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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

GST LLP

18 February 2016

The Miami boutique defends Latin American states

People in Who’s Who Legal: 1
Pending cases as counsel: 10
Value of pending counsel work: US$2 billion
Treaty cases: 4
Current arbitrator appointments: 21 (of which 15 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 3

Gomm & Smith was set up in 2009, when Florida-based lawyer Quinn Smith joined forces with Brazilian practitioner Mauricio Gomm Santos – then a consultant at US firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and law professor at the University of Miami.

Starting life as Smith International Legal Services, the firm wanted to carve a niche as an adviser to Brazilian individuals and businesses expanding internationally, as well as US companies doing business in Latin America. Its early work saw it involved in an ICC dispute and litigation between the United States’ Bechtel and a Brazilian state power company.

The practice really began to take off in 2012 with the arrival of of counsel Diego Gosis, an Argentine lawyer who has acted as external counsel to his home government in more than 20 investment arbitrations since 2006. Gosis also sits as arbitrator and retains a separate of counsel role with Guglielmino & Asociados, a Buenos Aires firm set up by the former head of the country’s ICSID defence team.

In 2013, Gomm Santos became a full partner of the firm, leading to a rebrand as Gomm & Smith.

Smith, who lectures on arbitration at a Brazilian university, sits on the global advisory board for the ICDR’s under-40 group, ICDR Young & International, and is on the North America regional coordinating committee of the ICC Court’s Young Arbitrator’s Forum. Gomm Santos was a founding member and former director of the Brazilian Arbitration Committee, and sits on its advisory council.

Network

In addition to its Miami office, the boutique has an address in New York, where Gomm Santos is admitted to practise (he operates as a foreign legal consultant in Florida).

Who uses it?

The governments of Bolivia and Venezuela have instructed the firm on a number of treaty-based and commercial matters. In one matter, an ICSID claim by Chilean mining company Quiborax against Bolivia, the firm was brought in by the state to replace Dechert only five weeks before the final hearing.

Other engagements have come from a sovereign instrumentality of Argentina, several Brazilian manufacturers and families, and an investment bank in Africa. A South American state-owned bank instructed the firm to assist in recouping US$60 million in funds stolen by a bank official.

Track record

Several of the firm’s cases still have a way to run, but it reports success in helping a Brazilian manufacturer to enforce an ICC award. The firm was able to pierce the corporate veil and hold one of the respondent’s primary shareholders responsible for the entirety of the debt.

Gomm & Smith also helped Bolivian state mining entity Empresa Siderurgica de Mutun overturn a US$22.5 million award in favour of India’s Jindal Steel in the Bolivian courts. A related claim against ESM has been paused while the parties pursue settlement talks.

Working with Guglielmino & Asociados, Gosis helped to reduce a US$150 million ICSID claim against Venezuela to an award worth US$34 million. The case was brought by investors in a Caribbean island airport.

Recent events

Gomm & Smith’s work for Bolivia in the Quiborax case came to an end in October 2015, with an ICSID tribunal awarding the investor US$48 million (it had claimed for around US$285 million). The state is challenging the award in annulment proceedings.

The firm continued its work for Venezuela in a US$450 million claim brought by US shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls (a spin-off of defence contractor Northrop Grumman); that case is being heard by a panel seated in Rio de Janeiro.

Gomm & Smith is also helping Venezuela resist enforcement of an ICSID award in favour of US bottlemaker Owens-Illinois in the US courts.

Looking to expand into African disputes, the firm is now advising an investment bank in connection with its investment agreement with an African nation, and advising a foreign investor seeking compensation for expropriation by the Gaddafi Regime in Libya.

Away from counsel work, Gosis was asked to chair an UNCITRAL panel hearing a claim by two US companies against a Costa Rican state entity.