovery for Use Before International Arbitration Tribunals

By John Pinney & Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court today heard almost two hours of argument on whether 28 U.S.C. § 1782 allows parties to seek a federal district court order for discovery of evidence for use before international arbitral tribunals.  

In consolidated cases this morning, the Court not only heard arguments from the parties’ counsel but also conducted a potentially pivotal discussion with an attorney from the U.S. Solicitor General’s office.  The government sided with the petitioners and argued against Section 1782’s application for both private international and investor-state arbitrations.

A key issue that emerged during today’s argument was whether the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” should be the focus or whether the single word “tribunal” alone should form the basis of the court’s consideration of whether Section 1782 allows U.S. federal district courts to provide judicial assistance to international arbitral tribunals. 

The Court itself was hesitant about arbitration matters’ inclusion in the law, which is titled “Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals.” There are “too many problems extending this,” said Justice Stephen G. Breyer to respondent counsel urging foreign arbitral tribunals’ access to the law, asking whether the decision should simply be, “[G]o to Congress [and] get it worked out.”

Soon after, Justice Neil Gorsuch said that including arbitration tribunals “runs very counter to our intuitions that arbitration which is that it is supposed to be quick. . . . And [Sec.] 1782 is a very liberal grant of discovery.”

The cases were differentiated by the types of arbitration involved.  ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, is a private arbitration, and AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, is investor-state arbitration, involving the government of Lithuania.

The Court granted certiorari for the two cases argued today in December, shortly after another case addressing the same issue argued today was dismissed in late September.  That case, Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce, PLC, No. 20-794, was voluntarily dismissed on the eve of argument that had been set for Oct. 5, during the first week of the Court’s 2021-2022 term. 

[CPR Speaks blog publisher CPR filed an amicus brief in Servotronics and today’s AlixPartners urging the Court to take the cases because of the significance of their issues to international arbitration, but not in support of either side. These briefs were written principally by co-author John Pinney. For details, see John Pinney, “International Arbitration Is Back at the Supreme Court with Today’s Cert Grant on Two Section 1782 Cases,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 10) (available here).]

The first of the two consolidated cases argued today was ZF Automotive, which arises from a private commercial contract with ZF Automotive’s German parent that requires any disputes to be arbitrated before the German Arbitration Institute.  The ZF Automotive case was brought in Detroit prior to commencement of any private international arbitration in Germany.  The district court allowed the requested discovery.  On appeal to the Sixth Circuit, ZF Automotive, in a most unusual move, petitioned for certiorari before judgment to bypass waiting for the Sixth Circuit to decide its appeal. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on Dec. 10.

The second case, AlixPartners, involves an investor-state arbitration arising from a bilateral investment treaty between Russia and Lithuania.  Interestingly, the AlixPartners case is an appeal from the Second Circuit, which in its decision distinguished NBC (see details below), as well as the Second Circuit’s more recent In re Guo, 965 F.3d 96 (2d Cir. 2000), to allow Section 1782 discovery for investor-state cases.

By accepting both a private international arbitration case (ZF Automotive) and an investor-state arbitration case (AlixPartners), the Supreme Court is poised to decide definitively whether any non-governmentally created tribunal can be a “foreign or international tribunal” within the meaning of Section 1782. That was the key focus in today’s arguments.

The cases have attracted 12 amicus briefs – five in support of the petitioners opposing Section 1782 discovery, four in favor of Section 1782 discovery, and three in support of neither side. 

The most significant amici is the United States, which opposes Section 1782 discovery in both private and investor-state arbitrations, arguing that the term “tribunal” does not include international arbitral tribunals, whether they be created either for private international arbitrations or under bilateral or multi-national investment treaties.  The Solicitor General requested and was granted the right to argue orally for the United States today in support of petitioners.

Today’s Arguments

As noted above, a key issue that emerged early in today’s arguments was whether the Section 1782 phrase “foreign or international tribunal” should be the focus or whether the single word “tribunal” alone should form the basis of the court’s consideration of whether the law allows U.S. federal district courts to provide judicial assistance to international arbitral tribunals.   

The 58-year-old statute 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.  . . .”

The petitioners opposing Section 1782 discovery–Roman Martinez, deputy office managing partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Latham & Watkins on behalf of ZF Automotive, and Joseph T. Baio, senior counsel at New York’s Willkie Farr & Gallagher, for AlixPartners–argued that the entire phrase, “foreign or international tribunal,” must be considered, and that the phrase has never been used with respect to an arbitral tribunal.

The respondents, on the other hand, focused on the word “tribunal” and argued that it has frequently been used with respect to arbitral tribunals, both contemporaneously in 1964 when the statute was enacted and in current usage. The respondent attorneys arguing on behalf of, respectively, Luxshare and the Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign State, were Andrew Rhys Davies, a New York partner at Allen & Overy, and Alexander A. Yanos, a New York and Washington partner in Alston & Bird.

Veteran Assistant Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler’s argument, which split the four party appearances, appeared to be given weight, especially in relation to how allowing discovery under Section 1782 might affect the United States’ relations with foreign governments.  His argument contended that there is no meaningful distinction between private international arbitral tribunals and arbitral tribunals established under investment treaties, mainly because neither are “governmental.” 

If you have a U.S. court engaged in discovery, said Kneedler, “it creates the potential for . . . controversy and . . . for having the United States involved . . . in something that is really none of its business.”

The takeaway from Kneedler’s arguments was that the Court should be cautious in accepting respondents’ arguments because any expansion of the scope of Section 1782’s reach should be addressed by Congress.  Congress “had specifically in mind formality,” he concluded.

Kneedler’s point resonated with both Justices Gorsuch and Breyer in the argument that immediately followed by Andrew Rhys Davies, arguing for Luxshare to allow discovery under Sec. 1782 for the company’s arbitration in Germany.  Davies had a difficult time answering Gorsuch’s repeated inquiries on why a definitive Sec. 1782 extension shouldn’t be left to Congress.  Davies ultimately countered that there was no need because the full statute answers the application question by putting it in the U.S. District Court’s hands.

Breyer shrugged the answer off, and said there may be too many problems extending the statute, referring to timing of the discovery requests in the arbitration proceeding, including before a tribunal is established.

Davies insisted the statute as it currently exists contemplates those decisions by the federal court, but Gorsuch jumped back into the conversation immediately, noting that such moves runs counter what arbitration is supposed to be, characterizing Sec. 1782, as noted, as “a very liberal grant of discovery.”

Source of the Review

The Court’s review on this issue can be attributed to a 3-to 2-circuit split created when the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Abdul Latif Jameel Transp. Co. v. FedEx Corp., 939 F.3d 710 (6th Cir. 2019) (“FedEx”).  At the time, the only circuit court decisions on the issue had been decided in 1999 by the Second Circuit (National Broadcasting Co. v. Bear Stearns & Co., 165 F.3d 184 (2d Cir. 1999)) and the Fifth Circuit (Republic of Kazakhstan v. Biedermann Int’l., 168 F.3d 880 (5th Cir. 1999)). In both cases, the courts ruled that the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” in Sec. 1782 did not apply with respect to private international arbitral tribunals. 

After the Sixth Circuit decided FedEx, the Fourth Circuit followed the Sixth Circuit in Servotronics Inc. v. Boeing Co., 954 F.3d 209 (4th Cir. 2020), but in a parallel case also brought by Servotronics, the Seventh Circuit instead followed the Second and Fifth Circuits in Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, 975 F.3d 689 (7th Cir. 2021), holding that Sec. 1782 did not apply with respect to private international arbitral tribunals.

All of these cases came in the wake of the only U.S. Supreme Court facing Section 1782 head on, Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices Inc., 542 U.S. 241 (2004). Today’s arguments discussed extending discovery to arbitration tribunals in light of Intel’s inclusion of matters quasi-judicial and administrative bodies.

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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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Today’s consolidated cases are expected to be decided before the Court’s term ends at the end of June. The transcript and audio of the Sec. 1782 arguments are available on the Supreme Court’s website here. Justice Clarence Thomas has missed this week’s arguments — hospitalized with an infection, according to the Court’s Sunday announcement — but will participate using the briefs and the transcript.

While Court watchers’ eyes this week have been on the confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the continuing business of the nation’s top Court is a two-week deep dive into arbitration. The arbitration focus will resume with arguments on Monday morning with Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309. That employment case will consider whether workers who load or unload goods from vehicles that travel in interstate commerce, but do not physically transport such goods themselves, are interstate ‘transportation workers’ exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act.

Highlights from Morgan v. Sundance Inc.No. 21-328 — an employment arbitration case that was the first of the March arbitration cases, argued earlier this week — can be found on CPR Speaks here. The four-case run will conclude next Wednesday with Viking River Cruises v. MorianaNo. 20-1573, which focuses on the relationship between the FAA and California’s Private Attorneys General Act. For background on Viking River, see Mark Kantor, “US Supreme Court to Review Whether Private Attorney General Action Can Be Waived by an Arbitration Agreement,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 16) (available here).

And one 2021-2022 term arbitration case, Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, awaits decision. Details on the case from the Nov. 2 arguments is available on CPR Speaks here.

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Pinney is counsel to Graydon Head & Ritchey in Cincinnati. On CPR’s behalf, he acted as counsel of record in an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the Servotronics and AlixPartners cases, as detailed above. Details on the brief can be found on CPR Speaks here. His AlixPartners brief on CPR’s behalf can be found on the Supreme Court docket page linked at the top or directly at https://bit.ly/3pzZpHj. Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR at altnewsletter.com.  Tamia Sutherland, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., assisted with the preparation of this post.

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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.

[END]

Case Dismissed: Supreme Court Lightens Its Arbitration Load as Servotronics Is Removed from 2021-22 Docket

By Bryanna Rainwater

The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the first arbitration case it had accepted for this fall’s term.

Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, et al., Docket No. 20-794, has been officially removed from the Supreme Court’s docket as of today, with the Oct. 5 opening week oral argument wiped off the schedule.  You can see the Court’s order in the docket here.

Petitioner Servotronics’ counsel, issued a Sept. 8 letter to the Court stating it would file a formal dismissal request “within the next few days” per Rule 46 of the Rules of the Court.

The dismissal follows the completion of arbitration in London this summer. The U.S. Solicitor General’s office had requested and been granted permission to participate in the oral arguments.

The issue that was awaiting the Supreme Court was whether the discretion granted to district courts in 28 U.S.C. §1782(a) to render assistance in gathering evidence for use in “a foreign or international tribunal” encompasses private commercial arbitral tribunals, as the Fourth and Sixth U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have held, or excludes such tribunals without expressing an exclusionary intent, as the Second, Fifth, and, in the case below, the Seventh Circuit, have held.  See Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls Royce PLC, No. 19-1847 (7th Cir. Sept. 22, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3dpNyF4).   

Since the Court has declined to hear this case, the future of international private commercial arbitration discovery is still unclear, with pending cases in federal circuit courts.

For more background on the Servotronics history, please see CPR’s coverage:

  1. Cai Phillips-Jones, “United States Submits Amicus Brief in Servotronics International Arbitration Supreme Court Case,” CPR Speaks (July 8) (available here).
  2. Amy Foust, “The Next Arbitration Matter: Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Extent of Foreign Tribunal Evidence Powers,” (March 22) (available here).
  3. “YouTube Analysis: What Happens Next with the 3/22 Servotronics Cert Grant on Foreign Arbitration Evidence,” CPR Speaks (March 22) (available here).
  4. “CPR Files Amicus Brief Asking U.S. Supreme Court to Tackle Foreign Discovery for Arbitration,” CPR Speaks (Jan. 6) (available here).
  5. John B. Pinney, “Will the Supreme Court Take Up Allowing Discovery Under Section 1782 for Private International Arbitrations?” 38 Alternatives 103 (July/August 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/38PDOSk).
  6. John B. Pinney, “Update: The Section 1782 Conflict Intensifies as the International Arbitration Issue Goes to the Supreme Court,” 38 Alternatives 125 (September 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3tbgFCX).

The Court recently scheduled its second–and suddenly, sole–arbitration matter for the new term.  Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, will discuss “[w]hether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act when the only basis for jurisdiction is that the underlying dispute involved a federal question.”  It will be argued on Nov. 2.

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The author, a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Fall Intern.

[END]

United States Submits Amicus Brief in Servotronics International Arbitration Supreme Court Case

By Cai Phillips-Jones

Multiple parties have filed briefs concerning arbitration discovery rules in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court for fall argument, Servotronics v. Rolls Royce, No. 794 (see the Court’s official docket at https://bit.ly/3ysbMrL).  

In the case, the Court will decide the question of whether federal district courts can assist with obtaining evidence in foreign arbitration cases at the parties’ request. The argument date has not yet been set.

The U.S. Solicitor General’s office in the Justice Department has filed an amicus brief advocating on behalf of the U.S. government for a narrow interpretation of 28 U.S.C. 1782, a law that has created a split among federal circuit courts. The law allows circuit courts to authorize discovery for litigation originating in “foreign tribunals,” including compelling testimony from witnesses residing in the United States. 

But circuit courts have not been able to agree about whether the law pertains to arbitration taking place in foreign countries: The Fourth and Sixth U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals support court involvement in discovery for these arbitrations under Section 1782, and the Second, Fifth and Seventh Circuits reject this interpretation of the law.

The Fourth and Seventh Circuits both heard the same Servotronics case that is now on the Supreme Court docket. The circuit courts reached opposite conclusions. For background on the cases’ paths and how the current Seventh Circuit case made it to the Supreme Court, see Amy Foust, “The Next Arbitration Matter: Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Extent of Foreign Tribunal Evidence Powers,” CPR Speaks (March 22) (available at https://bit.ly/36cp27K), and “YouTube Analysis: What Happens Next with the 3/22 Servotronics Cert Grant on Foreign Arbitration Evidence,” CPR Speaks (March 22) (available at https://bit.ly/3jLbVT3).

CPR, which publishes CPR Speaks, submitted an amicus brief in support of the Servotronics certiorari request in January, which also was the subject of an amicus brief by the Atlanta International Arbitration Society. Since the petition was granted, 11 additional amicus briefs, including the brief of the Solicitor General’s office, have been filed.

Of the group, two state that they do no support either party–those of Prof. Yanbai Andrea Wang, of Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, who asks the Court to clarify the scope of Section 1782, previously interpreted in the Intel case discussed below; and the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce, which discusses the ICC’s international law views.

Two briefs support the petitioner, submitted on behalf of Columbia Law School Prof. George A. Bermann; and Palo Alto, Calif.-based ADR provider Federal Arbitration Inc.

Seven of the briefs support the respondent in seeking a narrow scope for Section 1782 discovery to exclude international arbitrations. In addition to the U.S. government’s brief, they include briefs submitted on behalf of China and Hong Kong-based arbitrators Dr. Xu Guojian, Li Hongji, Zhu Yongrui, Tang Qingyang, Chi Manjiao, Ronald Sum, and Dr. Zhang Guanglei; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable; International Arbitration Center in Tokyo;  the General Aviation Manufacturers Association Inc. and the Aerospace Industries Association; Halliburton Co., which is facing a Section 1782 issue in a separate case, and the Institute of International Bankers, a New York City-based industry association of international banks operating in the United States.

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In its brief, the government reviews the history of requests for discovery from foreign parties.

According to the amicus brief, prior to 1855, federal courts did not have the authority to compel a witness to testify in a case involving a foreign state party. In 1855, an act was passed by Congress to remedy this, but in a strange twist this law was subsequently “buried in oblivion” due to “a succession of errors in indexing and revising the statutes” and lost to the courts. A similar law was passed in 1877 and, in 1948, the law was broadened to include discovery for non-state parties.

In 1964, the language in the law was broadened again, applying to “a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal” compared to the previous version’s “any judicial proceeding in any court in a foreign country.” Since then, only one Supreme Court case has discussed the scope of the law, Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices Inc., 542 U.S. 241 (2004).

The case concerned the distinction between judicial and administrative processes and whether Section 1782 applied to the latter. The Court found it applied. But recently, disagreement  has sprung up about whether the “foreign tribunal” language includes arbitrations involving foreign parties. The U.S. government has now taken the position that the law should not apply to private foreign arbitrations.

In its brief, United States argues (1) that such discovery functions were not within the scope of Congress’ intent when it passed 28 U.S.C 1782; (2) that interpreting the law to apply to international commercial arbitrations would create asymmetry with the domestic rules of arbitration incorporated in the Federal Arbitration Act; and (3) such an interpretation would create additional problems if extended to investor-state arbitration.

Noting that previous versions of the law clearly referred to only courts, the government acknowledges that the 1964 revision changed this language from “any judicial proceeding in any court in a foreign country,” to “a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” This change, according to the government, and in contrast to the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation, was “only a measured expansion of the provision’s scope to capture quasi-judicial entities (such as investigating magistrates) and certain intergovernmental bodies (such as state-to-state claims commissions).” As the government points out, at the time the 1964 law was passed, international commercial arbitration was still novel, and thus likely outside Congress’s intent.

The government’s second argument discusses the incongruence of the limited discovery available under the FAA to arbitrators, in contrast to the discovery requests available to parties under Section 1782. Interpreting the law to apply to commercial arbitrations would “[allow] more expansive discovery in foreign disputes than what is permitted domestically,” the government’s amicus brief states.

While the court acknowledges that Section 1782 is not coextensive with domestic discovery rules, the “stake asymmetry” produced by a broad interpretation of the law “should [be taken] into account” in determining the law’s scope.

Finally, the government discusses a particular type of arbitration, investor-state arbitration, which gives investors who have claims against a foreign state in which they held an investment a private remedy for losses allegedly caused by the state. Arbitration in this context replaced a more time-consuming and expensive process, diplomatic protection, involving a government negotiating a resolution on behalf of one of its citizens who has suffered an economic injury.

The solicitor general’s amicus brief argues that investor-state arbitrations would be hampered by additional discovery procedures and “upset settled expectations” of investor and state parties entering contracts.

The U.S. government, in addition to filing a brief, has requested permission from the court to argue the case with the parties this fall The Court has not yet acted on the oral argument request, which is expected to be granted.

Meantime, the underlying arbitration in Servotronics has been conducted in London the week of May 10. If a decision emerges before the Court hears the arguments, the existence of an arbitration award could raise questions of mootness.

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[END]

Court Declines Question on Email Service, Leaving an International Arbitration Award Confirmation Intact

By Jacqueline Perrotta

Today, the Supreme Court declined to hear Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua S.A.B. de C.V., et al. v. Compañía de Inversiones Mercantiles S.A., No. 20-1033, an international arbitration case regarding a breached stock-purchase agreement. The petitioner had asked the Supreme Court whether service of process by email, in line with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3), to a foreign entity’s U.S. counsel violates the Hague Service Convention.

This morning’s order list denying cert in Grupo Cementos can be found here.

The Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters, Nov. 15, 1965, 20 U.S.T. 361, better known as the Hague Service Convention, details what constitutes valid service on parties in another country. The petitioner argued that the dispute falls under the Hague Service Convention and “service,” as instructed by the convention, does not include service by email.

The parties are a Bolivian company, Compañía de Inversions Mercantiles S.A. (“Cimsa”), the respondent in the U.S. Supreme Court case and the original plaintiff, and Mexican companies Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, S.A.B. de C.V. and GCC Latinoamerica, S.A. de C.V. (collectively “GCC”), which appealed the case to the Court (cert petition available here) and who are the original defendants.

GCC had agreed to give Cimsa a right of first refusal if GCC decided to sell shares it acquired in a third-party cement company. GCC sold shares to a Peruvian company, and Cimsa alleged the sale breached its right of first refusal.

The companies had agreed to arbitrate disagreements arising from the stock deal. In a Bolivian arbitration, Cimsa was awarded several million dollars for the breach of its right of first refusal. GCC challenged this decision; litigation over the arbitration damages award is continuing in Bolivia.

This case came before a Colorado U.S. District Court when Cimsa filed an arbitral award confirmation action through the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, which recognizes and enforces foreign arbitral awards.

Cimsa received court permission to serve GCC through its U.S. counsel, which GCC claimed was improper service. The district court found that alternative service through the GGC’s U.S. Counsel was proper under the Hague Service Convention, and confirmed the award.

The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that service was proper, and also affirmed the district court’s decision to back the Bolivian arbitration tribunal’s decision. Compania De Inversiones v. Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, No. 19-1151 (10th Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3vBlh65).

In holding that the district court correctly confirmed the arbitration tribunal, the Tenth Circuit found that courts construe the New York Convention defenses to enforcing awards “`narrowly’ to ‘encourage recognition and enforcement of commercial arbitration contracts’ citing OJSC Ukrnafta v. Carpatsky Petroleum Corp., 957 F.3d 487, 497 (5th Cir. 2020).

By affirming the district court’s decision, the Tenth Circuit has found that proper service under the Hague Convention includes service by email. By this morning’s Supreme Court action, that case stands, and the arbitration award’s confirmation will not be affected.

At the same time, in its cert petition, GCC had challenged the U.S. award confirmation on the basis that the U.S. courts did not have sufficient contacts for personal jurisdiction, which was also the subject of then-pending U.S. Supreme Court cases, Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, No. 19-368 and Ford Motor Co. v. Bandemer, No. 19-369 (S. Ct.).  The Court decided the consolidated cases in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, No. 19-368 (March 25, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3wU5sbO).

With today’s cert denial, the Court also declined the petitioners’ suggestion to grant certiorari, vacate the matter, and remand for a decision on personal jurisdiction in accordance with the Ford Motor decision.

GCC’s Supreme Court cert petition can be found at https://bit.ly/2SOkTnl

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The Court today declined to hear a second arbitration case, Amazon.com Inc., et al. v. Bernard Waithaka, No. 20-1077.

Amazon had asked the Court to consider ” Whether the Federal Arbitration Act’s exemption for classes of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce, 9 U.S.C. 1, prevents the Act’s application to local transportation workers who, as a class, are not engaged to transport goods or passengers across state or national boundaries.”

Amazon had cited conflicting lower court authority on whether drivers who signed up for an Amazon distribution program and who stayed within state lines could avoid arbitration provisions under the FAA exemption in their disputes with online retailing giant.

Both the federal district court and appeals court declined to compel arbitration. Those decisions stand, with other cases still pending. Earlier this year, in a similar case Amazon linked to today’s decision, the Court declined cert in Amazon.com Inc. v. Rittmann, No. 20-622 (Feb. 22).

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter her second year this fall at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[END]

Will the U.S. Supreme Court Allow Discovery in Private International Arbitrations?

By Russ Bleemer

Under federal circuit court case law, 28 U.S.C. §1782(a) did not include private international arbitration tribunals under its provisions for ““Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals.”

In other words, “foreign and international tribunals” didn’t include arbitrations.

Suddenly, last fall, that court view began to change, and an esoteric and once-sedentary point of law is facing upheaval. 

In an article in the new July/August issue of Alternatives, and in the video above, John B. Pinney of Graydon in Cincinnati explains how seemingly settled law has erupted into six federal circuit court cases, and is about to be put before the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court on a cert petition.

Will the nation’s top Court take up the matter?

John ties together the cases and sets out the prospects on whether the Court will decide to incorporate arbitral tribunals into the §1782 definition in his just-posted article, “Will the Supreme Court Take Up Allowing Discovery Under Section 1782 for Private International Arbitrations?” 38 Alternatives 103 (available in multiple formats at https://bit.ly/2ZwUt8N; see altnewsletter.com for full issues and archives).

He also discusses in the video and the article the practice implications—what arbitrators, arbitration users, and providers need to do now in the wake of the evolving caselaw.

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The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, on publisher CPR Institute’s website here, and on the Wiley Online Library at altnewsletter.com.

Holding There Is No Treaty-FAA Conflict, Supreme Court Permits Equitable Estoppel for International Arbitration Parties

By Russ Bleemer

Philip J. Loree and Richard D. Faulkner discuss the GE Energy v. Outokumpu Supreme Court decision with Alternatives editor, Russ Bleemer

Seeing no conflict between key international arbitration enforcement law implemented by the Federal Arbitration Act and state laws, the U.S. Supreme Court today permitted a company that was not a party to an arbitration contract to make its case in using the doctrine of equitable estoppel to enforce an arbitration agreement.

GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS Corp. v. Outokumpu Stainless USALLC, et al., No. 18-1048 (available at https://bit.ly/2XogerH), reverses and remands an Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said that GE Energy, which provided motors to Outkumpu via a general contractor, could not use the contract between Outokumpu and the general contractor to take the case to arbitration.

A unanimous opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas held that the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (available at https://bit.ly/2ZVazuK), which is codified in United States in the FAA’s second chapter, does not conflict with domestic equitable estoppel doctrines that permit the enforcement of arbitration agreements by nonsignatories.

On remand, GE Energy will be able to use the equitable estoppel doctrine to invoke the arbitration contract between Outokumpu and the general contractor, and argue that the contract contemplates that nonparty suppliers to the general contractor may use arbitration to settle disputes.

Much of the opinion centered on the role of nonparties in invoking arbitration agreements under the international and national laws, deploying, in Thomas’s words, a “textual” analysis of the Convention and the FAA.

The predecessors and affiliates of Outokumpu, a Calvert, Ala., steel manufacturer, signed a contract for the construction of three mills. The contract contained an arbitration clause. The construction company subcontracted for nine motors to run the plants from petitioner GE Energy. When Outokumpu filed suit against GE Energy after it refused repairs on the motors, all of which failed, GE Energy asked a court to compel arbitration under the Outokumpu-general contractor agreement, also objecting to Outokumpu’s attempted federal-court joinder of foreign insurers.

GE Energy was not a party to the Outokumpu construction contract. Still, an Alabama federal district court granted GE Energy’s motion, and Outokumpu appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which reversed and sent the case back to the trial court.

The Supreme Court today reversed again, remanding the case back for further proceedings, likely eventually to the district court, which had granted GE Energy’s motion to compel arbitration with Outokumpu and an insurer. But the lower court had granted the arbitration request because it said that, in its role as a subcontractor, GE Energy qualified as a party under the contract.

The Supreme Court today used the opinion to uphold the principle of equitable estoppel, which didn’t figure in the trial court’s decision.

The Eleventh Circuit had reversed the trial court, rejecting arbitration, because it said that the Convention required that the party actually sign an arbitration agreement, excluding nonparties’ ability to invoke the contract using a state law doctrine like equitable estoppel.

Thomas’s reasoning started with the FAA, which he wrote “permits courts to apply state-law doctrines related to the enforcement of arbitration agreements.” That would allow the application of states’ equitable estoppel doctrines. 

The opinion states, “Generally, in the arbitration context, ‘equitable estoppel allows a nonsignatory to a written agreement containing an arbitration clause to compel arbitration where a signatory to the written agreement must rely on the terms of that agreement in asserting its claims against the nonsignatory.’” 21 R. Lord, Williston on Contracts §57:19, p. 200 (2017).

The Convention, noted Thomas, focuses almost entirely on enforcement, and the short Article II on agreements “in writing,” which discusses the need for a signature, wasn’t in conflict with the FAA-backed equitable estoppel doctrines.

The opinion notes that the New York Convention is silent on the status of nonsignatories. “This silence is dispositive here,” wrote Justice Thomas, “because nothing in the text of the Convention could be read to otherwise prohibit the application of domestic equitable estoppel doctrines.”

The opinion analyzes the treaty’s “negotiating and drafting history,” and says that the Court found “Nothing in the drafting history [that] suggests that the Convention sought to prevent contracting states from applying domestic law that permits nonsignatories to enforce arbitration agreements in additional circumstances.”

The opinion also dodges the need to interpret the significance of the executive branch’s view of the treaty. The United States, which argued in the case in January, backing GE Energy, claimed that the Court should give deference and “great weight” to its amicus interpretation of the treaty, which it had  submitted in another unrelated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals case. 

Outokumpu countered “that the Executive’s noncontemporaneous interpretation sheds no light on the meaning of the treaty, asserting that the Executive expressed the “opposite . . . view at the time of the Convention’s adoption.”

But Justice Thomas concluded,

We have never provided a full explanation of the basis for our practice of giving weight to the Executive’s interpretation of a treaty. Nor have we delineated the limitations of this practice, if any. But we need not resolve these issues today. Our textual analysis aligns with the Executive’s interpretation so there is no need to determine whether the Executive’s understanding is entitled to “weight” or “deference.”

The Court’s remand order addressed the big issue in the Eleventh Circuit about the New York Convention’s requirement that the agreement in writing needs to be signed by the parties.  Noting that the Convention provisions cited by the Eleventh Circuit address the recognition of arbitration agreements, not who is bound by the agreements, Thomas wrote, “Because the Court of Appeals concluded that the Convention prohibits enforcement by nonsignatories, the court did not determine whether GE Energy could enforce the arbitration clauses under principles of equitable estoppel or which body of law governs that determination. Those questions can be addressed on remand.”

The opinion concluded by limiting the holding to the issue of the Convention and domestic-law equitable estoppel doctrines, finding no conflict between the two.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor concurred separately, agreeing that the Convention “does not categorically prohibit the application of domestic doctrines. She noted, “however, that the application of such domestic doctrines is subject to an important limitation: Any applicable domestic doctrines must be rooted in the principle of consent to arbitrate.”

Sotomayor said that consent is foundational to arbitration practice.  “This limitation is part and parcel of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) itself,” she wrote.

For a discussion of the Jan. 21 oral arguments in the case, see David Chung and Russ Bleemer’s post on CPR Speaks, “Tuesday’s SCOTUS Argument: Can Non-Signatories Compel Arbitration in the United States Under the New York Convention?” (January 22) (available at https://bit.ly/2ZVqPfg). For an examination of the GE Energy parties’ and amicus’s briefs, see “The Friends Speak: Here’s What Scotus Will Decide In the GE Energy International Arbitration Case,” 38 Alternatives 2 (January 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2TXmcO2).

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The author edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.  CPR Institute Summer 2020 intern Heather Cameron, a second year law student at Fordham University School of Law in New York City, contributed research. 

Identifying the Blind Spots: Self Reflection in the Field of International Arbitration

Sophie Nappert, selected lecturer at the 2018 Proskauer International Arbitration Lecture, discusses the tumultuous perception of international arbitration and calls for the industry to look inward

By Sara Higgins

During the 2018 Proskauer International Arbitration Lecture, renowned international arbitrator Sophie Nappert took some of the industry’s leading lawyers to task. Her address, cheekily titled “Disruption Is the New Black”, examined what she identified as “blind spots” in the field of international arbitration (IA). Branding disruptive innovation as the poster child for progress, Nappert opined that it will inevitably impact the legal field, during these times of tectonic change and revolution, in a way that forays the very heart of international arbitration – a self-governed justice system that derives its jurisdiction from party consent.

Nappert opened with the current IA landscape. She painted a rather gloomy picture, revealing the sobering fact that in-house counsel consider external lawyers to be the primary obstacle to achieving collaborative, adjudicative and non-adjudicative dispute resolution.

Nappert also pointed to growing skepticism of the arbitral process around the world. “When the Chief Justice of the UK Supreme Court, in one of the most arbitration-friendly jurisdictions on the planet, bemoans the negative influence of arbitration on the development of English law; when the EU, a behemoth not known for its nimble footing, performs a 180-degree turn in less than a year from its initial, resolutely pro-ISDS stance towards pushing forward a court proposal complete with appellate jurisdiction on fact and law”, it might be time for some self-reflection. Nappert asked us to consider, “whether, heady on its nearly unbounded autonomy, on the vast deference granted to it by state courts and legislation and assisted by the unparalleled ease of enforcement of its decisions afforded by the New York Convention (NYC), the current model of IA has overreached itself at the expense of quality of procedure and output.”

In pondering her own question, Nappert praised the unprecedented expansion of IA into areas once considered non-arbitrable but cautioned that “It has made us oblivious to some substantial blind spots, focused as we are on driving the IA chariot forward towards the next development.” She identified three such blind spots, though undoubtedly there are others: diversity, corruption and artificial intelligence.

Diverse panels increase institutional legitimacy

“Current voices in scholarship posit that the above disruptive phenomena present an important opportunity to address shortcomings, and notably as regards the diversity in composition of panels, as a vector towards a better and more legitimate decision-making in investment and commercial arbitration,” Nappert said.

She shared a number of statistics demonstrating diversity in the field – or rather lack thereof. “At ICSID, 19% of the 195 appointments made in 2017 to ICSID tribunals or ad hoc committees were women. This can be compared with 2016, where 13% of appointees were female. Of the 37 appointments of women in 2017, there were 18 different individuals who were nationals of a dozen different states, thus reflecting some regional diversity.” “The SCC reports 254 appointments for 2017, of which 18% were female. When the appointment was made directly by the SCC, 37% of the appointees were female. When made by the parties – 8%; when made by co-arbitrators – 0%. For regional diversity, 231 of the 254 appointments were from Europe, followed by Australasia and North America with 5 each, I from South America, 3 from Asia and 2 from Africa.”

The 2018 Queen Mary/White & Case International Arbitration Survey showed that respondents were generally ambivalent as to whether there is a causal connection between a diverse panel of arbitrators and the quality of that panel’s decision-making. Nappert argued that this might be the wrong query to make altogether. In her opinion, “At a time where the legitimacy of IA is in crisis, in the eyes of others a more diverse tribunal is a more representative, and thus more legitimate, tribunal; and from the prism of enhanced legitimacy the desirability for diversity in tribunal composition is undebatable.”  She stressed that the quest for more diversity ought not to be made at the expense of quality and competence.

How can IA promote diversity?

Accepting that diversity among panelists is the goal, Nappert believes this issue should be championed at the institutional level. “Institutions have a powerful statement to make by enshrining diversity in their rules as a factor for consideration in the nomination and appointment of arbitrators, alongside and to the same extent as other credentials,” she stated. Chastising the “lip-service” treatment currently afforded diversity, Nappert called for institutional rules to anchor this value in the field. She suggested that institutional rules should consider enshrining diversity as a factor in considering appointment, to the same extent as nationality is currently accepted as such a factor.

Allegations of corruption

Nappert next considered IA’s approach to allegations of corruption in the field, calling for greater self-reflection in the wake of Belokon v Kyrgyzstan, where the Paris Court of Appeal famously annulled an Award as infringing public policy, after reconsidering the case on its merits and finding  sufficient evidence of money laundering. She warned, “That a state court in a country famous for its respect for, and deference to, arbitration tribunals should consider it necessary to reopen the merits of a matter should be a cause for concern, and immediate action on our part, lest we are failing to put our house in order in the eyes of others.” She added that between the ICCA, the IBA, and the ILA, there is no lack of fora to host an open discussion about corruption in the field. Nappert seemed to imply that in failing to have such a discussion with the goal of establishing best practices, IA is missing an opportunity to improve public perception and strengthen its legitimacy.

The rise of artificial intelligence

The final blind spot that Nappert addressed in her lecture was artificial intelligence. Arbitral outcomes can be computed using a series of algorithms that, to whatever degree of certainty, offer parties a predictable outcome that might be seen as mitigating some of the risks of dispute resolution. “Scientists and suppliers of algorithms,” observed Nappert, “are currently warning litigation and arbitration users that human decision-making as we exercise it on a daily basis is no better than a lottery. In addition to being costly, time-consuming, and resource-depleting, it is unpredictable and inevitably subject to bias.”

Though not claiming to be a computer scientist, Nappert spoke on the importance that IA query “how algorithms come to their decisions; where the boundary lies between the machine’s capacity for predictive and prescriptive analysis and the human decision-making mind; [and] the public policy implications of robot-assisted justice and how these awards are reviewed by state courts, notably under Article V of the New York Convention.”

She postured that the introduction of AI into IA could create a dispute settlement system tendering predictability and speed for users, and even the ability to suggest commercial solutions to their disputes to prevent reoccurrence — a tool she ventures would speak powerfully to users.

Preserving the “human element”

If this is the inevitable future of dispute resolution, how can IA fight to stay not only relevant, but valuable? To no one’s surprise, IA’s strongest asset is its fundamental value – the notion that parties have a stake in selecting the decision-makers who will ultimately decide their fate. Though an algorithm could eliminate human unpredictability, the ability to select the decision makers in one’s own dispute is what makes arbitration appealing at a basic – and yes, emotional – level.

Nappert discussed briefly the role of human emotion in arbitration and seemed to defend it as an inherent, underlying thread of dispute resolution. She called for “arbitral institutions proactively to dialogue with AI scientists and providers to ascertain in an ethical manner, how lawyers are made to understand the way algorithms work, how exactly machine speak translates into the human language, and how we can carry on selling the human values underpinning decision making, so that we have an economically competitive and intelligible answer to give to scientists, suppliers of algorithms, and users.”

IA must put its house in order

Nappert ceded that these blind spots – diversity, allegations of corruption and artificial intelligence – are not the only ones IA possesses. But, while they need to be addressed as soon as possible, reacting to these blind spots is no longer enough, in Nappert’s opinion. “In the face of rapidly-paced and seismic disruption, we need to be proactive lest we become the Kodak and Blockbusters of dispute resolution,” she cautioned.

The IA community is largely governed by its own practitioners serving on boards and steering committees, including in arbitral institutions. This close relationship should be taken advantage of to show the rest of the legal community, and the world at large, that IA can keep its own house in order. Nappert concluded, “If we show that this closeness can deliver the benefit of building consensus on best practice and policing our own terrain in a forward-looking manner, we will make strides towards the continued legitimacy and relevance of IA in the face of disruption.”

 

Sophie Nappert is a dual-qualified lawyer in Canada and the UK. She is an arbitrator in independent practice based in London, specializing in international disputes. Sophie is ranked in Global Arbitration Review’s Top 30 List of Female Arbitrators Worldwide and is commended as a “leading light” in the field by Who’s Who Legal. She won the 2016 Global Arbitration Review Award for Best Speech for her address at the EFILA Annual Lecture, International Investment Arbitration: Escaping from Freedom? The Dilemma of an Improved ISDS. http://www.3vb.com/our-people/arbitrators-associate-members/sophie-nappert

Sara Higgins is a legal intern at CPR and a third-year law student at Northeastern University School of Law. Sara recently completed the New York State Bar Association Commercial Arbitration Training for Arbitrators and Counsel and previously worked for the United States Attorney’s Office in Boston, Massachusetts.

Managing Risk in International Arbitration: Third Party Funding Developments in Asia

By Meriam Al-Rashid (pictured left) and Diora Ziyaeva (pictured right), Dentons

blog duoAs practitioners and clients alike are well aware, international arbitration is not without its risks. Third party funding is one effective risk management tool that can curb the potential losses and soaring costs associated with international arbitration by assisting under-resourced parties. To stimulate arbitration in Asia and maintain a competitive edge, Hong Kong and Singapore recently passed legislation providing express frameworks for third party funding in international arbitration proceedings, joining the global trend supporting this alternate source of funding.[1] As the Hong Kong and Singapore laws highlight, however, third party funding is not without its own risks. So, while third party funding can provide a useful tool to engage in arbitration, clients should be aware of the pitfalls they may encounter.

Singapore

On March 1, 2017, Singapore enacted The Civil Law (Amendment) Act of 2017 (the “Act”) and Civil Law (Third Party Funding) Regulations of 2017 (the “Regulations”). Under the Act and accompanying Regulations, third party funding agreements with qualifying third party funders are no longer illegal and unenforceable under Singapore law, so long as funding is provided for an international arbitration and/or related court or mediation proceedings. The Regulations stipulate that eligible third party funders must (1) carry on the “principal business” of funding dispute resolution proceedings in Singapore or somewhere else, and (2) have a paid up share capital of at least SGD 5 million.

The new legislation in Singapore has already had an effect. In April 2017, funder IMF Bentham opened its first Asian office in Singapore, in part persuaded by this new legislation.[2] In July 2017, Burford Capital announced that it was funding a claimant in a Singapore-seated arbitration.[3]

Hong Kong

On June 14, 2017, Hong Kong passed the Arbitration and mediation Legislation (Third Party Funding) Bill of 2016 (the “2016 Bill”). Under the 2016 Bill, the doctrines of maintenance and champerty expressly do not apply to third party funding in arbitration proceedings and mediation, including proceedings before emergency arbitrators and ancillary courts.[4]  Notably, the term “third party funder” under the Hong Kong legislation has a broader meaning than it does in the Singapore law in that it is not solely limited to professional funders. Thus, anyone, even those persons or entities that do not generally have an interest in the arbitration proceedings, can potentially serve as a third party funder. For example, law firms and/or lawyers in Hong Kong could provide third party funding, so long as they are not involved in the same arbitration.

The bill does not apply to litigation in Hong Kong courts, except for those proceedings which specifically relate to arbitration – such as enforcement and challenges to an award.  

Risks of Third Party Funding

While third party funding provides alternative and much-needed sources of funding for under-resourced parties, it is not without its risks. Third party funding can require a significant cost upfront as the party’s legal team conducts its due diligence on funders, and negotiates and sets up confidentiality and funding agreements. Arrangements with third party funders can result in undisclosed conflicts of interest and can also run afoul of rules of privilege and confidentiality, which vary across jurisdictions.[5] Third party funding also raises concerns regarding the improper influence that funders may have over proceedings. Since a funder has a direct financial stake in the outcome of the dispute, it may seek to pressure a party to agree to a course of conduct, such as settlement, even when not in that party’s best interest.

By regulating third party funding, both the Singapore and Hong Kong legislations offer some protections for parties seeking such funding. For example, the Singapore Act stipulates that, where a third party funder fails to comply with the requirements laid out in the Act and Regulations, it will not only be unable to enforce its rights under the agreement entered into with the claimant but it will still be required to fulfill its obligations to the claimant. In addition to the provisions under the Act and Regulations, Singapore’s Legal Profession Rules of 2015 were also amended, making it mandatory for legal practitioners to disclose the existence of any third party funding agreement to the court or tribunal and all other parties to the proceedings in order to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

Hong Kong’s 2016 Bill calls for an advisory body to be created to oversee funders operating in the region. This advisory body will be responsible for undertaking biannual reviews of funding activity as well as creating a code of practice that will establish standards and good practices of third party funders regarding funding agreements and minimum capital requirements, and proper internal procedures to address conflicts of interest and complaints. While failure to comply with the code will not result in any judicial sanction or other liability, the code can be used as evidence and may be taken into account in a case of non-compliance.

Conclusion

Third party funding provides a much-needed source of funding and creates access to justice for many claimants who would otherwise have no means to engage in protracted dispute resolution proceedings. However, third party funding is, itself, fraught with risk. The Singapore and Hong Kong laws, then, provide a means to regulate this previously unchecked system. Whether the laws will adequately regulate third party funding without stifling it remains to be seen. Nevertheless, potential claimants should take advantage of these new legal developments, making sure to conduct the appropriate risk analysis in their assessment of whether to move forward with third party funding.

____________________________________________

ENDNOTES

[1] Singapore and Hong Kong join the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries that already allow third party funding.
[2] See Douglas Thomson, Singapore’s Seismic Shift on Funding, Global Arbitration Review (June 7, 2017).
[3] See Burford finances first Singaporean arbitration matter, James MacKinnon joins Burford, Burford Capital (Press Release) (June 29, 2017).
[4] The English doctrines of maintenance and champerty were intended to prevent “…gambling in litigation, or of injuring or oppressing others by abetting and encouraging unrighteous suits, so as to be contrary to public policy…” See Sapna Jhangiani and Rupert Coldwell, Third Party Funding for International Arbitration in Singapore and Hong Kong – A Race to the Top?, Kluwer Arbitration Blog (November 30, 2016) (citing to The Hong Kong Consultation Paper, referring to Ram Coomar Coondoo v. Chunder Canto Mookerjee [1876] 2 App. Cas. 186, at 210).
[5] In the United States, for example, third party funding agreements have been held to “create confusion concerning the party who actually owns and controls the lawsuit, and create risks that the attorney-client privilege will be waived unintentionally.” See Fausone v. US Claims, Inc., 915 So. 2d 626, 630 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2005).

Meriam Al-Rashid is a partner and Diora Ziyaeva is a senior associate at Dentons’ New York Litigation and International Arbitration practice groups. The views expressed in this article are exclusively those of the authors and shall not be attributed to Dentons US LLP or its clients.

Shall We Have an Adult Conversation About Legitimacy?

[A summary of the keynote address of Jan Paulsson on 2 March 2017 at the Annual Meeting of the CPR Institute at the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, which has also been archived on CPR’s Facebook page.]

By Jan Paulsson

It is difficult to know when history is being made. Important developments tend to be incremental, and perceived only in hindsight. Yet I am willing to wager that we are in the middle of a decade this decade in which the international arbitral process seriously comes to grips with the existential need to secure acknowledgment of its legitimacy. This is not being done, and cannot be done, by individual arbitrators. The exemplary work of 50 is done in silence; the misconduct of one may become a first-page scandal. The heavy lifting must be done by arbitral institutions.

The three evils they must combat are: transparency deficits, entrenchment, and capture. Not all of the hundreds of arbitral institutions who purport to handle international disputes will do their part, because some of them were created and remain dominated by special interests, and like things the way they have them. They have other priorities than ensuring a fair and neutral process. These are not the successful institutions, but it is vital – lest all be tarred with the same brush – that they are recognized by tangible criteria for what they are. The test is not what institutions proclaim, but what they do; does their conduct prove a commitment to fairness and neutrality?

Thirty years ago Professor Hans Smit proposed in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law (Vol. 25, p 30) that there should be a single global arbitral institution charged with the supervision of the arbitral process. If this could not be achieved by a voluntary process of federation, he suggested that the same goal could be reached by the establishment by the International Chamber of Commerce of a network of conveniently located branches around the world.  Existing institutions would be invited to “merge” into those branches, failing which the ICC would proceed alone. This may not have been a good idea at any time, given the dangers of bureaucratization and monopolistic complacency, not to mention prohibitive cost. And today it is surely an impossibility, given the emergence of a number of deservedly successful and robust institutions in a number of regions of the world. Still, Smit’s idea was founded on the crucial insight that international arbitration will suffer from the misconduct of what one might call its weakest links, and that it is necessary to be very clear about what the criteria of legitimacy are so that waywardness can be exposed by objective measurement.

This is not rocket science. The premise of international arbitration is that all commercial disputes, even those with stakes of billions of dollars, will be decided by three arbitrators, or even a sole arbitrator, and that the outcome is final. Let’s be frank; this is asking for a lot. Losing parties are often extremely unhappy, and quick to think that something has gone seriously wrong. When the institution has not been properly “designed for legitimacy”, the ultimate sad irony may be that each side thinks that its opponent has some occult advantage, and that each side therefore seeks achieve some compensatory secret trump card – even though their reciprocal suspicions had no foundation. This can be something like a death spiral.

Today I have the good fortune of having been asked to address the annual meeting of an organization which is known for having been created not by the service providers, but by consumers of dispute resolution services. How fitting it is therefore that in 2002 CPR took the unique initiative of developing a template for universal best practices suggested as suitable if not essential for any institution anywhere. This was called the CPR/Georgetown Commission’s 2002 Principles for ADR Provider Organizations. Much ground has been covered since then at the individual reforming initiatives of the leading institutions, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.

It seems that I have achieved modest notoriety for expressing doubts about the wisdom of the widespread practice of unilateral appointments of arbitrators. Given how insistently those who disagree with my ideas on this subject distort what I say, I could perhaps be forgiven if I concluded that the propositions I articulate must be very powerful. From where I’m standing today, I cannot tell if this audience is dominated by experienced lawyers or younger ones. Younger audiences are of course idealistic and invariably agree with me.  Older audiences are cynical and set in their ways, and always protest. So obviously I prefer the latter. It’s much more fun.

My opponents say that I want to do away with the fundamental right of parties to name their arbitrators. This is unfair; I do not that at all. In the first place, I believe in the freedom of consenting and informed adults. If arbitrants agree that each of them can name its best friend or favorite lawyer as arbitrator, that’s fine with me as long as everything is out in the open. I’m not sure the result deserves the name “arbitration”, but hey – what’s in a name? Second and more importantly, my animadversions against unilateral appointments have not led me to want to tear down the temple or destroy icons, but just to a modest proposal. Here it is: the default rule should be that if the parties have agreed to a three-member tribunal all three members should be agreed by both sides, or else by an appointing institution. It’s only a default rule, but I suggest it should not be varied by agreement until the dispute has arisen. That day the claimant can measure whether the dispute is going to be civilized or brutal. If the former – and perhaps that will be the case most of the time – it takes only a phone call to agree that each side can name one of the arbitrators in the usual way. If the latter, the claimant may well have reason to rejoice, faced with a bitter clash with a party who wants to break off relations forever and is likely to deploy scorched earth tactics, that the default rule is the one I suggest.

I have written at length about the disadvantages of the practice of unilateral appointments and will not go through them here. (See The Idea of Arbitration, Oxford University Press, Sections 5.4 and 9.4.) All experienced practitioners in the international field know what it is like when unilateral nominees misbehave, or when losing parties suspect undue influence. It’s an on-going concern, and I am not mollified by the “if it ain’t broke thesis.” Things may be tolerable most of the time, but most of the time is not good enough.

This was brought home to me when I read the heart-felt account published a couple of weeks ago of the experience of a lawyer participating in his first ICSID arbitration. I do not know him, but I am certainly aware that he is a prominent fixture of several decades’ standing in the Miami legal community. Indeed his office is only a mile away from the beautiful hotel where we are meeting now.  I will call him Mr X.  His account is interesting precisely because this is a sophisticated and articulate lawyer who discovers a process with which he is not familiar and feels compelled to express serious concerns. We do well to take the concerns of such thoughtful individuals to heart. I do know the two other arbitrators involved in the case, with whom I have participated in more arbitrations I can count. From what one can read in the award and the dissenting opinion, my only sources of information about this case, all three arbitrators behaved perfectly honorably and none should be embarrassed if I named them, but I will not do so since but I would find it a distraction to personalize a matter which I am using only as an illustration of what I believe to be a frequently recurrent and seriously troubling unease, maybe even a malaise.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. The case involved Costa Rica, which is all I have to say to enable anyone here with a laptop to learn as much as I know about the case.  From the parties’ point of view, the case was over in March 2014, when the parties filed post-hearing briefs.  After that date, the process seems (to the uninitiated reader) to have entered a black box, as the next recorded event is a challenge by the claimant, like a bolt out of the blue, to all three members of the arbitral tribunal. This dramatic event occurred in June 2015. You heard me: a year and three months later which the parties were presumably waiting passively, if with mounting impatience, for the award to come out. Something was obviously not right. We do know that the claimant’s complaint was based on the fact that the Tribunal’s legal secretary, a lawyer on the ICSID staff who as part of their function are present during deliberations and typically assist in such useful ways as retrieving documents from a voluminous file which the arbitrators are unlikely to transport in its entirety to the place of arbitration from their various home offices, had left ICSID’s employ to join the law firm representing the respondent. In other words, the claimant was complaining about a form (I might perhaps venture to say a mild form) of capture.

The challenge was dismissed nine months later in accordance with the relevant rules and practice. I say nothing about that.  The arbitrators, thus confirmed in their function, went about their duty to render a final award, which they did a few weeks ago, in January.  It turned out to be one of those cases where a number of issues  were decided 2-to-1, with each of the co-arbitrators finding himself either part of the majority or in dissent, and the presiding arbitrator always part of the majority. Mr X wrote the dissent which captured my attention. The first thing to say about it is that it is entirely respectful of the other arbitrators, with whom Mr X writes that he was “honored” to serve. He explained in lucid terms some significant differences of substance with respect to which he was disappointed to find himself in disagreement. Such things happen; reasonable people differ. But then we get to the troubling passages.

Mr X notes that “the period that followed the hearing was delayed by the embarrassing and unnecessary issues caused by the change in employment of the Panel secretary and other issues related to the impartiality of the panel.” What these “other issues” involved is not specified, and the challenge decision itself has not been published as far as I know. I have seen press articles referring to information to the effect that these issues had to do with the prior relations between the presiding arbitrator and the other co-arbitrator; such complaints are frequently raised by losing parties, sometimes on quite flimsy grounds, but let’s not pay heed to gossip or speculation or anonymous sources. Mr X then goes on to write that “I choose not to add any further comment on the issue of the secretary’s employment, but do wish to address the issue of the constitution of the panel and the issues of conflicts and impartiality.”

What Mr X then has to say is notably that “the arrangement whereby two of the panel members are selected by the parties to the agreement creates an uncomfortable aura of conflict which permeates, in my view, the proceedings” and that, although “I have worked hard to neutralize his factor as I am sure my esteemed [co-arbitrator] colleague has done”, the only panelist who did not have “an inherent conflict” was the chairman. Mr X concluded that the “appointment by a party of a judge to rule on the party’s claim creates an unnecessary barrier to pure objectivity” and recommended that ICSID consider prohibiting the practice of unilateral appointments.

This is not the occasion to discuss the feasibility or even desirability of such a prohibition, particularly in the case of ICSID since its rules are constrained by the text of the international treaty by which it was created. My point is rather to insist that this measured but heart-felt comment is one that all institutes and arbitrants should take to heart, recognize as not being an isolated phenomenon, and take as a compelling reason to consider ways in which this kind of unease can be alleviated.

I think I have heard and examined at length in writing all conceivable arguments against my suggestion that we move away from the practice of unilateral appointments as a default rule, and I challenge any one of you to a debate because I am confident that I will prevail. Prevail, that is, except if you make the one argument which is Kryptonite and will defeat me every time. Here is how you win the argument: you look me in the eye and say “I don’t trust the institution, and so as long as I can name one of the arbitrators I feel that I will reduce the risk of a runaway tribunal doing something crazy – but unappealable.”

That argument is indeed made, like it or not. Decent arbitral institution cannot fail to realize that it is a disappointing and sobering message, indeed something of an indictment. They must absorb this reality, and do try to do two things about it. The Big Thing is to earn such trust that this kind of worry about a runaway tribunal evaporates. The Little Thing is far easier, and may in practical terms be just about as good. It is to focus on the involvement of the parties in the selection of arbitrators, and to attend to the numerous adaptations and refinements that may take the edge off the disadvantages of what one might call unreconstructed unilateralism.

The CPR Institute took a noteworthy step in this direction with the well-known Rule 5.4 of its Rules for Administrated Arbitration of International Disputes, for which it deservedly won a prize as the best innovation of 2016 [from Global Arbitration Review]. It introduces what CPR calls a “screened selection process,” which allows parties to choose among proposed arbitrators but in a manner designed to keep the ultimately appointed panel members from knowing individual parties’ preferences. We need to see how this works in practice, and how similar initiatives function elsewhere. There will always, believe me, be attempts to game the system. If I may put it as a paradox, the only thing that must be constant is the readiness to change as we learn. The poacher never rests; neither can the gamekeeper…

But this is not enough. Institutions should not only be inventive themselves, but encourage parties to be inventive as well. Most often this concerns the parties’ lawyers. Why are we lawyers, so unbelievably inventive in argument, stuck in the mud when it comes to patterns of process? Can’t we all agree that in ideal circumstances an arbitral tribunal should operate as a team, and not as three sole arbitrators cobbling together something of dubious coherence that achieves an unappealable result but does not deserve to be called “consensus?” If we agree want cohesive tribunals capable of producing greater quality than their individual members, aren’t presiding arbitrators the captain of those teams? Why not give them an important role in the constitution of the team – perhaps identifying a number of individuals they find compatible, or complementary, and asking the parties to rank them. (This, by the way, seems to be a more likely route to diversity than to expect it from unilateral appointments by parties whose entire focus in making appointments is to win the case. The presiding arbitrator might say “I’m comfortable with the industrial context, but would like a member of the tribunal to be conversant with public international law; then we’ll be all set so the third member can be someone less experienced whom I believe will make a solid contribution and who merits the experience and exposure.”) Or how about each side giving the presiding arbitrator a list from which to chose each co-arbitrator on the basis of compatibility? Or even, when full confidence reigns, go all the way and allow the presiding arbitrator simply to come up with the two others, constrained by nothing except perhaps observations by the parties as to what kind of qualities or experience the case calls for?

Parties have also been known to achieve quite surprising things – if only they will pick up the phone and try. I have observed an interesting dynamic when two lawyers with a minimum of mutual respect agree (between themselves) to give each a right of veto with respect to the unilateral nominees, maybe once or twice. A cynic might say that the result will be that each will immediately propose wholly unacceptable names and then move on – but I say that such is not the unavoidable result, and no harm trying.  Or how about saying “If I appoint A, whom will you appoint? Are you saying B? Oh, no, then I’d appoint C.  What’s that, you like A? Well then, think of someone other than B”.

The possibilities are limited only by our imagination, and it is urgent that we unleash our capacity for innovation. As we have heard this morning from Noah Hanft as he enters his third year of leadership of the CPR, he and his staff are determined to give fresh impetus to the vigorous improvement of the dispute resolution process in all of its forms, and it behooves all of us to take a sympathetic interest in their efforts, which can only benefit all who believe that legitimacy in the resolution of disputes should not be negotiable.

Jan Paulsson is a founding partner of Three Crowns LLP, a specialist international arbitration firm. He holds the Michael Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair as professor of law at the University of Miami.