Washington DC District Court Enters Judgments Against Iran in Two Cases Brought Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently entered judgments in several lawsuits against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS). The plaintiffs were victims of the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, in which the government of Iran and the MOIS were implicated. The lawsuits were brought under an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA), which provides a federal cause of action for injuries against a foreign state designated as a sponsor of terrorism. The court awarded damages to the plaintiffs in both cases, although the question of recovering damages from the defendants remains highly unsettled.

FSIA, which first became law in 1976, gives federal district courts original jurisdiction over most civil claims against foreign states, but applies many of the principles of sovereign immunity. This is the legal doctrine that a government entity may not be sued unless it has waived immunity. It applies in lawsuits against city, county, or state governments, where a claimant must follow steps set out by statute before filing suit. People claiming damages for injuries caused by foreign states have generally been barred from relief by this doctrine. Federal courts applied FSIA in blocking claims for damages caused by the September 11 terror attacks in In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, 538 F.3d 71 (2nd Cir. 2008), and a 2003 terror attack in Riyadh in Heroth v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 565 F.Supp.2d 59 (D.D.C. 2008).

Congress added an exception to FSIA in 1996, with amendments added in 2008, for foreign states designated as “state sponsors of terrorism” either at the time of the alleged injury or as a result of the alleged injury. The foreign state must also remain designated as such at the time a claimant files suit. The exception applies to claims for personal injuries or wrongful death resulting from acts such as hostage taking, torture, sabotage, or the support of such acts by the foreign state.

Two recent cases that invoked the new FSIA exception have resulted in monetary judgments. Both cases arose from the October 23, 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American servicemembers. The perpetrators were members of Hezbollah who had allegedly received training and other support from MOIS. Plaintiffs who were injured in the attack brought suit under the terrorism exception to FSIA in the U.S. District Court in Washington DC. Although the court has expressed doubts about the litigation’s potential ability to secure justice for the victims, it has entered judgments against Iran and the MOIS in at least two recent cases. In Fain v. Islamic Republic of Iran, the court found the defendants liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and awarded him $67,793.041 in damages. In Estate of Brown v. Islamic Republic of Iran, the court awarded the estate $813,768,945, an amount that the court has noted is highly likely to be uncollectable.

At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we help people in the Washington, DC area who have suffered injuries due to the negligent or unlawful conduct of others to recover their just compensation. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

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