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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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]

The Next Arbitration Matter: Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Extent of Foreign Tribunal Evidence Powers

By Amy Foust

The U.S. Supreme Court today granted review in Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, et al., No. 20-794, and will be the next arbitration case on the Court’s docket.  It will likely be heard in the term beginning in October.

The case highlights law that had long appeared settled on whether foreign tribunals seeking discovery in the United States includes private arbitration panels.

In the past two years, cases on the statute in question–28 U.S.C. § 1782, “Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals”–have packed federal courts. See Joseph Famulari, “Section 1782 Circuit Split Update: 7th Circuit says Law Doesn’t Include Arbitration, as 9th Circuit Hears Arguments,” CPR Speaks (Oct. 22, 2020) (available at http://bit.ly/38kxyCV), an 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).

Petitioner Servotronics presented the question formally as:

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 U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Sixth Circuits have held, or excludes such tribunals without expressing an exclusionary intent, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd, 5th and, in the case below, the 7th Circuit, have held.

The question doesn’t reveal the unusual posture of the case, because it literally created its own circuit court split. There are two decisions:  The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on appeal that was granted today had prohibited Servotronics’ requested discovery for the foreign arbitration tribunal also had been decided in Servotronics’ favor against the same adversaries, Rolls Royce and Boeing, when the case was heard in the Fourth Circuit.

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution—CPR, which publishes this blog–submitted an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to resolve the split in opinions without taking a position on the merits. See “CPR Files Amicus Brief Asking U.S. Supreme Court to Tackle Foreign Discovery for Arbitration,” CPR Speaks (Jan. 6, 2021) (available at http://bit.ly/2PJvzBO) (CPR has created a web page for the brief at http://bit.ly/3nklaYp).  

The evolution of the circuit split is described in John B. Pinney, “Will the Supreme Court Take Up Allowing Discovery Under Section 1782 for Private International Arbitrations?” 38 Alternatives  103 (July/August 2020) (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/alt.21848) (Pinney prepared on behalf of CPR the Supreme Court amicus brief in Servotronics).  

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. didn’t participate in the consideration of or the decision to accept the petition, according to this morning’s order list, indicating that the case could be decided by eight judges later this year.

In the case the nation’s top Court agree to hear today began in January 2016, during testing at a Boeing facility, when an engine manufactured and installed on an aircraft by Rolls Royce caught fire. Boeing sought reimbursement from Rolls Royce for damage to the aircraft.  Boeing and Rolls Royce settled the matter between them.

Rolls Royce then sought reimbursement from Servotronics, which manufactured a fuel valve for the engine.  When negotiations over the reimbursement failed, Rolls Royce demanded arbitration under the rules of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in the United Kingdom, as permitted by an agreement between Rolls Royce and Servotronics.

During the arbitration, Rolls Royce and Boeing declined an invitation to produce evidence that Servotronics insists is critical to its defense, including information about what Rolls Royce and Boeing did after observing certain test results.  Servotronics contended those test results presaged the fire and showed a missed opportunity to intervene before the fire.

Rolls Royce countered that the discovery requested by Servotronics was reviewed and denied by the arbitral panel, in part because the request was overly broad.  Servotronics applied for leave under 28 U.S.C. §1782 to subpoena records from Boeing’s Illinois headquarters and, in a separate application, to take the depositions of three South Carolina-based Boeing employees,  where the test flight went awry.

The South Carolina application was denied, but the denial was overturned by the Fourth Circuit. Servotronics Inc. v. Boeing Co., 954 F.3d 209, 216 (4th Cir. March 30, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3h7s0P8). The Fourth Circuit rejected the notion that §1782 is limited to public or state-sponsored tribunals. 

Further, the court reasoned, arbitration in the United Kingdom is government-sanctioned and regulated, at least by the U.K. Arbitration Act of 1996.  Therefore, a U.K. arbitrator is acting under the authority of the state and would meet Boeing’s proposed restrictions on the scope of §1782.

The appeals court dismissed Boeing and Rolls Royce’s predictions of expanded discovery and increased international arbitration costs if a tribunal is broadly defined in §1782, reasoning that courts have discretion to consider applications for documents or testimony in view of the Congressional purpose of extending aid to a foreign tribunal.

But the case also was being litigated in the Midwest. An Illinois application was initially granted ex parte but was quashed upon intervention by Rolls Royce and Boeing. The denial of discovery in Illinois was upheld by the Seventh Circuit—the case before the Court in Friday’s conference and accepted for argument today. Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls Royce PLC, 975 F.3d 689 (7th Cir. Sept. 22, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3ccK7RU).

The Seventh Circuit had followed the Second and Fifth Circuits in finding that a “foreign or international tribunal,” as used in 28 U.S.C. §1782, refers to a state-sponsored tribunal, and private arbitration is not state-sponsored. 

The Seventh Circuit opinion noted that a limited definition of “foreign or international tribunal” also avoids an apparent conflict with the Federal Arbitration Act, which permits a district court to order discovery only on request of the arbitrator.  The panel observed that including private international arbitral tribunals in the scope of §1782 would result in a prohibition on a party to a domestic arbitration seeking court assistance with discovery under the FAA, while permitting a party to an international arbitration to obtain the same assistance (under §1782).

The case therefore presented the circuit split in stark relief—with discovery granted in the Fourth Circuit, and denied in the Seventh, in the same matter between the same parties before the same foreign arbitral tribunal. 

Rolls Royce argued that certiorari should be denied to allow the Circuit Courts continue to consider the issue and because this case would likely be moot before the Supreme Court could complete its review, with the final arbitral hearing scheduled for May.

Today’s order provides further review and clarification by the Supreme Court in an area that had been considered settled law until the flurry of cases hit the circuit courts in recent years.  CPR Speaks will provide more analysis later today  on the background and the future of Servotronics.

* * *

Author Amy Foust is an LLM candidate studying dispute resolution at the Straus Institute, Caruso School of Law at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University, and an intern with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

[END]