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Lifetree Trading Pte. Ltd. v. Washakie Renewable Energy, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 27, 2017

LIFETREE TRADING PTE., LTD., Plaintiff,
v.
WASHAKIE RENEWABLE ENERGY, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. PAUL OETKEN United States District Judge

         Almost three years ago, Plaintiff LifeTree Trading Pte. Ltd. (“LifeTree”) filed this action against Defendant Washakie Renewable Energy, LLC (“Washakie”), alleging breach of a $90 million contract for biofuel. Last month, this Court denied Washakie's eleventh-hour motion to compel arbitration, and Washakie appealed. Washakie now moves for a stay pending its appeal. For the reasons that follow, Washakie's motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Familiarity with the underlying facts of this litigation, as set out in this Court's prior opinions, is presumed. See LifeTree Trading Pte., Ltd. v. Washakie Renewable Energy, LLC, No. 14 Civ. 9075, 2017 WL 2414805 (S.D.N.Y. June 2, 2017); Lifetree Trading Pte., Ltd. v. Washakie Renewable Energy, LLC, No. 14 Civ. 9075, 2015 WL 3948097 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2015). The Court briefly reiterates the facts necessary to resolve the pending motion.

         LifeTree filed suit against Washakie and several individual defendants in November 2014. (Dkt. No. 1.) Washakie moved to dismiss in 2015, and LifeTree simultaneously moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of Washakie's liability for breach of contract. (See Dkt. Nos. 22, 28.) The Court granted in part the defendants' motion to dismiss but denied LifeTree's motion for summary judgment as to liability. See Lifetree, 2015 WL 3948097, at *5, *7-9. In denying summary judgment, the Court relied heavily on sworn affidavits from Washakie's principals attesting to an oral condition precedent that required Washakie to obtain a line of credit from a Turkish bank. See id.

         Two years of discovery followed. After all that time, Washakie finally revealed that the purported “condition precedent” was pure fabrication. “This bears repeating: The Kingstons submitted sworn statements to the Court admitting that their previous sworn statements to the Court were not true.” LifeTree, 2017 WL 2414805, at *2.

         LifeTree moved for sanctions, and-the issue of liability no longer contested-the parties cross-moved for summary judgment on damages. See LifeTree, 2017 WL 2414805, at *2. Recognizing that Washakie's principals' “continued fraud prolonged this action [and] forc[ed] costly and time-consuming discovery on what appeared to be a central issue in the case, ” the Court granted LifeTree's request for sanctions and ordered Washakie to pay LifeTree's attorney's fees and costs. Id. at *3.

         The Court declined, however, to grant summary judgment on damages. The parties' experts had proposed “vastly divergent damages figures” ranging from $765, 370 (Washakie's number) to $25, 329, 370 (LifeTree's number). See Id. at *5. Concluding that a genuine dispute of material fact existed as to the date of default, the Court explained that damages “is an issue to be resolved by a jury at trial.” Id. at *6.

         As the Court was preparing to set a trial date, further delay ensued. In June 2017, defense counsel disclosed that Washakie was not paying its legal fees, and counsel moved for permission to withdraw from the representation. (See Dkt. Nos. 103, 105.) The Court granted that request and warned Washakie that it must retain new counsel within three weeks. (Dkt. No. 107.) New counsel filed an appearance at the last possible moment, on August 4, 2017 (see Dkt. No. 108), and, through its new counsel, Washakie filed a written demand for a jury trial on September 15, 2017 (see Dkt. No. 112).

         The Court then set a conference for September 29, 2017, for the purpose of setting a date for the jury trial. On the day before the conference, September 28-two weeks after filing its jury demand-Washakie filed a motion to compel arbitration. (See Dkt. No. 116.)

         On September 29, 2017, the Court denied Washakie's motion from the bench, finding that Washakie's extensive participation in this litigation had waived any right it may have had to arbitrate. (Dkt. No. 119 (“Tr.”) at 12:8‒11; Dkt. No. 117.) Washakie then filed an interlocutory appeal from this Court's decision (Dkt. No. 121), and it now moves to stay proceedings while its appeal is pending (Dkt. No. 122).

         II. Discussion

         During the pendency of an appeal from an order denying a motion to compel arbitration, “a district court . . . has jurisdiction to proceed with a case absent a stay from [the court of appeals].” Motorola Credit Corp. v. Uzan, 388 F.3d 39, 54 (2d Cir. 2004). “[E]ither the district court or the court of appeals may-but is not ...


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