Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc. v. Bill Harbert Constr. Co., 529 U.S. 193 (2000)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1999

Syllabus

CORTEZ BYRD CHIPS, INC. v. BILL HARBERT CONSTRUCTION CO., A DIVISION OF BILL HARBERT INTERNATIONAL, INC.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 98-1960. Argued January 10, 2000—Decided March 21, 2000

Petitioner Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc., and respondent Bill Harbert Construction Company agreed, inter alia, that any disputes arising from Harbert's construction of a Mississippi mill for Cortez Byrd would be decided by arbitration. When such a dispute arose, arbitration was conducted in Alabama and Harbert received an award. Cortez Byrd sought to vacate or modify the award in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, where the contract was performed; and seven days later Harbert sought to confirm the award in the Northern District of Alabama. The latter 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 (FAA), venue for motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards was exclusively in the district where the arbitration award was made, and thus venue here was limited to the Alabama court.

Held: The FAA'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. Pp. 197-204.

(a) Cortez Byrd's Mississippi motion was clearly proper as a diversity action under the general venue statute, 28 U. S. C. 1391(a)(2), because it was filed where the contract was performed. However, the FAA provides that upon motion of an arbitration party, the federal district court where the arbitration award was made "may" vacate, 9 U. S. C. 10, or "may" modify or correct, 11, the award. If these provisions are restrictive, supplanting rather than supplementing the general venue statute, there was no Mississippi venue for Cortez Byrd's action. Owing to their contemporaneous enactment and similar language, 10 and 11 are best analyzed together with 9, which permits parties to select the venue for confirmation of an award and provides that, in the absence of an agreement, venue lies in the federal court for the district where the award was made. Pp. 197-198.

(b) Parsing the language of 9-11 does not answer the question whether the provisions are restrictive or permissive, for there is lan-

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