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Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran

August 3, 2007

AMIR REZA OVEISSI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This action arises from the death of Gholam Ali Oveissi, chief of the Iranian armed forces under the Shah's pre-revolutionary government, who was gunned down on a Paris street in February 1984. Plaintiff Amir Reza Oveissi, Gholam's grandson, alleges that agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran") and its intelligence service, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS"), carried out the murder. As sponsors of an extra-judicial killing, defendants Iran and MOIS are subject to suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act's ("FSIA") "state-sponsored terrorism" exception, 28 U.S.C. section 1605(a)(7).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 2, 2003, plaintiff filed his original complaint [3] in this Court seeking, inter alia, compensation for his pecuniary losses, solatium, and punitive damages under the FSIA. On September 24, 2003, he requested [5] that the Clerk of the Court mail a summons and complaint to defendants via DHL Worldwide Express, a commercial delivery service requiring signed receipts compliant with part (a)(3) of 28 U.S.C. section 1608, the statutory provision governing service of process in FSIA cases. On August 2, plaintiff filed a DHL receipt as proof of service [9] and moved for entry of default [8]. Because the Court found the DHL receipt did not bear defendants' signatures, however, it denied [12] plaintiff's motion on January 12, 2005.

Meanwhile, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and other judges of this Court issued several decisions relevant to plaintiff's claims. These include, but are not necessarily limited to: Acree v. Republic of Iraq, 370 F.3d 41 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Cicippio-Puleo v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 353 F.3d 1024 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Dammarell v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 01-2224, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5343 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2005) (Bates, J.) [hereinafter Damarell II]; Holland v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 01-1924, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40254 (D.D.C. Oct. 31, 2005) (Kotelly, J.). In light of these decisions, this Court ordered plaintiff [16] brief two issues: first, whether his claims as to each defendant must be rooted in state law, and second, whether he should be required to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff addressed these issues in a memorandum of law [17] on December 30, 2005 and filed an amended complaint [19] the following day.

On March 31, 2006, plaintiff sought service of the amended complaint [26] through diplomatic channels pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 1608(a)(4). Service was executed [27] on May 30, 2006. The Court conducted a bench trial on February 2, 2007, at which two witnesses testified - plaintiff and a man known as "Cyrus Tehrani." Plaintiff's counsel also submitted the video deposition of Dr. Reuven Paz, an international terrorism expert.*fn1 By April 7, 2007, defendants had neither entered an appearance nor filed any responsive pleading, and plaintiff submitted an affidavit for default [33]. The Clerk of the Court entered default [34] on April 9, 2007.

Nevertheless, this Court is obliged to inquire further before entering judgment against Iran and MOIS. The FSIA mandates that a court may enter default judgment against a foreign state only once a plaintiff "establishes his claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the Court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). Yet in assessing a plaintiff's claims, a court may accept his uncontroverted evidence as true and may rely on sworn affidavits. Campuzano v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 281 F. Supp. 2d 258, 268 (D.D.C. 2003) (Urbina, J.). Moreover, the court "'may take judicial notice of related proceedings and records in cases before the same court.'" Estate of Heiser v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 466 F. Supp. 2d 229, 263 (D.D.C. 2006) (quoting Salazar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 370 F. Supp. 2d 105, 109 n.6 (D.D.C. 2005) (Bates, J.). See also Fed. R. Evid. 201 (at any stage of a proceeding, a court may take judicial notice of facts not subject to reasonable dispute). Having considered the entire record herein as well as certain factual findings this Court and others in this district have made in previous, related cases, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiff Amir Reza Oveissi was born in Huntington Beach, California on May 30, 1979. (Rep Tr.) He is now, and at all times pertinent to this action has been, a United States citizen. (Id.) He is the paternal grandson of decedent Gholam Ali Oveissi, who served as a four-star general in Iran's armed forces until early 1979. (Id.)

2. Defendant Iran "is a foreign state and has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism pursuant to section 6(j)[,] of the Export Administration Act of 1979, 50 U.S.C. App. § 1405(j) continuously since January 19, 1984." Weinstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 184 F. Supp. 2d 13, 20 (D.D.C. 2002) (Lamberth, J.). See also Bodoff v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 424 F. Supp. 2d 74, 79 (D.D.C. 2006) (Lamberth, J.); Mousa v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 238 F. Supp. 2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2001) (Bryant, J.); Eisenfeld v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 172 F. Supp. 2d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2000) (Lamberth, J.).

3. Iran was re-founded as an Islamic Republic in 1979 when revolutionaries espousing an extremist, theocratic ideology deposed the ruling Shah of Iran.*fn2 See Elahi v. Islamic Republic of Iran,124 F. Supp. 2d 97, 100, 101 (D.D.C. 2000) (Green, J.) (noting the Shah's overthrow and Iran's establishment as a "clerical" regime).

4. Since its inception, Iran has sponsored and orchestrated terrorist activities around the world, including through its intelligence service, defendant MOIS. Id. at 101.

5. Terrorism expert Dr. Reuven Paz testified that following Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, Iran dispatched agents to infiltrate the Shi'a Muslim community in southern Lebanon. He explained that Iran deemed the sect's then-current leadership too moderate and secular and hoped to incite militant opposition to Israel's occupation.

6. According to Dr. Paz, these Iranian agents founded a political organization among southern Lebanon's Shi'a known as Hezbollah, or "Party of God." Cf. Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 478 F. Supp. 2d 101, 105 (D.D.C. 2005) (Lamberth, J.) ("The formation and emergence of Hezbollah as a major terrorist organization is due to the government of Iran."); Elahi, 124 F. Supp. at 101 n.5 (referring to Hezbollah as an Iranian "surrogate organization[]").

7. Dr. Paz further testified that in the early 1980s, members of Hezbollah, under the direction of MOIS, engaged in terrorist activities outside the Middle East using the nomde-guerre "Islamic Jihad."*fn3 These activities included assassinations of expatriate Iranian dissidents, mainly in France. In Dr. Paz's opinion, the killings were intended to silence the Iranian regime's critics and to deter French intervention in Lebanon. See also Elahi, 124 F. Supp. 2d at 101-02 (describing Iran's early efforts "to eliminate any effective opposition to the clerical regime by engaging in the widespread assassination of dissidents both within Iran and abroad").

8. As well as guiding Hezbollah's terrorist activities, Iran, through MOIS and other entities, provided logistical support and training that, according to Dr. Paz, were crucial to Hezbollah's ability to carry out the assassinations. Indeed, in his deposition, Dr. Paz characterized Hezbollah as an arm of the Iranian state.

9. When the Shah was deposed in 1979, supporters of his government, including Gholam Ali Oveissi, fled the country. (See Rep. Tr. (testimony of "Cyrus Tehrani" concerning Gholam Ali Oveissi's and his own reasons for leaving Iran)). Gholam had previously received military training in the United States and initially traveled there before establishing a residence in Paris, France. (Id.)

10. Gholam's son and daughter-in-law also initially fled Iran to the United States, and their son, plaintiff Amir Reza Oveissi, was born during their stay in this country. (Id.) A few months later, they joined Gholam in Paris, where they shared an apartment with him. (Id.)

11. Amir recalls that during his first five years, he and his grandfather were "almost always together." (Id.) Gholam accompanied Amir's father to pick Amir up from school each day, and he gave Amir Farsi lessons. (Id.) The family dined together each evening and enjoyed visits to the Louvre and to local parks. (Id.) Gholam acted as a second father to Amir, and indeed, Amir did not distinguish between his father and grandfather. (Id.)

12. While the family lived together in Paris, Gholam was outspoken in his opposition to Iran's revolutionary government and met with other expatriates in the family's apartment. (Id.) Unlike the newly installed theocratic government, Gholam advocated secular democracy and favored cooperation with the United States. (Id.) Fearing reprisals, he hired a bodyguard, "Cyrus Tehrani." (Id.)

13. On February 17, 1984, Gholam Ali Oveissi was shot and killed while walking on Paris' crowded Rue du Passy. (Id.) Islamic Jihad immediately claimed responsibility. (Id.) No reason exists to dispute this claim, and nothing indicates the group acted under the authority of an Iranian or other court judgment.

14. Due to Iran's close financial and operational links to this group, the Court finds these acknowledged perpetrators were funded and controlled by defendant Iran through defendant MOIS.

15. When he learned Gholam had been killed, Amir's father whisked the family to Morocco, where he informed young Amir of his grandfather's death. (Id.) The family remained in Morocco for approximately eighteen months, after which they returned to the United ...


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