In a dispute involving the expansion of the Panama Canal, a federal district court has denied an application for an order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782 to obtain discovery in aid of foreign litigation. The controversy concerned Grupo Unidos por el Canal, S.A.’s (GUPC’s) ex parte application to obtain discovery from an entity with whom the Autoridad del Canal de Panama (ACP) contracted to provide program management services in connection with the Panama Canal project. The contract between GUPC and ACP contains an arbitration clause which provides that any dispute arising from the Canal project be arbitrated in Miami, Florida, under the Rules of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce.
GUPC, along with several co-claimants, commenced the arbitration proceeding against ACP. The Miami-based proceeding is alleged to be the “international tribunal” supporting GUPC’s Section 1782 request for documents. Several objections were made to that request, including (1) the Miami arbitration is a private commercial arbitration and not a “tribunal” within the ambit of Section 1782, (2) the Miami arbitration is not a “foreign or international” tribunal within the meaning of Section 1782 because the seat of the arbitration is in the United States, and (3) the proposed subpoena is unduly burdensome, intrusive, and an attempt to circumvent the contractual procedural and discovery limitations in the arbitration. The court found the proceeding was not a “tribunal” for purposes of Section 1782 and, therefore, found it unnecessary to consider whether the private, Miami-based arbitration was “international.” The court also found that even if the statutory requirements were met, Grupo would not be allowed discovery of 165 million documents that were physically located in Panama, noting that such discovery would be overly burdensome. Grupo’s ex parte application was denied. In re Grupo Unidos Por El Canal, S.A., No. 1:14-mc-00226 (USDC D. Colo. Apr. 17, 2015).