Second Circuit Declines to Vacate Foreign Arbitral Award Under New York Convention Absent Valid Reason

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In this case, plaintiff Rodrigo Pagaduan was injured while serving as a motorman on a Carnival Cruise Line ship. The Second Circuit previously affirmed the Eastern District of New York’s order compelling arbitration, and the case was ordered to be arbitrated in the Philippines. The Philippine labor arbiter’s decision granted Pagaduan $5,100 in “sickness allowance,” plus attorneys’ fees of 10% of the award, but declined to provide other relief. Pagaduan filed a motion seeking nonenforcement and/or vacatur of the award, which was denied by the district court.

Pagaduan appealed the district court’s denial, invoking the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention), which provides that a court “shall confirm [a foreign arbitral] award unless it finds one of the grounds for refusal or deferral of recognition or enforcement of the award specified in the said Convention.” Pagaduan argued that the award should not be confirmed based on two grounds of the New York Convention.

First, Pagaduan argued that article V(1)(b) of the New York Convention applied, which allows for nonenforcement where “[t]he party against whom the award is invoked was not given proper notice of the appointment of the arbitrator or of the arbitration proceedings or was otherwise unable to present his case.” Pagaduan argued that he had not been given proper notice of the proceedings and was unable to present his case. The Second Circuit rejected Pagaduan’s argument, finding that Pagaduan submitted multiple lengthy briefs, medical records, and affidavits before the labor arbiter, but chose to focus his arguments almost entirely on whether the arbiter had jurisdiction over the case, which left him limited room to argue the merits of his case (such as how the Jones Act or Philippine law would provide a greater recovery). Although Pagaduan pointed to errors in the arbitration proceedings, the Second Circuit found that none of them suggested that he was denied the opportunity to be heard in a meaningful time or manner. Therefore, the Second Circuit did not believe that the first ground applied.

Second, Pagaduan argued that article V(2)(b) of the New York Convention applied, which allows for nonenforcement where “[t]he recognition of enforcement of the award would be contrary to the public policy of that country.” Pagaduan argued that the lesser remedies available under Philippine law contravene U.S. policy to provide special solicitude to seamen under the Jones Act. The Second Circuit again rejected Pagaduan’s argument, finding the fact that the award was arguably smaller than Pagaduan might have recovered under the Jones Act was not so contrary to public policy as to “violate our most basic notions of morality and justice.” As federal public policy is not violated “merely because foreign law would provide a lesser or different remedy in a particular area of the law,” the Second Circuit declined to set aside the award and affirmed the order of the district court.

Pagaduan v. Carnival Corp., No. 19-3400 (2d Cir. Nov. 25, 2020).

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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