New York Federal Court Confirms $2M Arbitral Award to Defunct Liquor Distributor in Dispute Over Royalties Owed to Rapper Snoop Dogg

Carlton Fields
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Carlton Fields

This royalties dispute arose out of an agreement between Cognac Ferrand S.A.S., a French company that produces and sells various liquors and spirits, and Mystique Brands LLC, a company that imports and markets liquors and spirits in the United States, involving the importation and marketing of Ferrand’s cognac in the United States.

In 2008, the parties executed a contract in which Ferrand granted Mystique the five-year exclusive right to import and market certain products in the United States. Under that agreement, Mystique agreed to purchase certain minimum amounts of Ferrand’s products each year and to enter into a marketing agreement with the musical artist Calvin Brodus, aka Snoop Dogg, for the promotion of those products, the costs of which Mystique would pay. The agreement granted Ferrand the right to terminate the agreement if Mystique became insolvent or filed a bankruptcy petition, or if Mystique committed a “material breach” that it failed to cure within 30 days.

Ferrand terminated the agreement roughly a year later in 2010, citing Mystique’s purported insolvency and unpaid royalties owed to Snoop Dogg. Mystique then initiated arbitration proceedings before the International Centre for Dispute Resolution in New York (ICDR) against Ferrand claiming wrongful termination. Ferrand fought back with a $4.5 million counterclaim, alleging it had been fraudulently induced to enter the deal because Mystique lied about its finances.

The arbitration proceeding was stayed after Mystique filed bankruptcy in 2013, but once Mystique emerged from Chapter 11 in 2017, Ferrand sought to reinstate the arbitration proceeding so that it could pursue its counterclaims against Mystique. The ICDR advised that the matter had been closed administratively, and directed Ferrand to file a new notice of arbitration. The parties proceeded in a new arbitration before a new ICDR arbitrator in New York.

In May 2020, the new arbitrator in New York found in Mystique’s favor and dismissed all of Ferrand’s claims. There, the arbitrator found that Mystique did not breach its minimum purchase obligation or repudiate the agreement and that Mystique’s insolvency did not constitute a material breach. The arbitrator also rejected Ferrand’s breach of contract claim for Mystique’s failure to pay Snoop Dogg because Ferrand had not offered evidence of damages or causation. Finding that Mystique was the “prevailing party,” the arbitrator also awarded Mystique $2 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.

Ferrand thereafter sought relief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, filing a petition to vacate the arbitral award pursuant to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Ferrand argued that the arbitrator erred by finding that Mystique was the prevailing party in the arbitration and wrongly awarded Mystique nearly $2 million in fees and costs. Mystique opposed the petition and cross-petitioned to confirm the award, also seeking sanctions under both 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against Ferrand for pursuing this action.

The district court denied Ferrand’s petition to vacate the award, finding that the arbitrator did not exceed her authority or act in manifest disregard and that the award was final and definite. The district court determined that Ferrand’s challenge amounted to a mere substantive disagreement with the arbitrator’s reasoning and ultimate determination, which is not a valid basis to overturn the award. Because Ferrand failed to show that any aspect of the award should be vacated, the district court granted Mystique’s cross-petition to confirm the award.

Cognac Ferrand S.A.S. v. Mystique Brands, LLC, No. 1:20-cv-05933 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2021).

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