SDNY Vacates Arbitration Award in International Maritime Shipping Dispute

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Petitioner Copragri and respondent Agribusiness United DMCC are foreign buyers and sellers of feed and grain, respectively, who entered into sales agreements for grain cargoes. Pursuant to its obligations under the sales agreements, Agribusiness chartered a vessel from Vitosha Maritime Ltd. to transport the grain cargoes from Louisiana to Morocco. The vessel’s master issued bills of lading for the cargoes to Agribusiness. Copragri was not a party to the bills of lading, the back of which included a provision calling for arbitration in New York.

After Vitosha Martina presented a claim against Agribusiness for delays of the vessel and other expenses at the discharge port in Morocco, Agribusiness presented an indemnity claim to Copragri. Six years later, Agribusiness commenced arbitration of this claim, and an arbitration panel was selected without Copragri’s participation. Copragri objected to the arbitration on several grounds, primarily because the governing contracts between the parties were the sales agreements for grain cargoes, and not the bill of lading under which Agribusiness had initiated the New York arbitration. These objections were provided both to Agribusiness and to the arbitration panel. However, Copragri’s objections were ignored, and the arbitration panel issued an award to Agribusiness for $208,300. The award did not address Copragri’s various objections or issues of arbitrability or jurisdiction, nor did it include any legal citations.

Copragri thereafter filed a petition in the Southern District of New York to vacate the award, which the court granted. The court held that because Copragri was not a party to the bill of lading and therefore did not consent to arbitration in New York, the arbitration panel acted outside its scope and authority when issuing its award. The court also held that the arbitration panel’s failure to analyze or even address Copragri’s various objections — a number of which could have been outcome-determinative — constituted a manifest disregard for the law, further justifying vacatur.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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