Comm'ns Imp. Exp. S.A. v. Republic of the Congo, No. 13-7004, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 13158 (D.C. Cir. July 11, 2014) [click for opinion]

Commissions Import Export S.A. won a 2000 arbitration against the Republic of Congo relating to Congo’s failure to pay under various contracts that included arbitration provisions. Commissions Import tried for several years to enforce the arbitral award in courts all over the world pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”).

In 2009, Commissions Import initiated proceedings pursuant to the New York Convention in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, Commercial Court in London, England. The High Court ruled that the award was enforceable and entered a final judgment in favor of Commissions Import.

Commissions Import then brought suit in federal court in New York to enforce the English judgment. The case was transferred to federal court in the District of Columbia, which dismissed the case because the three-year period for confirmation of foreign arbitral awards under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") had expired. According to the district court, the three year statute of limitations pre-empted the D.C. statute's longer enforcement period for money judgments.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed, ruling that there was no pre-emption of the state law relating to the enforcement of foreign judgments. In reversing, the D.C. Circuit recognized that the FAA does not expressly or impliedly preclude states from enacting and enforcing their own laws relating to the enforcement of foreign money judgments. Likewise, Congress did not express any intention to pre-empt state law in ratifying the New York Convention. In fact, enforcement of foreign money judgments has always been an area of law over which states have exercised exclusive control.

In finding that the confirmation of arbitral awards is an area of law separate and distinct from the law regarding enforcement of foreign money judgments, the D.C. Circuit noted that its decision was similar to that of the Second Circuit, the only other circuit court to have analyzed the issue in depth. The court remanded the matter to the district court to determine whether the English judgment is enforceable under the D.C. statute for enforcing foreign judgments.