United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
February 9, 2017
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:14-cv-00659) Juan C. Basombrio argued the
cause for the appellant. Creighton R. Magid was with him on
Mahesha P. Subbaraman and Janet C. Evans were on brief for
the amicus curiae Professor Richard W. Painter in support of
the appellant Government of Belize.
B. Kimmelman argued the cause for the appellee. Dana C.
MacGrath and Ryan C. Morris were with him on brief.
Before: Garland, Chief Judge, and Henderson and Wilkins,
LeCraft Henderson, Circuit Judge
January 15, 2013, an arbitral tribunal in London, England,
found the Government of Belize (Belize) in breach of a
settlement agreement with The Bank of Belize Limited (Bank).
The tribunal therefore ordered Belize to pay the Bank a
substantial monetary award. After attempts to enforce the
award in Belize failed, the Bank commenced this action in the
district court, asking the court to confirm the arbitral
award and enter judgment in its favor. In a well-reasoned
order, the district court granted the Bank's petition.
Belize Bank Ltd. v. Gov't of Belize, 191
F.Supp.3d 26 (D.D.C. 2016).
appeal, Belize raises multiple challenges to the district
court's judgment. We have accorded each of Belize's
arguments "full consideration after careful examination
of the record, " Bartko v. SEC, 845 F.3d 1217,
1219 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting Ozburn-Hessey Logistics,
LLC v. NLRB, 833 F.3d 210, 213 (D.C. Cir. 2016)), but
find them either largely asked and answered by Circuit
precedent, see BCB Holdings Ltd. v. Gov't of
Belize, 650 F.App'x 17 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (per
curiam); Belize Soc. Dev. Ltd. v. Gov't of
Belize, 794 F.3d 99 (D.C. Cir. 2015); Belize Soc.
Dev. Ltd. v. Gov't of Belize, 668 F.3d 724 (D.C.
Cir. 2012), or otherwise properly resolved by the district
court. Only one issue raised by Belize warrants further
discussion-whether the district court's enforcement of
the arbitral award violated the New York Convention because
it was "contrary to the public policy of" the
United States. Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement
of Foreign Arbitral Awards of June 10, 1958 ("New York
Convention"), art. V(2)(b), 21 U.S.T. 2517, T.I.A.S.
2517, T.I.A.S. No. 6997, 330 U.N.T.S. 3 (1970); 9 U.S.C.
§ 207. For the reasons that follow, we believe
the district court judgment is consistent with the New York
Convention and therefore affirm.
December 9, 2004, Said Musa, the Prime Minister of Belize,
signed a confidential agreement under which Belize agreed to
serve as the guarantor of a loan made to a Belizean health
services provider by the Bank. By 2007, that health services
provider was in default, making Belize liable for the
outstanding loan balance. Pursuant to a March 23, 2007
settlement agreement, Belize agreed to pay the debt in full.
Shortly thereafter, the settlement agreement became public
knowledge and a firestorm erupted-protesters, branding the
deal corrupt, marched on the Belizean capital; and Belizean
public interest groups, believing that Prime Minister Musa
lacked the authority to financially bind Belize without the
approval of the Belizean National Assembly, challenged the
settlement agreement in the Belizean court. Responding to the
pressure, Belize refused to make any payment pursuant to the
settlement agreement with the Bank.
Belize's default, the Bank-in accordance with a dispute
resolution clause included in the settlement agreement-began
arbitration proceedings against Belize in London, England,
under the Rules of the London Court of International
Arbitration (LCIA). The arbitral tribunal overseeing the
proceedings was to consist of three members, one appointed by
each party and the third appointed jointly by the two
parties' members. Because Belize largely declined to
participate in the early stages of the arbitration, however,
the LCIA had to step in and appoint Belize's arbitrator
in Belize's stead. The LCIA nominated Zachary Douglas as
Belize's member of the arbitral tribunal.
March 2012, five years after Douglas's initial
appointment, Belize challenged Douglas's continued
service on the arbitral tribunal. Belize argued that another
member of the English chambers Douglas belonged to, Matrix
Chambers, had-in previous unrelated matters-advised a partial
owner of the Bank and represented other interests adverse to
Belize. Belize questioned Douglas's impartiality as a
member of the arbitral tribunal and argued that Douglas had a
duty to disclose information detailing Matrix Chambers's
practices and representations, or, alternatively, that
Douglas should be removed from the arbitral panel.
LCIA then created a three-member "Division" to
consider Belize's challenges. Belize Bank Ltd. v.
Gov't of Belize, Case No. 81116 (London Ct.
Int'l Arb. 2012). The Division rejected both of
Belize's alternatives. Id. at 11-18. Analyzing
the disclosure issue, the Division relied on the
"British Rule, " under which barristers in the same
chambers- unlike lawyers in a traditional American law
firm-are presumed to be independent practitioners.
Id. at 14 ("Barristers are sole practitioners.
Their Chambers are not law firms."). Although the
Division recognized that "chambers ought not to be used
as a shield to preclude a fact-based inquiry as to whether a
justifiable doubt [as to impartiality or independence] may be
raised by barristers from the same chambers acting as
arbitrator and party counsel in the same proceeding, "
it found that Douglas's alleged conflict of interest was
too attenuated to give rise to a duty to disclose.
Id. at 15. ("There is no suggestion . . . that
any barrister from Matrix Chambers, other than Professor
Douglas, has acted in the present proceeding.").
Although the Division recognized that no
"hard-and-fast" rule existed that excused a
barrister's disqualification based on the activities of
another barrister belonging to the same chambers, it
determined that the "totality of the relevant
circumstances in this case" weighed against
Douglas's disqualification in that Douglas himself had
not acted for or against Belize or the Bank in the past, no
barrister in Matrix Chambers (other than Douglas) was acting
for or against the Bank or Belize in the arbitral proceeding
before the LCIA and Belize had notice of the fact that
barristers in the same chambers are independent
practitioners. Id. at 17.
did not take the Division's adverse decision well,
withdrawing from the arbitration proceedings and refusing to
participate thereafter. Nonetheless, the proceedings
continued and, on January 15, 2013, the arbitral tribunal
found Belize in breach of its settlement agreement with the
Bank. The tribunal ordered Belize to pay the Bank the sum of
BZ$36, 895, 509.46, ...