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Steen v. Islamic Republic of Iran

July 17, 2003



This case was referred to me for Report and Recommendation pursuant to L. Civ. R. 72.3(a). A hearing was held on November 12, 2002, at which plaintiffs submitted testimony and documents in support of their claims. Defendants, having previously been adjudged in default by Judge Kollar-Kotelly, were not present at the hearing.


This is an action arising out of claims by Alann and Virginia Steen for damages resulting from acts of state-sponsored terrorism. This is the third*fn1 lawsuit to be filed in this court by former professors at the American College in Beirut, Lebanon, who were kidnapped on January 24, 1987 by members of Hizballah, an Islamic terrorist group, acting under the direction and sponsorship of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Robert Polhill, John Turner, and Alann Steen were held together with Dr. Mitheleshvara Singh, another professor at the college, under identically inhumane and degrading conditions.

Alann Steen was held the longest, for 1,775 days. He was released on December 4, 1991. During the last months of his captivity, Mr. Steen was chained in a basement in solitary confinement. He was not aware that his companions had been freed. Rather, he feared that they had been killed.

Many of the facts surrounding the kidnapping of the three American professors are described in the Polhill and Turner, decisions and need not be repeated here. Yet, unlike the named defendants in the Polhill and Turner cases, Mr. & Mrs. Steen also named the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps ("RGC") as a defendant.

Dr. Bruce Tefft, an expert in the field of counter-terrorism, testified that the RGC, or Pasdaran, operates as an agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its chief purpose is to export the Islamic Revolution into other countries and it maintains a strong presence in Lebanon's Bekka Valley. The RGC was the entity that formed, funded, and directed Hizballah. It also trained and supported Hizballah and often approved individual terrorist actions. Dr. Tefft further described instances of Iran's sponsorship of terrorism, noting that the United States negotiated with the Iranian government for the release of hostages, and that Imad Mugniyah, one of the world's most wanted terrorists, directed Hizballah's terrorist activities in the 1980's and today enjoys sanctuary in Iran.


I. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

It is well-established that a foreign sovereign is immune from the jurisdiction of United States courts unless one of the enumerated exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C.A. §§1602-1611 (2003), applies. 28 U.S.C.A. § 1604 (2003). See e.g. Stetham v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 201 F.Supp.2d 78 (D.D.C. 2002). The FSIA explicitly provides a cause of action for the following:

personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture, extra-judicial 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 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.A. § 1605(a)(7) (2003).

In 1996, Congress amended the FSIA through the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which abrogates the immunity of foreign states for their sponsorship of terrorist acts. Pub. L. 104-132, Title II, § 221 (a), (April 24, 1996), 110 Stat. 1241, codified at 28 U.S.C.A. § 1605 (2003). Congress thus created another exception to foreign state immunity. In other words, foreign states that have been officially designated as state sponsors of terrorism by the Department of State are no longer presumptively immune from liability under the Act.

The evidence presented to the court established that Mr. Steen suffered personal injuries as a result of his being taken hostage in Lebanon in 1987. In addition, the role of the Revolutionary Guard Corps as Iran's implementing agency has been repeatedly documented. See Patterns of Global Terrorism 1986 at 22 Iran's Use of International Terrorism, State Dept. at 1 (October 1987). Together with the Ministry of Information and Security, the RGC applied and directed the approximately $80 to $100 million that Iran has contributed to Hizballah on an annual basis. Iran was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism under section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 on January 23, 1984, and has remained so designated ever since. Alann Steen was a United States citizen at the time of his kidnapping and captivity. See 28 U.S.C.A. §1605(a)(7)(A) (2003). Thus, the dual requirements of 28 U.S.C.A. §1605(a)(7)(A) (2003) are met and, as in other cases brought against Iran under this exception to the FSIA, this court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case. See e.g., Flatow v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 999 F. Supp. 18 (D.D.C. 1998); Cicippio v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 18 F. Supp. 2d 62 (D.D.C. 1998); Anderson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 90 F. Supp.2d 107 (D.D.C. 2000); Higgins v. Islamic Republic of Iran, C.A. 99-377-CKK (D.D.C. Sept. 21, 2000). This court also has personal jurisdiction over the defendants. The statutory requirements for personal jurisdiction are satisfied: service was proper and the court has subject matter jurisdiction under the FSIA. See 28 U.S.C.A. § 1330(b) (2003).

The court concludes, therefore, that there is ample evidence that the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security were responsible for ...

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