Aenergy, S.A. v. Republic of Angola, No. 1:22-cv-02514 (TNM) (D.D.C. June 20, 2023) [click for opinion]
Aenergy, S.A. ("Aenergy") is an Angolan energy company owned by a Portuguese citizen, Ricardo Machado. Between 2014 and 2017, Aenergy entered into 13 contracts with two utility companies owned by the Angolan Ministry of Energy and Water (collectively, the "Ministry") to construct, supply, and maintain power plants and water infrastructure in Angola.
In 2019, a dispute arose related to Aenergy's sourcing of turbines from GE, which led Angola's President to direct the Ministry to terminate these contracts. After the contracts were terminated, Aenergy appealed the decision to the Ministry, which denied the appeal. This case is currently pending before the Supreme Court of Angola.
Around the same time, Aenergy sued the Republic of Angola, the Ministry of Finance of Angola, and the Ministry (collectively, the "Angolan Defendants") and GE (together, with the Angolan Defendants, the "Defendants") in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss on grounds that Angola was the proper forum under a forum non conveniens analysis. This decision was upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that Aenergy had failed to show it would be denied due process if the case were allowed to proceed in Angola.
Two months after the Second Circuit denied rehearing and rehearing en banc, Aenergy filed a complaint against the Angolan Defendants for breach of contract in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Angolan Defendants moved to dismiss, in part, on grounds that the New York suit precluded the D.C. suit and that Angola was the proper forum under forum non conveniens. The D.C. district court granted dismissal on these grounds.
The D.C. district court first analyzed whether the New York decision on the issue of forum non conveniens precluded suit in D.C. under the "collateral estoppel" doctrine. This doctrine provides that "once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case." The D.C. district court determined that the doctrine applied here.
In so holding, the D.C. district court explained that, as in its prior suit, Aenergy claimed that Angolan courts would not provide adequate due process, and Aenergy's additional factual allegations in support were not "materially different" from those that controlled the outcome in the New York case. The D.C. district court also rejected Aenergy's argument that the New York district court and Second Circuit court had applied a different legal standard than that which would govern a forum non conveniens analysis in D.C.
The D.C. district court next concluded that the forum non conveniens issue would warrant dismissal even if it was not already warranted under the collateral estoppel doctrine. The court stated that it agreed with the "well-reasoned decisions" in the New York case that Aenergy could and had pursued its claims in Angola. While Aenergy countered that Angola had barred it from seeking damages, the D.C. district court agreed with the Second Circuit's view that an alternative forum "need not have identical causes of action or identical remedies to be deemed adequate" and that it was sufficient that Aenergy had a chance to pursue "at least some remedy" in the form of equitable relief. It then went on to characterize Aenergy's claim that Angola's judicial branch lacked independence as a "general allegation of deficiency," which was not sufficient to show that the alternative forum was inadequate. The D.C. district court thus concluded that Angola would be an adequate alternative forum. It granted the motion to dismiss, without prejudice.
Daniel Graulich of the Washington DC office contributed to this summary.