District Court Applies New York Convention, Denies Motion To Dismiss Petition To Compel Arbitration

[author: Matthew Burrows]

In late July, a New York federal court denied Harris Corporation’s (“Harris”) motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The motion sought to dismiss HBC Solutions Inc.’s (“HBC”) Amended Petition to Compel Arbitration.  The dispute centered on a memorialized Asset Sale Agreement (“Sale Agreement”) in which HBC agreed to purchase Harris’s Broadcast Communications Division. The Sale Agreement stated that the final purchase price would be determined after closing with resolution of any pricing dispute handled through an independent accountancy to determine the “adjustment amount.” Harris did not contact the accountancy firm for resolution.

Without a federal question and without diversity of citizenship between the parties, the court looked to whether it had jurisdiction under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (“The New York Convention”) and its codification in the Federal Arbitration Act. Harris argued first that the New York Convention should not apply, as the parties were both domestic. Second, Harris argued that the additional provision in the Sale Agreement was not arbitration but an “expert determination.”  Considering Harris’s first argument, the Court noted that the New York Convention would typically not apply if both parties were citizens of the United States. However, the sale included a transfer of property in fourteen different countries, making the transaction “significantly international.” Further, the Court reasoned that the language in the Sale Agreement was evidence of a desire to adjudicate any pricing dispute through a third party, here an accountancy. As the New York Convention applies, the motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction was denied.

The Court concluded that the contract’s clearly stated intention to refer disputes to an accountant for resolution qualified as an agreement to arbitrate, and directed the respondent to serve an opposition to the Amended Petition.  Given that some reinsurance agreements provide for somewhat similar alternative dispute resolution avenues, this opinion may be of interest to reinsurance practitioners.  HBC Solutions, Inc., v. Harris Corp., No. 13-CV-6327 (JMF) (S.D.N.Y. July 18th, 2014).