As more business transactions cross national borders, arbitration has emerged as a prominent method of resolving international disputes. Atlanta is emerging as a prominent venue for international arbitration for some very practical reasons. In addition to the city’s global accessibility by air and supportive infrastructure, the legal climate has been intentionally adapted to support international arbitration. It’s also warmer and less expensive than New York or London.
The Atlanta International Arbitration Society promotes the city’s advantages as a site for international arbitration. It has the busiest passenger airport in the world with nonstop flights to more than 50 countries. It is home to several large international corporations, a sophisticated legal community, many foreign consulates and trade offices, interpreter and translator services, and ADR providers. The legal system is also supportive of international arbitration in some important ways.
Arbitrations in Georgia are governed by the Georgia Arbitration Code (GAC), as well as the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Part 2 of the GAC is known as the Georgia International Commercial Arbitration Code and deals specifically with international arbitration. The first section states: “The purpose of this part is to encourage international commercial arbitration in this state, to enforce arbitration agreements and arbitration awards, to facilitate prompt and efficient arbitration proceedings consistent with this part, and to provide a conducive environment for international business and trade.” O.C.G.A. § 9-9-20. The Code is based on the model international arbitration law promulgated by UNCITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law), which is recognized internationally. The Georgia law was amended in 2012 to keep pace with recent amendments to the UNCITRAL model law. It supports principles important to international arbitration, such as providing for enforcement of arbitration agreements, enforcement of arbitration awards, equality of treatment for parties, equal opportunity for each party to present its case, agreement on the language of proceedings and translation of documentary evidence, and other arbitration procedures modeled after UNCITRAL.
Georgia’s State Bar Rules also support international arbitration. Rule 5.5 addresses unauthorized practice of law and multi-jurisdictional practice of law. It provides that a foreign lawyer may provide legal services in this jurisdiction on a temporary basis related to a pending arbitration or other ADR proceeding held in this jurisdiction and related to the foreign lawyer’s practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted. The Rule thus accommodates a foreign party using its own lawyer in an international arbitration based in Georgia.
Decisions of the local federal and state courts also support Atlanta-based international arbitration. An important aspect of arbitration is the finality of a decision and limited grounds to overturn based on the local law of the forum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit based in Atlanta has issued several decisions upholding the finality of an award and narrowing the grounds for overturning an award. It has eliminated “manifest disregard of the law” as a basis for challenging an arbitration award. Frazier v. CitiFinancial Corp., 604 F.3d. 1313 (11th Cir. 2010). It has eliminated domestic arbitration law as a basis for vacating an international arbitration award. Industrial Risk Insurers v. M.A.N. Gutehoffnungshutte, 141 F.3d 1434 (11th Cir. 1998). It has also recognized the importance of “the arbitrator being the last decision maker in all but the most unusual cases”, and announced a willingness to impose sanctions to deter frivolous challenges to arbitration awards. World Business Paradise, Inc. v. SunTrust Bank, 403 Fed. Appx. 468 (11th Cir. 2010). Grounds for challenging arbitration awards have also been stringently restricted by the Georgia Supreme Court. Brookfield Country Club, Inc. v. St. James-Brookfield, LLC, 287 Ga. 408, 696 S.E.2d 663 (2010).
The practical advantages and supportive legal climate combine to make Atlanta an appealing venue for international arbitration. These are good reasons for companies and lawyers engaged in international transactions to consider including international arbitration in Atlanta in their contracts.