Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First Circuit overturns jurisdictional dismissal in a Law 75 case

In Bacardi Intern. Ltd. v. V. Suarez & Co. Inc., 2013 WL 1919578 (1st Cir. May 8, 2013), the parties filed parallel proceedings in local and federal court to vacate and confirm a commercial arbitration award in a Law 75 dispute. An arbitration panel of the AAA had issued a partial final award in a bifurcated arbitration concluding that offset provisions in a sub-distributor agreement of the measure of damages were valid and enforceable under Law 75. The sub-distributor sought to vacate the award in the local court, a case that Bacardi removed and was remanded, and Bacardi filed a separate motion under Title 9 of the FAA to enforce it in federal court. It turned out that the federal court dismissed Bacardí’s proceeding for lack of jurisdiction and the local court confirmed the Award under the FAA. The sub-distributor appealed the local court’s judgment.

The First Circuit did not find it necessary to reach Bacardí’s “lively” argument that Titles 6 and 9 of the FAA preempt FRCP 19 by virtue of FRCP 81. Instead, the court concluded that the lower court had abused its discretion by dismissing the action for lack of jurisdiction because Bacardí Corporation, an affiliate, was not an indispensable party. Significantly, the First Circuit made a preliminary assessment of the merits of the motion to confirm to make a pragmatic determination that there was no risk of inconsistent obligations from Bacardi Corporation’s absence. After all, Bacardi International had been vigorously defending its identical interests to confirm the Award in their favor, the affiliate had not moved to intervene, and “review of arbitration awards is extremely narrow and exceedingly deferential” under the FAA. Touching but not deciding the broader preemption argument, the court rejected a blanket rule that would make indispensable all the parties to the arbitration in order to decide a motion to confirm. The court found that subject matter jurisdiction existed.

The First Circuit reversed the judgment and remanded to the federal court with instructions to stay pending the parallel certiorari proceeding in the local appellate court. Bacardi filed a petition for rehearing en banc of the decision to stay the motion to confirm and V. Suarez moved to reconsider the finding that Bacardi Corporation was neither required nor indispensable.

The author argued the appeal as lead counsel for Bacardí International.