Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc. v. Harbert Construction Company

PETITIONER: Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Harbert Construction Company
LOCATION: WILK Radio

DOCKET NO.: 98-1960
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 529 US 193 (2000)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 2000
DECIDED: Mar 21, 2000

ADVOCATES:
Daniel H. Bromberg - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Susan S. Wagner - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1995, Cortez Byrd Chips hired Bill Harbert Construction to install a chip mill in Mississippi. Byrd and Harbert agreed that any ensuing disputes would be decided by arbitration. After the installation, Harbert demanded an upward adjustment on the bill. Byrd refused, claiming that Harbert had not submitted a written statement requesting additional compensation as required under their contract. Harbert called in the American Arbitration Association. Arbitration was conducted in Alabama and Harbert received an award. In response, Byrd sought to vacate or modify the award in a Federal District Court of Mississippi, where the contract was performed. Harbert then sought to confirm the award in Alabama. The latter court refused to dismiss, transfer, or stay its action, concluding that venue was proper only there because "[t]he place of arbitration determines the jurisdiction of the court," and it entered judgment for Harbert. Byrd appealed, claiming that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) provided that the case should be deferred to Mississippi because the suit had been filed there first. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that, under the FAA, venue for motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards was exclusively in the district where the arbitration award was made, and thus venue was limited to the Alabama court.

Question

Do the venue provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act limit motions to confirm, vacate, or modify an arbitration award to the district where the award was made?

Media for Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc. v. Harbert Construction Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 2000 in Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc. v. Harbert Construction Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 21, 2000 in Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc. v. Harbert Construction Company

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 98-1960, Cortez Byrd Chips Inc. v. Bill Harbert Construction Company will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The petitioner Cortez Byrd Chips Incorporated and the respondent Bill Harbert Construction Company agreed that any disputes arising from Harbert’s Construction of a Mississippi mill for Cortez Byrd would be decided by arbitration.

After a dispute arose, arbitration was conducted in Alabama and Harbert received an award.

Cortez Byrd sought to vacate and modify the award in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, where the contract was performed.

Seven days later, Harbert sought to confirm the award in the Northern District of Alabama.

The Alabama Court refused to dismiss transfer or stay its action, concluding that venue was proper only there, and it entered judgment for Harbert.

The Eleventh Circuit held that under the Federal Arbitration Act venue for motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards was exclusively in the district where the arbitration award was made, in this case, Alabama.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of Court today, we reverse.

The Federal Arbitration Act’s venue provisions are permissive, allowing a motion to confirm, vacate or modify to be brought either in the district where the award was made or in any district proper under the general venue statute.

And our opinion is unanimous.