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.

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