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Getma International v. Republic of Guinea

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

July 7, 2017

Getma International, Appellant
v.
Republic of Guinea, Appellee

          Submitted March 7, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:14-cv-01616)

          Allen B. Green, William T. O'Brien, and Ivan W. Bilaniuk were on the briefs for appellant.

          Jeffrey M. Prokop, James Grohsgal, and Jamie L. Shookman were on the brief for appellee.

          Before Henderson and Srinivasan, Circuit Judges, and Ginsburg, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          SRINIVASAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This case arises from a contract dispute between two foreign entities: Getma International, a French company, and the Republic of Guinea. After Guinea terminated a concession agreement between the two parties, an arbitral tribunal issued a 39 million award (plus interest) in favor of Getma. Guinea appealed the award to the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (CCJA), a court of supranational jurisdiction for Western and Central African States. The CCJA set aside Getma's award. Getma nonetheless seeks to enforce the annulled award in the United States.

         For us to intervene in this quintessentially foreign dispute, we would need to find the CCJA's annulment of the award to be repugnant to the United States's most fundamental notions of morality and justice. The district court held that Getma failed to satisfy that stringent standard, and we agree.

         I.

         In 2008, Guinea sought bids to expand and operate a port in Conakry, the country's capital. Getma submitted the winning bid. Getma and the Republic of Guinea then entered into a twenty-five-year Concession Agreement. Their partnership was short-lived. In December 2010, Guinea elected a new president, who quickly terminated the Agreement. Getma, protesting that the government's sudden about-face violated the contract, demanded a termination fee. Guinea denied any breach of the contract, alleging among other complaints that Getma had won the bidding process by bribing the previous Guinean administration.

         The Agreement's dispute-resolution provision stipulated that the parties could "irrevocably settle[]" any disputes through "arbitration proceedings subject to the Arbitration Rules of the [CCJA]." J.A. 249. The parties selected a tribunal of three arbitrators, all of whom were based in France. The CCJA fixed the arbitrators' fees at approximately 61, 000. After 14 months of arbitration, the arbitrators contacted the CCJA's Office of the Secretary General (which served as a liaison between the arbitrators and the CCJA) about increasing the fees to 450, 000. In an e-mail, a representative responded that the office would "contact the [CCJA] soon to adjust the fees." J.A. 1408.

         The CCJA denied the request by written order, citing precedent establishing that an "arbitrator's fees and expenses are set exclusively by" the CCJA. J.A. 541-42, 554. The arbitrators did not take no for an answer. Immediately after the decision, the arbitrators wrote the CCJA two letters renewing their request for increased fees. Likewise, Getma sent its own letter urging the CCJA to reconsider its decision. The CCJA remained unmoved. By April 2014, the CCJA had apparently informed the arbitrators on four separate occasions that the 61, 000 fee would stand.

         Disregarding the CCJA's decision, the arbitrators told the parties they would withhold the arbitral award until the parties paid them 450, 000. When the CCJA's Secretary General learned about the arbitrators' demand, he reprimanded them and told them that their fee request was void. In a written letter, the Secretary warned Getma that the award would be "subject to invalidation" if it included an "invalid arrangement" for arbitrator fees. J.A. 839.

         A few days later, the arbitrators issued a decision in favor of Getma, awarding the company 39 million plus interest. Although the award contained no mention of any demand for increased arbitrators' fees, the tribunal continued pursuing payment. And despite the CCJA's warning that an invalid fee arrangement could jeopardize any award, Getma paid the arbitrators 225, 000. The arbitrators later filed suit in the Paris Court of Appeals to collect the remaining 225, ...


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