This morning the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear in its next Term the international arbitration case of GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS v. Outokumpu Stainless USA LLC (Docket No. 18-1048, case documents available at https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/ge-energy-power-conversion-france-sas-v-outokumpu-stainless-usa-llc/). The dispute addresses whether, under the New York Convention, a non-signatory can compel arbitration. The Question Presented is:
Whether the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards permits a nonsignatory to an arbitration agreement to compel arbitration based on the doctrine of equitable estoppel.
As described in GE’s petition for cert, “Sometimes, a signatory to a contract may sue a non-signatory for claims that arise out of the contract. When that happens, is the signatory bound by the arbitration clause it agreed to in the contract? For domestic arbitration agreements, the answer is yes: Equitable estoppel allows the non-signatory to enforce the arbitration clause. But the Eleventh Circuit [Court of Appeals] held that a non-signatory cannot compel arbitration if one of the parties is a foreign entity. That erroneous holding deepens a 2-to-2 circuit split and warrants this Court’s review.”
Readers will note that GE’s quoted description of the issue speaks confusingly about both (i) a signatory compelling arbitration with a non-signatory and (ii) a non-signatory compelling arbitration with a signatory. One hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will be able to distinguish the two situations and determine whether that distinction is relevant to resolving the question. The 11th Circuit decision declining to compel arbitration rested in part on the non-US nature of one of the parties.
We shall learn within the next year how the U.S. Supreme Court believes non-signatories fit into the commercial arbitration universe.