Supreme Court Bars Discovery Assistance for Private Overseas Arbitration Panels Under U.S. Law
By Tamia Sutherland & Russ Bleemer
The U.S. Supreme Court this morning restricted the use of 28 U.S.C. § 1782 for discovery in international proceedings to “[o]nly a governmental or intergovernmental adjudicative” body, but not cross-border arbitration matters.
The unanimous 9-0 decision in consolidated cases by Justice Amy Coney Barrett—her first arbitration opinion as a member of the nation’s high Court—clarifies the use of the 1964 law, which recently split the federal circuit courts over its reach for arbitration parties.
“Interpreting §1782 to reach only bodies exercising governmental authority is consistent with Congress’ charge to the Commission,” wrote Barrett–referring to the 1960’s Commission on International Rules of Judicial Procedure, to improve U.S. laws reaching overseas–in today’s decision in ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, which was consolidated with and covers AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518.
The opinion can be found here.
The issue was whether 28 U.S.C. § 1782 can be invoked in international arbitrations to obtain U.S.-style discovery for evidence. This inquiry looked at whether the statutory language—“foreign or international tribunal”—extends to arbitration panels.
The opinion had little problem removing arbitration discovery requests from a private arbitration tribunal in ZF Automotive, where a federal district court permitted discovery under the statute in the U.S. for parties in the court’s jurisdiction. The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a ZF Automotive request to stay the order.
Today’s opinion, however, states that the legislative history behind the statute, as well as a comparison to the domestic-focused Federal Arbitration Act, which allows far narrower discovery than Section 1782, puts the law’s focus on discovery for governmental bodies, not private arbitration tribunals.
The Court had more difficulty with the AlixPartners case, which involved the government of Lithuania. But the Barrett opinion says that the parties’ actions under a bilateral investment treaty are the key here–the parties were acting more like private parties than governmental entities in setting up an ad hoc ADR process.
“An ad hoc arbitration panel, by contrast, is not a pre-existing body, but one formed for the purpose of adjudicating investor-state disputes,” wrote Barrett, “And nothing in the treaty reflects Russia and Lithuania’s intent that an ad hoc panel exercise governmental authority.”
AlixPartners focused on investor-state arbitration, in which one of the parties is the Lithuanian government. In AlixPartners, the respondent is a Russian entity representing investors pursuing claims before an ad hoc UNCITRAL-rules arbitral tribunal against Lithuania for the investors’ financial losses resulting from the insolvency of a Lithuanian bank. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals permitted discovery, finding that the ad hoc panel qualified under Section 1782 as a “foreign or international” tribunal rather than a private arbitration matter.
The Barrett opinion notes that the inclusion of arbitration in the BIT did not automatically make the process a governmental proceeding meriting the use of Section 1782. “Instead,” wrote Barrett, “it reflects the countries’ choice to offer investors the potentially appealing option of bringing their disputes to a private arbitration panel that operates like commercial arbitration panels do.”
In ZF Automotive, a private commercial contract with ZF Automotive’s German parent required that disputes be arbitrated before the German Arbitration Institute, an arbitration provider. The ZF Automotive case, however, was brought in Detroit before the commencement of the Germany private international arbitration.
The U.S. District Court allowed the requested discovery. On appeal to the Sixth Circuit, ZF Automotive, in an unusual move, petitioned for certiorari before judgment to bypass waiting for the Sixth Circuit to decide its appeal. The Sixth Circuit, as noted, declined to stay the lower court’s order. Respondent Luxshare had requested and was granted discovery for the arbitration, in which it alleged fraud against ZF Automotive, under Section 1782. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on Dec. 10, and reversed the lower court decision today.
During a two-week, four-argument deep dive into arbitration law and practice in March (see this CPR Speaks link for previews, argument summaries, and reports on the decisions issued so far here), the Supreme Court heard these Sec. 1782 consolidated arguments as well as an oral argument from the U.S. Solicitor General’s office.
Veteran Assistant Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler’s contention 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 is reflected in the decision-making process, and the U.S. government’s brief is cited by Justice Barrett. Full details on the March 23 ZF Automotive oral arguments are available on this CPR Speaks blog here.
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Sutherland, a former year-long 2021-2022 CPR intern, will be a third-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C. this fall. Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR and John Wiley & Sons.