In 2006, Goldgroup and DynaResource entered into a contract relating to a gold mining operation in Mexico, which contained a dispute resolution provision requiring that the disputes be submitted to binding arbitration in Denver, Colorado, under the rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Goldgroup initiated arbitration in Denver, but DynaResource refused to participate, relying on a Mexico City court’s ruling in 2015 that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because Goldgroup had waived its right to arbitration by submitting to the jurisdiction of Mexico courts in prior disputes.
In 2016, the arbitrator ruled in Goldgroup’s favor and awarded it monetary and equitable relief. The arbitrator also found that the arbitration clause was valid and enforceable, that Goldgroup had not waived its right to arbitrate by participating in any other lawsuits, and that DynaResource engaged in forum shopping by asking the Mexico City court to rule on the arbitrability of Goldgroup’s claims.
Goldgroup then sought confirmation of the non-domestic arbitration award in the Colorado district court. DynaResource opposed recognition of the award under the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (the Convention) and moved to vacate the award under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), arguing that the award should not be confirmed because the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority by ruling on the issue of whether Goldgroup had waived its right to arbitrate and whether the Mexico City court’s ruling effectively annulled the subsequent award issued in the arbitration. The district court confirmed the award and entered final judgment against DynaResource. After unsuccessfully moving to alter or amend the judgment, DynaResource appealed.
On appeal, DynaResource argued that the district court erred in holding that waiver was a question for the court without making a factual determination as to whether Goldgroup in fact waived its right to arbitration. Goldgroup contended that DynaResource did not raise the issue with the district court and thus failed to preserve it. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the district court was not required to decide whether Goldgroup waived its right to arbitrate because the issue was not properly before it, and DynaResource had not preserved the issue for the appellate court’s review.
In addition, Goldgroup argued that even if DynaResource had preserved the issue, waiver is not available as a defense to confirmation of the award because FAA defenses, such as waiver, do not provide grounds for vacating an award subject to the Convention.
On an issue of first impression, the Tenth Circuit addressed whether the FAA’s vacatur standards apply when a U.S. court is considering the confirmation of a non-domestic arbitration award subject to the Convention and rendered in the United States or under U.S. arbitral law.
The Tenth Circuit rejected Goldgroup’s argument, holding that the Convention’s defenses for opposing the confirmation of a non-domestic arbitration award are not exclusive and that a party may also assert FAA defenses to oppose confirmation if the non-domestic arbitration award was rendered in the United States or under U.S. arbitral law.
Despite its holding that DynaResource could seek vacatur under the FAA, the Tenth Circuit rejected DynaResource’s argument under the FAA that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by ruling on the issue of arbitrability, finding that the contracting parties manifested a clear intent to arbitrate the issue of arbitrability by incorporating the AAA rules into their arbitration agreement. Moreover, the circuit court found DynaResource failed to show that any alleged error by the arbitrator in ruling on the waiver issue warranted vacatur.
The circuit court also rejected DynaResource’s argument under the Convention that the Mexico City court’s ruling effectively annulled the subsequent arbitration award, holding that the defense does not apply preemptively to awards not yet rendered. The circuit court also found the defense was inapplicable because the Mexico City court improperly applied Mexican law rather than U.S. law, where the arbitration was pending. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed confirmation of the award.
Goldgroup Resources, Inc. v. DynaResource de Mexico, S.A. de C.V., No. 20-1143 (10th Cir. Apr. 16, 2021).