Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Maalouf v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

May 10, 2019

HENRI MAALOUF, ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN AND IRANIAN MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND SECURITY, APPELLEES NASRIN AKHTAR SHEIKH, AS THE SPOUSE OF FAHRAT MAHMOOD SHEIKH, AN EMPLOYEE OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OR AN EMPLOYEE OF A CONTRACTOR FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT DECEASED, ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF SUDAN, ET AL., APPELLEES RITA BATHIARD, ON HER OWN BEHALF AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF CESAR BATHIARD, ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN AND IRANIAN MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND SECURITY, APPELLEES

          Argued February 8, 2019

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Nos. 1:16-cv-00280, 1:16-cv-01507, 1:14-cv-02090, 1:15-cv-00951, 1:14-cv-02118, 1:16-cv-01549

          Steven M. Schneebaum argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants Henri Maalouf, et al.

          Stuart H. Newberger, Clifton S. Elgarten, Aryeh S. Portnoy, John L. Murino, and Emily M. Alban were on the brief for amici curiae Smith plaintiffs in support of appellants.

          Jonathan S. Massey was on the brief for amicus curiae Professor Stephen I. Vladeck supporting plaintiffs-appellants.

          Erica Hashimoto, Director, and Marcella Coburn, Attorney, both appointed by the court, argued the causes as amicus curiae in support of the District Courts' Orders in No. 18-7052, et al., No. 18-7060, et al., and No. 18-7122, et al. With them on the brief were Rebecca Deucher, Sean Lavin, and James O'Toole, Student Attorneys.

          Christopher M. Curran, Nicole Erb, Claire A. DeLelle, and Celia A. McLaughlin were on the brief for amicus curiae The Republic of Sudan in support of the court appointed amicus curiae.

          Derek L. Shaffer argued the cause for appellants Nasrin Sheikh, et al. With him on the briefs were Stephen M. Hauss, Chun, Nazareth M. Haysbert, and Daniel Sage Ward.

          Clifton S. Elgarten argued the cause for appellants Rita Bathiard, et al. On the briefs were Thomas Fortune Fay, Amanda Fox Perry, and John Vail.

          Before: Srinivasan and Pillard, Circuit Judges, and Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          EDWARDS, SENIOR CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         On April 18, 1983, and September 20, 1984, the militant group Hezbollah detonated car bombs outside United States diplomatic facilities in Beirut, Lebanon, killing dozens and wounding many more. On August 7, 1998, truck bombs exploded outside the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing more than two hundred and injuring more than a thousand. These two bombings were the work of al Qaeda. In the decades since, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been linked to all four bombings, while the Republic of Sudan's support for al Qaeda has implicated it in the 1998 attacks.

         Foreign sovereigns are generally immune from suit in U.S. courts. However, district courts in this Circuit have found Iran and Sudan liable for the attacks in numerous suits filed by victims and their families under the terrorism exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), the statute governing the amenability of foreign nations to lawsuits in the United States. The FSIA's terrorism exception was first enacted in 1996 but was replaced in 2008 with, inter alia, a more expansive provision allowing for suits by non-U.S. nationals.

         In this consolidated opinion, we address six cases arising from the Beirut, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam attacks. Plaintiffs in three of the suits are family members or estates of victims of the 1998 bombings. The plaintiffs in these cases named Sudan and Iran as defendants. The remaining three actions seek damages from Iran for deaths and injuries resulting from the 1983 and 1984 attacks. The first five suits were assigned to the same District Court Judge, including all of the complaints against Sudan, which successfully moved to dismiss the claims against it as untimely. Iran, in contrast, failed to appear to defend the complaints raised against it. The plaintiffs moved for default judgment against Iran. The District Court, however, acted sua sponte to consider whether the complaints against Iran were timely. After briefing from the parties, the District Court ruled that the claims against Iran were untimely, denied the motions for default judgment, and dismissed plaintiffs' actions. The District Court Judge assigned to the sixth case followed suit on the same grounds.

         All plaintiffs now appeal the dismissals of their claims against Iran, contending that the District Courts erred in raising the statute of limitations sua sponte and in dismissing their complaints as untimely. One group of plaintiffs also challenges the denial of motions for relief from judgment that they filed after their claims were dismissed.

         We do not reach the statute of limitations issue or the post-judgment motions. Rather, we conclude that the District Court lacks authority to sua sponte raise a forfeited statute of limitations defense in an FSIA terrorism exception case, at least where the defendant sovereign fails to appear. We therefore reverse the judgments of the District Courts, vacate the dismissals of the complaints, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         A. The FSIA and the Terrorism Exception

         The FSIA, enacted in 1976, "provides the sole means for suing a foreign sovereign in the courts of the United States." Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 864 F.3d 751, 763 (D.C. Cir. 2017). The statute establishes that foreign states are "presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of the federal and state courts, 28 U.S.C. § 1604, subject to several exceptions codified in §§ 1605, 1605A, 1605B, and 1607." Id. These include the "terrorism exception," which provides that:

A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of courts of the United States or of the States in any case not otherwise covered by this chapter in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material support or resources for such an act if such act or provision of material support or resources is engaged in by an official, employee, or agent of such foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency.

28 U.S.C. § 1605A(a)(1); see also id. § 1605A(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) (stating that the foreign state must have been designated a "state sponsor of terrorism"); id. § 1605A(h)(6) (explaining that the term "state sponsor of terrorism" means "a country the government of which the Secretary of State has determined . . . is a government that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism").

         Congress adopted the first version of the terrorism exception, codified until its repeal at 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7), as part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214. See Owens, 864 F.3d at 763. A key feature of the original statutory regime was that only U.S. nationals were eligible to file suit. See 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7) (repealed 2008); see also Owens, 864 F.3d at 763. After several courts adopted narrow interpretations of the exception, including that it did not create a cause of action against foreign states, Congress enacted § 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (the NDAA), which repealed § 1605(a)(7) and replaced it with the current terrorism exception, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. Pub. L. No. 110-181, § 1083, 122 Stat. 3, 338-44 (2008) (codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605A). Among other new provisions, the revised exception explicitly established a federal cause of action for victims of terror attacks and their families to seek damages from state sponsors of terrorism that took part in an attack or materially supported the perpetrators. See 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c); see also Owens, 864 F.3d at 765.

         Importantly, the new terrorism exception makes causes of action available not only to U.S. nationals, but also to any "claimant" or "victim" who was an employee of the U.S. government or of a U.S. government contractor at the time of a terrorist act and was acting within the scope of his or her employment, or was a member of the armed forces. 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(a)(2)(A)(ii); see also Owens, 864 F.3d at 765. The NDAA also replaced the prior statute of limitations for the exception with the following provision:

An action may be brought or maintained under this section if the action is commenced, or a related action was commenced under section 1605(a)(7) (before the date of the enactment of this section) . . . not later than the latter of- (1) 10 years after April 24, 1996; or (2) 10 years after the date on which the cause of action arose.

28 U.S.C. § 1605A(b).

          Another provision, enacted as § 1083(c) of the NDAA, pertaining to the "Application to Pending Cases," also concerns the timeliness of claims arising under the terrorism exception. This provision states:

(3) Related actions-If an action arising out of an act or incident has been timely commenced under section 1605(a)(7) of title 28, United States Code, or section 589 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1997 (as contained in section 101(c) of division A of Public Law 104-208), any other action arising out of the same act or incident may be brought under section 1605A of title 28, United States Code, if the action is commenced not later than the latter ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.