We are all collection lawyers, more or less. That is, those of us who act as advocates in international arbitration. If you don’t have a good collection plan, enterprising Claimant counsels, maybe don’t start the case until you do. A personal favorite move is to grab real estate in Canada on Day #1 of the arbitration. Vancouver is particularly lovely on the first day of an arbitration, when the demonstrably rogue Respondent owns three homes with substantial equity.
But sometimes even the well-heeled international finance types get ahead of themselves, and chart a course to win a battle (a Final Award) without a plan to fight the war (collection!). This seems to have been the recent plight of a foreign real estate vehicle of a U.S. bank that shall remain nameless here, lest they foreclose on your Commentator’s mortgages and cut off his credit lines. But read: In re Harbour Victoria Investment Holdings Section 1782 Petitions, 2015 WL 4040420 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2015).
So, you ask, where does Section 1782, of fit into a collection plan on a Final Award confirmable under the New York Convention? Well, a Manhattan federal judge wondered also, in the case just cited and here reported. So please, do read on.
Petitioner won an Award in London against Respondents from India and first filed confirmation proceedings in India. But, fearing insufficiency of Respondent assets India, Petitioner started a confirmation action in New York, got an ex parte attachment order from a New York State judge against a $20 million apartment in Manhattan (nice!), and asked the judge to permit discovery so Petitioner could show that the record owner of the glam flat was only a flimsy front for the Respondents. Removal to the federal court ensued (no surprise there), and the federal judge, doubting personal jurisdiction over Respondents and equally doubting the alter ego claim, vacated the attachment and denied the discovery.
Enter Section 1782! Petitioner says please let me have this alter ego discovery on ownership of the glam flat “in aid of” the pending foreign confirmation proceedings in India, and “in aid of” the further confirmation proceedings contemplated in Singapore and the UK if Petitioners’ suspicions about who really owns the flat are confirmed. But “wait a minute,” says federal judge #2, who gets the 1782 case as a separate file from the confirmation case pending before her colleague down the corridor (of the spectacularly-renovated old US Courthouse at 40 Centre St.) — “Isn’t this just the same discovery you were already denied by Judge #1, repackaged under 1782?” And moreover, she asked, “didn’t you settle the confirmation action in India, so you really don’t plan to use the discovery in a foreign proceeding?”
Petitioner had only lame (well OK, unpersuasive) answers to these questions — mainly that other creditors were clamoring for the same assets in India, such that the settlement there might crumble. In the view of Judge #2, even if the proposed discovery could be seen as fitting in the 1782 cubbyhole as “in aid of” foreign proceedings, it was more likely than not that the main purpose of the 1782 petition was to end-run Judge #1’s denial of discovery in the confirmation case about true ownership the glam flat, and to eventually use the 1782 discovery in that U.S action — not foreign or international but right down the corridor — a subversion of 1782. 1782 petition denied, case closed. (Except that WestLaw says an appeal was filed in the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals on August 19).
Is there a moral of the story here? As your Commentator I am committed to finding such, so let’s try this: It is well and good that the New York Convention permits recognition and enforcement proceedings to be taken concurrently in multiple jurisdictions. But a sound collection strategy requires a careful sorting of the issues — apart from whether the Award should be recognized — that each court may be asked to address. Here I wonder why the enforcement court in India could not have been asked to enter a global Mareva injunction against the Respondents and taken measures to permit Claimant to ascertain by disclosure the scope of those assets. The instinct to seek out discovery in a US forum because US courts are generally pro-discovery needs to be reality-checked against the specific context of a complicated international asset hunt in an award enforcement context.