Justice Souter, delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case raises the issue whether the venue provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA or Act), 9 U. S. C. §§ 9-11, are restrictive, allowing a motion to confirm, vacate, or modify an arbitration award to be brought only in the district in which the award was made, or are permissive, permitting such a motion either where the award was made or in any district proper under the general venue statute. We hold the FAA provisions permissive.
Petitioner Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc., and respondent Bill Harbert Construction Company agreed that Harbert would build a wood chip mill for Cortez Byrd in Brookhaven, Mississippi. One of the terms was that "[a]ll claims or disputes between the Contractor and the Owner arising out [of] or relating to the Contract, or the breach thereof, shall be decided by arbitration in accordance with the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association currently in effect unless the parties mutually agree otherwise." App. 52. The agreement went on to provide that "[t]he award rendered by the arbitrator or arbitrators shall be final, and judgement may be entered upon it in accordance with applicable law in any court having jurisdiction thereof," ibid.; that the agreement to arbitrate "shall be specifically enforceable under applicable law in any court having jurisdiction thereof," ibid.; and that the law of the place where the project was located, Mississippi, governed, id., at 60; 169 F.3d 693, 694 (CA11 1999).
After a dispute arose, Harbert invoked the agreement by a filing with the Atlanta office of the American Arbitration Association, which conducted arbitration in November 1997
In January 1998, Cortez Byrd filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi seeking to vacate or modify the arbitration award, which Harbert then sought to confirm by filing this action seven days later in the Northern District of Alabama. When Cortez Byrd moved to dismiss, transfer, or stay the Alabama action, the Alabama District Court denied the motion, concluding that venue was proper only in the Northern District of Alabama, and entering judgment for Harbert for $274,256.90 plus interest and costs. Ibid.
The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. It held itself bound by pre-1981 Fifth Circuit precedent, cf. Bonner v. Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (CA11 1981), to the effect that under the Act's venue provisions, 9 U. S. C. §§ 9-11, venue for motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards was exclusively in the district in which the arbitration award was made. 169 F. 3d, at 694; Naples v. Prepakt Concrete Co., 490 F.2d 182, 184 (CA5), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 843 (1974). The arbitration here having been held in Birmingham, the rule as so construed limited venue to the Northern District of Alabama.
We granted certiorari, 527 U.S. 1062 (1999), to resolve a split among the Courts of Appeals over the permissive or mandatory character of the FAA's venue provisions. Compare In re VMS Securities Litigation, 21 F.3d 139, 144-145 (CA7 1994) (§§ 9 and 10 permissive); Smiga v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 766 F.2d 698, 706 (CA2 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1067 (1986) (§ 9 permissive); Sutter Corp. v. P & P Indus., Inc., 125 F.3d 914, 918-920 (CA5 1997) (§§ 9 and 10 permissive); P & P Indus., Inc. v. Sutter Corp., 179 F.3d 861, 869-870 (CA10 1999) (§§ 9 and 10 permissive); Apex Plumbing Supply, Inc. v. U. S. Supply Co., 142 F.3d 188, 192 (CA4 1998) (§ 9 permissive); Nordin v. Nutri/System, Inc., 897 F.2d 339, 344 (CA8 1990) (§ 9 permissive), with Central
Section 9 of the FAA governs venue for the confirmation of arbitration awards:
Section 10(a), governing motions to vacate arbitration awards, provides that
And under § 11, on modification or correction,
The precise issue raised in the District Court was whether venue for Cortez Byrd's motion under §§ 10 and 11 was properly laid in the southern district of Mississippi, within which the contract was performed. It was clearly proper under the general venue statute, which provides, among other things, for venue in a diversity action in "a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated." 28 U. S. C. § 1391(a)(2). If §§ 10 and 11 are permissive and thus supplement, but do not supplant, the general provision, Cortez Byrd's motion to vacate or modify was properly filed in Mississippi, and under principles of deference to the court of first filing, the Alabama court should have considered staying its hand. Cf. Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equipment Co., 342 U.S. 180, 185 (1952); Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936); 5A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1360 (1990). But if §§ 10 and 11 are restrictive, there was no Mississippi venue for Cortez Byrd's action, and the Northern District of Alabama correctly proceeded with the litigation to confirm. Although § 9 is not directly implicated in this action, since venue for Harbert's motion to confirm was proper in the northern district of Alabama under either a restrictive or a permissive reading of § 9, the three venue sections of the FAA are best analyzed together, owing to their contemporaneous enactment and the similarity of their pertinent language.
Enlightenment will not come merely from parsing the language, which is less clear than either party contends. Although "may" could be read as permissive in each section, as Cortez Byrd argues, the mere use of "may" is not necessarily conclusive of congressional intent to provide for a permissive or discretionary authority. United States v. Rodgers, 461 U.S. 677, 706 (1983) ("The word `may,' when used in a statute,
Statutory history provides a better lesson, though, which is confirmed by following out the practical consequences of Harbert's position. When the FAA was enacted in 1925, it appeared against the backdrop of a considerably more restrictive general venue statute than the one current today. At the time, the practical effect of 28 U. S. C. § 112(a) was that a civil suit could usually be brought only in the district in which the defendant resided. See 28 U. S. C. § 112(a) (1926 ed.).
The virtue of the liberalizing nonrestrictive view of the provisions for venue in the district of arbitration is confirmed by another obviously liberalizing venue provision of the Act, which in § 9 authorizes a binding agreement selecting a forum for confirming an arbitration award. Since any forum selection agreement must coexist with §§ 10 and 11, one needs to ask how they would work together if §§ 10 and 11 meant that an order vacating or modifying an arbitration award could be obtained only in the district where the award was made. The consequence would be that a proceeding to confirm the award begun in a forum previously selected by agreement of the parties (but outside the district of the arbitration) would need to be held in abeyance if the responding party objected. The objecting party would then have to return to the district of the arbitration to begin a separate
Nothing, indeed, would be more clearly at odds with both the FAA's "statutory policy of rapid and unobstructed enforcement of arbitration agreements," Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 23 (1983), or with the desired flexibility of parties in choosing a site for arbitration. Although the location of the arbitration may well be the residence of one of the parties, or have some other connection to a contract at issue, in many cases the site will have no relation whatsoever to the parties or the dispute. The parties may be willing to arbitrate in an inconvenient forum, say, for the convenience of the arbitrators, or to get a panel with special knowledge or experience, or as part of some compromise, but they might well be less willing to pick such a location if any future court proceedings had to be held there. Flexibility to make such practical choices, then, could well be inhibited by a venue rule mandating the same inconvenient venue if someone later sought to vacate or modify the award.
A restrictive interpretation would also place § 3 and §§ 9-11 of the FAA in needless tension, which could be resolved only by disrupting existing precedent of this Court. Section 3 provides that any court in which an action "referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing" is pending "shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until such arbitration has been had in accordance
Finally, Harbert's interpretation would create anomalous results in the aftermath of arbitrations held abroad. Sections 204, 207, and 302 of the FAA together provide for liberal choice of venue for actions to confirm awards subject to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration.
Attention to practical consequences thus points away from the restrictive reading of §§ 9-11 and confirms the view that the liberalizing effect of the provisions in the day of their enactment was meant to endure through treating them as
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.