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Mwani v. Ladin

August 5, 2007

ODILLIA MUTAKA MWANI, ET AL.., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
USAMA BIN LADIN AND AL QAEDA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' [85] "Motion to Set a Date for Ex Parte Proof and for Entry of Default Judgment Against Defendants Usama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda," filed on January 31, 2007. In Plaintiffs' Motion, Plaintiffs request that an evidentiary hearing be held before a jury empaneled to determine damages in the instant case, in which the Court entered default against the Defendants on September 28, 2006. After considering the pending motion, the history of the case, the Amended Complaint, and the relevant statutes, rules, and case law, the Court shall GRANT IN PART and DENY WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART Plaintiffs' [85] "Motion to Set a Date for Ex Parte Proof and for Entry of Default Judgment Against Defendants Usama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda." Specifically, the Court agrees that an evidentiary hearing shall be held on the issue of damages. However, as Plaintiffs are not statutorily entitled to a jury trial and as the Court would need more information than that presently before it as to why a jury determination of damages would be appropriate and how it would be practicable considering the number of Plaintiffs in this case and the choice of law questions at issue, the Court shall deny without prejudice Plaintiffs' request for a jury trial rather than a bench trial on the issue of damages. Furthermore, Plaintiffs shall provide additional briefing on choice of law issues with respect to their damages claims and additionally shall indicate the suggested manner in which an evidentiary hearing would be conducted in light of the number of Plaintiffs in this case, including an estimate of the length of time needed to present Plaintiffs' case on damages.

I. BACKGROUND

Given its long procedural history, the facts underlying this case have been presented throughout several opinions. In any event, the relevant portions of these opinions will be incorporated herein. See, e.g., Mwani v. Bin Ladin, No. 99-125, slip op. [81] (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2006); Mwani v. Bin Ladin, No. 99-125, slip op. [56] (D.D.C. Sept. 30, 2002); Mwani v. Bin Ladin, No. 99-125, slip op. [47] (D.D.C. March 15, 2001); Mwani v. Bin Ladin, No. 99-125, slip op. [37] (D.D.C. Nov. 19, 1999). In brief, the 523 Plaintiffs*fn1 include Kenyan citizens who are the victims, survivors, relatives, and businesses who have suffered harm as a result of a truck-bomb exploding outside the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya during August of 1998. See Am. Compl. at 89. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Osama bin Laden orchestrated this bombing through the al Qaeda terrorist network.*fn2 See id. Furthermore, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants did "willfully, maliciously and with a depraved indifference to life . . . cause the loss, injury and damage set forth in this Complaint." Id. at 145.

In Mwani v. Bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 17 (D.C. Cir. 2005), the D.C. Circuit held that the instant court has personal jurisdiction over the Parties in this case. Furthermore, on September 28, 2006, this Court issued an [80] Order and accompanying [81] Memorandum Opinion, holding that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, and granting Defendants' Renewed Motion for Entry of Default: "Thus, the attack on the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint impinged the diplomatic mission of the United States and directly infringed on the rights of ambassadors, which was and has been a clear violation of the law of nations since the inception of the ATCA. As such, the Court properly exercises subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims." [81] Mem. Op. at 7-8.

Plaintiffs filed the instant motion on January 31, 2007, seeking an ex parte proof hearing and entry of default judgment against Defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In Plaintiffs' Motion, Plaintiffs argue for a jury determination of damages and set forth their intent to seek compensatory and punitive damages. Pls.' Mot. for Default J. at 2-11.

II. LEGAL STANDARD & DISCUSSION

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) sets forth the procedural framework for the entry of default judgment and speaks directly to the issue of the parties' right to a jury trial. It reads, in relevant part:

If, in order to enable the court to enter judgment or to carry it into effect, it is necessary to take an account or to determine the amount of damages or to establish the truth of any averment by evidence or to make an investigation of any other matter, the court may conduct such hearings or order such references as it deems necessary and proper and shall accord a right of trial by jury to the parties when and as required by any statute of the United States.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2) (emphasis added).*fn3 When this Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Default, it accepted as true all of Plaintiffs' well-pleaded allegations as set forth in the Amended Complaint. See Shepherd v. Am. Broad. Cos., 62 F.3d 469, 492 (D.D.C. 1994), rev'd on other grounds, 62 F.3d 1469 (D.C. Cir. 1995) ("After default, allegations will be taken as true if they are 'well-pleaded,' that is, if they are not made 'indefinite or erroneous by other allegations in the same complaint,' not contradicted by '"indisputable facts" . . . which could not possibly be rebutted if the non-defaulting party were permitted a trial,' not contrary to uncontested facts in the record, and provable by legitimate evidence." (quoting Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hughes, 449 F.2d 51, 63 (2d Cir. 1971))).*fn4 However, in considering a motion for default judgment, "[a]lthough a default judgment forces a defendant to concede liability, it does not force it to concede liability for the amount of damages that a plaintiff has claimed." Id. at 491. When a defendant is held in default, the court should hold an evidentiary hearing to determine an appropriate remedy if damages are not for a sum certain. See Flynn v. Mastro Masonry Contractors, 237 F. Supp. 2d 66, 69 (D.D.C. 2002) ("Although the default establishes a defendant's liability, the court is required to make an independent determination of the sum to be awarded unless the amount of damages is certain. . . . Moving for a default judgment, the plaintiff must prove its entitlement to the requested damages"). "In the Rule 55 context, a claim is not a sum certain unless there is no doubt as to the amount to which a plaintiff is entitled as a result of defendant's default." KPS & Assocs. v. Designs by FMC, Inc., 318 F.3d 1, 19 (1st Cir. 2003).

In the instant case, the Court concurs with Plaintiffs' position that an evidentiary hearing is necessary to determine the appropriate amount of damages to be awarded to Plaintiffs, as Plaintiffs request damages to compensate for the loss of human life, serious bodily injury, emotional distress, business losses, and personal injury claims--none of which evoke a sum certain or definite amount. However, the more difficult issue before the Court is whether this determination of damages should transpire via a jury trial on the issue of damages or an evidentiary hearing before the Court. In other words, looking to the text of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b), the Court must determine whether any "statute of the United States" "accord[s] a right of trial by jury" to Plaintiffs on the issue of damages in this case.

B. Federal Rule of Civil

Procedure 55(b) does not typically require a jury to determine damages once a default ...


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