The Fifth Circuit has rejected challenges under Article V of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards to a Swedish arbitration award.
In 1994, Carpatsky Petroleum Corp., at the time a Texas company, entered into a joint activity agreement with Ukraine’s state oil and gas enterprise (OJSC Ukrnafta) to develop an oil and gas field in Ukraine.
Two years later, Carpatsky merged into a newly incorporated Delaware company also called Carpatsky. Carpatsky did not formally notify Ukrnafta of this corporate change, and an amendment to the joint activity agreement executed shortly thereafter stated that Carpatsky was registered in Texas and was affixed with a seal that included Carpatsky’s Texas incorporation number.
The oil and gas venture went south and led to litigation and arbitration. A Swedish arbitration tribunal ultimately awarded Carpatsky approximately $147 million. A federal district court subsequently confirmed that award. Ukrnafta appealed that ruling to the Fifth Circuit.
Ukrnafta first challenged the district court’s removal jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit rejected that claim, noting that “[r]emoval is allowed whenever a defendant asserts a ‘nonfrivolous connection’ to an international arbitration agreement.” The court concluded that that “low bar” was “easily clear[ed]” by Carpatsky under the facts of this case.
The Fifth Circuit accordingly turned to Ukrnafta’s merits claims.
At the outset, the court noted that it only had “secondary jurisdiction” over the case because the arbitration award was rendered in Sweden under Swedish law. The court’s review was therefore limited to determining whether the award should be vacated under the grounds listed in Article V of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Ukrnafta’s principal contention was that the relevant agreements between the parties were not valid because of Carpatsky’s allegedly undisclosed change in domicile from Texas to Delaware and the use of a seal with Carpatsky’s Texas incorporation information on an amendment after Carpatsky had reincorporated in Delaware through a merger. The Fifth Circuit rejected that claim. It explained that Carpatsky’s signatory (whose name was Mr. Texas) had the capacity to bind Carpatsky, and Mr. Texas’ use of the Texas seal to do so didn’t change that. Ukrnafta had also waived its claim that Carpatsky’s reincorporation somehow rendered the arbitration agreement void by submitting to the arbitration in Stockholm after it knew about the reincorporation. That agreement was effectively a new agreement to arbitrate the disputes between the parties.
The Fifth Circuit then rejected Ukrnafta’s remaining claims under Article V:
- The arbitration awarded Ukrnafta ample due process (the tribunal “held multiple hearings,” the “parties submitted witness statements, expert reports, and multiple rounds of briefing,” and the “merits hearing lasted four days with fifteen witnesses,” similar to a “full-blown federal trial”) and Ukrnafta had therefore not been “unable to present [its] case.”
- The arbitration award did not exceed the “terms of the submission to arbitration” and was not “beyond the scope of the submission to arbitration” merely because the panel refused to apply a limitation of liability because it concluded “that Ukrainian law renders a limitation of liability unenforceable in cases of international breach” and regardless of whether that decision was “[r]ight or wrong,” it was not a ground for nonrecognition.
- For the reasons already discussed regarding Ukrnafta’s agreement to arbitrate in Sweden, “Ukrnafta waived [any] challenge to the Stockholm tribunal’s jurisdiction.”
- The arbitration award was not “contrary to the public policy” on the ground that it disrespected the holding of Ukrainian courts in related litigation that “the 1998 amendment” to the joint activity agreement “was invalid because of Carpatsky’s changed domicile”: although American courts are concerned with comity, there is a “strong policy favoring international arbitration” and “[e]nforcing this award would [therefore] further American policy, not contravene it.”
The Fifth Circuit also rejected Ukrnafta’s argument that the arbitration panel had “‘manifestly disregarded’ the Ukrainian statute of limitations” (that was not a ground for refusing to enforce the award under Article V) and Ukrnafta’s attempt to pursue state law claims (those claims were barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion based on the arbitration proceedings).
The Fifth Circuit, therefore, affirmed the district court’s confirmation.
OJSC Ukrnafta v. Carpatsky Petroleum Corp., No. 19-20011 (5th Cir. Apr. 6, 2020).