Arnold & Porter Secures Victory for Republic of Colombia in $17 Billion Case
Washington, DC, March 24, 2015 -- Arnold & Porter LLP recently obtained a definitive victory on behalf of the Republic of Colombia in a US$17 billion U.S. federal court dispute originally filed in 2010 by the U.S.-based maritime salvage company Sea Search Armada (SSA). The litigation, which involved two separate federal cases, related to alleged rights to the treasure aboard a Spanish galleon, the San José, which sank more than 300 years ago off the coast of present-day Colombia. SSA claimed that it had a contractual right to salvage the vessel and to a part of the gold and silver coins and bullion aboard the ship, and assessed at US$17 billion the value of its alleged stake.
In its January, 2015 ruling, however, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia fully dismissed SSA's claims, with prejudice, on the grounds of res judicata. SSA had filed a prior lawsuit before the District Court, in 2010, asserting breach of contract and conversion claims, and requesting enforcement of a Colombian judgment. In a ruling issued in October, 2011, the District Court had dismissed that first case, accepting Arnold & Porter's arguments that the three-year statute of limitations for claims of breach of contract and conversion had expired, and that the foreign judgment was unenforceable in the U.S. SSA then appealed. In April, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the district court's ruling.
SSA shortly thereafter filed a second lawsuit against Colombia at the District Court, alleging inter alia that Colombia had interfered with a contract between SSA and one of its subcontractors to salvage the Galleon. In its latest ruling, the District Court agreed with Arnold & Porter's argument that SSA's new claims were barred by the principle of res judicata. The District Court's order granting Colombia's motion to dismiss is final and not subject to further review.