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Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran

September 7, 2007

DEBORAH D. PETERSON, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES C. KNIPPLE (DEC.), ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BACKGROUND

These actions arise from the October 23, 1983, bombing of a United States Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in which 241 American servicemen operating under peacetime rules of engagement were murdered by a suicide bomber. This attack was regarded as the most deadly state-sponsored terrorist attack made against American citizens, until the tragic attacks on September 11, 2001.

The nearly one thousand plaintiffs in this consolidated action are many of the family members and estates of the 241 servicemen killed in the attack. Plaintiffs allege that the Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran") and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS") are liable for damages from the attack because they provided material support and assistance to Hezbollah,*fn1 the terrorist organization that orchestrated and carried out the bombing. Plaintiffs have relied upon causes of action founded upon provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), inter alia, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 17-18, 2003, this Court conducted a bench trial to determine the defendants' liability for their part in the perpetration of this attack. After reviewing the evidence presented by plaintiffs at trial, including testimony from lay and expert witnesses, this Court issued an opinion finding that the defendants were legally responsible for providing material financial and logistical support to help carry out this tragic attack on the 241 servicemen in Beirut in 1983. Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 264 F. Supp. 2d 46, 61 (D.D.C. 2003). In that opinion, this Court also found that the surviving family members have suffered and will continue to suffer mental anguish and loss of society. Id. Finally, this Court directed special masters to consider each claim brought by plaintiffs, and indicated that it would make a determination on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages for each claim after the Court received reports from the special masters.*fn2 The Court reaches this determination on the issue of damages in this opinion.

The Court reviews the determinations made by the special masters de novo. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 53(g)(3).

DISCUSSION

I. Assessment of Validity of Each Plaintiff's Cause of Action

In order to ensure that the Court determines the appropriate amount of damages available to each plaintiff under the law, it must first ensure that each plaintiff has a valid claim under state law. The FSIA does not itself provide a cause of action, but rather "acts as a 'pass-through' to substantive causes of action against private individuals that may exist in federal, state or international law." Blais v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 459 F. Supp. 2d 40, 54 (D.D.C. Sept. 29, 2006) (Lamberth, J.) (citing Dammarell v. Islamic Republic of Iran, Civ. A. No. 01-2224, 2005 WL 756090, at *8-10, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5343, at *27-32 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2005) (Bates, J.)).

In order to determine the applicable state law to each action, the Court must look to the choice of law rules of the forum, in this case, the choice of law rules of the District of Columbia. See Blais, 459 F. Supp. 2d at 54. Under District of Columbia choice of law rules, courts employ a modified government interest analysis under which they "evaluate the governmental policies underlying the applicable laws and determine which jurisdiction's policy would be most advanced by having its law applied to the facts of the case under review." Hercules & Co. v. Shama Rest. Corp., 566 A.2d 31, 41 (D.C. 1989) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Application of this governmental interest test generally points to the law of plaintiff's domicile as having the greatest interest in providing redress to its citizens. Accordingly, the validity of each of the plaintiffs' claims shall be determined by the state in which they were domiciled at the time of the attack.

In this action, three types of claims have been sought. First, the personal representatives and estates of the servicemen killed in the attack have brought claims for wrongful death, in which the plaintiffs and beneficiaries seek compensation in the form of the present value of the decedent's lost wages and earnings that he would have earned but for his untimely death. Second, the surviving servicemen have brought claims for battery against the defendants. Third, the family members of both the deceased and surviving servicemen have brought claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") against the defendants for their part in materially bringing about the attack. The Court will assess the relative merits of each of the claims separately.

A. Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death claims were brought by the personal representatives and estates of the following deceased servicemen:

Terry Abbott, John Robert Allman, Ronny Kent Bates, James Baynard, Jess W. Beamon, Alvin Burton Belmer, Richard D. Blankenship, John W. Blocker, Joseph John Boccia Jr., Leon Bohannon, John Bonk Jr., Jeffrey James Boulos, John Norman Boyett, William Burley, Paul Callahan, Mecot Camara, Bradley Campus, Johnnie Ceaser, Robert Allen Conley, Charles Dennis Cook, Johnny Len Copeland, David Cosner, Kevin Coulman, Rick Crudale, Russell Cyzick, Michael Devlin, Nathaniel Dorsey, Frederick Douglass, Timothy Dunnigan, Bryan Earle, Danny R. Estes, Richard Andrew Fluegel, Michael D. Fulcher, Sean Gallagher, George Gangur, Randall Garcia, Harold Ghumm, Timothy Giblin, Michael Gorchinski, Richard Gordon, Davin M. Green, Thomas Hairston, Michael Haskell, Mark Anthony Helms, Stanley G. Hester, Donald Wayne Hildreth, Richard Holberton, Dr. John Hudson, Maurice Edward Hukill, Edward Iacovino Jr., Paul Innocenzi III, James Jackowski, Jeffrey Wilbur James, Nathaniel Walter Jenkins, Edward Anthony Johnston, Stephen Jones, Thomas Adrian Julian, Thomas Keown, Daniel Kluck, James C. Knipple, Freas H. Kreischer III, Keith Laise, James Langon IV, Michael Scott LaRiviere, Steven LaRiviere, Richard Lemnah, Joseph Raymond ("Joel") Livingston III, Paul D. Lyon Jr., John Macroglou, Samuel Maitland Jr., Charlie Robert Martin, David Massa, John McCall, James E. McDonough, Timothy R. McMahon, Richard Menkins II, Ronald Meurer, Joseph Peter Milano, Joseph Moore, Harry Douglas Myers, David Nairn, John Arne Olson, Joseph Albert Owens, Connie Ray Page, Ulysses Gregory Parker, John L. Pearson, Thomas S. Perron, John Arthur Phillips Jr., William Ray Pollard, Victor Mark Prevatt, James Price, Patrick Kerry Prindeville, Diomedes J. Quirante, Warren Richardson, Luis J. Rotondo, Michael Caleb Sauls, Charles Jeffrey Schnorf, Scott Lee Schultz, Peter Scialabba, Gary Randall Scott, Thomas Alan Shipp, Jerryl Shropshire, Larry H. Simpson Jr., Kirk Hall Smith, Thomas Gerard Smith, Vincent Smith, William Scott Sommerhof, Stephen Eugene Spencer, William Stelpflug, Horace Renardo ("Ricky") Stephens Jr., Craig Stockton, Jeffrey Stokes, Eric D. Sturghill, Devon Sundar, Thomas Paul Thorstad, Stephen Tingley, Donald H. Vallone Jr., Eric Glenn Washington, Dwayne Wigglesworth, Rodney J. Williams, Scipio Williams Jr., Johnny Adam Williamson, William Ellis Winter, Donald Elberan Woollett, Craig Wyche, Jeffrey D. Young.*fn3

Out of the 128 deceased servicemen, 123 were domiciled in North Carolina at the time of the attack.*fn4 The servicemen who were not domiciled in North Carolina at the time of the attack were domiciled in California, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Vermont.*fn5 This difference in domicile is of no moment, however, because the wrongful death statutes of each of the servicemen's respective states of domicile imposes liability on an actor when his "wrongful act, neglect, or default" causes a person's death, and had that person lived, he could have recovered damages from the actor. Cal Civ. Proc. Code § 377.60(a) (2007); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-18-2(a) (2007); 12 Okl. St. Ann. § 1053 (2007); S.C. Code Ann. § 15-51-10 (2006); Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 1491 (2007). Each statute provides for recovery of numerous categories of damages, including pecuniary loss in the form of the present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered, expenses for care, treatment and hospitalization incident to the injury resulting in death; and reasonable funeral expenses. See Cal Civ. Proc. Code § 377.61 (2007); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-18-2(b) (2007); 12 Okl. St. Ann. § 1053 (2007); S.C. Code Ann. § 15-51-20 (2006); Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 1491 (2007). Additionally, North Carolina allows for the recovery of compensation for pain and suffering of the decedent. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-18-2(b).*fn6

Based upon the evidence presented to the special masters and the Court, each of the deceased servicemen has made out a valid claim for wrongful death under North Carolina law. Accordingly, those valid heirs and beneficiaries under North Carolina's intestate statute are entitled to share in the recovery of the damages awarded as a result of each serviceman's untimely death.

B. Battery Claims

Claims of battery were brought against the defendants by the following servicemen who ultimately survived the attack:

Marvin Albright, Pablo Arroyo, Anthony Banks, Rodney Darrell Burnette, Frank Comes Jr., Glenn Dolphin, Frederick Daniel Eaves, Charles Frye, Truman Dale Garner, Larry Gerlach, John Hlywiak, Orval Hunt, Joseph P. Jacobs, Brian Kirkpatrick, Burnham Matthews, Timothy Mitchell, Lovell "Darrell" Moore, Jeffrey Nashton, John Oliver, Paul Rivers, Stephen Russell, Dana Spaulding, Craig Joseph Swinson, Michael Toma, Danny Wheeler, Thomas D. Young*fn7 Out of the twenty six surviving servicemen seeking damages for battery, twenty five of them were domiciled in North Carolina at the time of the attack. The one remaining surviving serviceman, Charles Frye, was domiciled in California at the time of the attack. Both states, however, recognize that a battery is deemed to be an offensive touching of the person by another without consent. See Rains v. Superior Court, 198 Cal. Rptr. 249, 252 (Cal. Ct. App. 1984); Ormond v. Crampton, 191 S.E.2d 405, 410 (N.C. App. 1972). Therefore, the battery claims for each of the servicemen can be assessed evenly.

Based upon the evidence presented to the special masters and the Court, each of the deceased servicemen has made out a valid claim for battery under North Carolina and California law. Therefore, each may recover the appropriate amount of compensatory damages as determined by this Court.

C. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims

The remaining 753 plaintiffs have sought claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and awards for pain and suffering incurred as a result of their extreme emotional grief and psychological anguish associated with the knowledge that their family members are either deceased or alive but permanently scarred both physically and mentally. Each of these plaintiffs were domiciled in a number of different states--and in one family's case, the Phillippines--at the time of the attack. Accordingly, this Court must determine whether each of these plaintiffs has brought a valid cause of action under each state's respective law.

In order to accomplish this, the Court must first analyze whether such a cause exists under each state's laws. Next, to the extent that a state recognizes IIED claims, this Court must determine which family members have standing to recover for IIED under each state's laws. Then this Court must assess whether the plaintiffs have established the essential elements of the claim.

1. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: State Law Analysis

The states of domicile for these 753 plaintiffs are: Alabama, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The family of serviceman Diomedes J. Quirante was domiciled in the Phillippines.*fn8

Each of the states mentioned above recognize the existence of a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, rooted in Section 46 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.*fn9 Though each state has its own particular means of describing intentional infliction of emotional distress, upon inspection of each state's laws the elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress are met in each state if it can be demonstrated that: (1) the defendant engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct with the intent to cause, or with reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress; (2) the plaintiff suffered severe or extreme emotional distress; and (3) the defendant's conduct is the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's emotional distress.*fn10

There still remains the issue of whether each plaintiff has standing to recover under state law for the defendant's attack on the plaintiffs' respective family members. Section 46(2) of the Restatement (Second) of Torts governs the ability of plaintiffs to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress where the defendant's conduct is directed at a third party. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46(2). Section 46(2) of the Restatement specifically states that only present third parties may recover for an IIED claim. Nonetheless, the Caveat to the section leaves open the possibility of other possible situations where a defendant could be liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress under this section.

Each state has interpreted this ambiguity differently. Some states have explicitly allowed for situations where the presence requirement is unnecessary to establish an IIED claim. Florida, for example, has acknowledged that an immediate family member may recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress even if he or she was not present at the time of the outrageous conduct. Williams v. City of Minneola, 575 So.2d 683, 690 (Fla. App.1991). Along the same lines, California has found that a plaintiff's presence is not always required, and is deemed unnecessary in situations where the defendant is aware of the high probability that the defendant's acts will cause a plaintiff severe emotional distress. Christensen v. Superior Court, 820 P.2d 181, 203-204 (Cal. 1992).*fn11 Therefore, as this Court found in Heiser, when a terrorist attack occurs, the presence element is not required to bring a valid IIED claim under either Florida or California law, and that plaintiffs domiciled in these states at the time of the attack may bring a claim for IIED without establishing their presence at the scene of the injury.*fn12 Much like Florida and California, Vermont has no presence requirement for plaintiffs to recover for the intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress. Thayer v. Herdt, 586 A.2d 1122, 1126 (Vt. 1990).

Additionally, there are a number of states at issue in this action whose Supreme Courts have not specifically addressed the issue of whether a plaintiff's presence is required. Some of the laws of these states--Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, North Carolina, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas--were previously analyzed by this Court in Heiser, in which this Court found that no such presence requirement was necessary in these states given the severe nature of terrorist attacks. See Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 328-29, 333 (Tex.), 341 (Minn.), 343-44 (Wisc.), 345-46 (N.Y.), 349 (N.C.), 352 (Ind.), 354 (Okla.), 355 (Kans.).*fn13 In this case, the respective state supreme courts of a number of states--Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia--have not specifically addressed whether a plaintiff's presence is required to establish a viable IIED claim. Accordingly,"in light the severity of [a terrorist attack,] and the obvious range of potential grief and distress that directly results from such a heinous act,"*fn14 and because "a terrorist attack-by its nature-is directed not only at the victims but also at the victims' families,"*fn15 this Court adopts the rationale it set forth in Heiser regarding the presence element for IIED claims in states that have been silent on the issue. See Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 328-29. Therefore, this Court finds that claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress may be brought by family members without having to establish a presence requirement under Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, North Carolina, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia laws.*fn16

Other states at issue in this case--Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia--have allowed third party plaintiffs to recover, but only when the defendant's conduct is "directed at" the third party plaintiffs themselves.*fn17 As this Court and others within this district have noted, "a terrorist attack--by its nature--is directed not only at the victims but also at the victims' families." Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d. at 328 (quoting Salazar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 370 F. Supp. 2d 105, 115 n.12 (D.D.C. 2005) (Bates, J.)). Therefore, this Court finds that those plaintiffs domiciled in Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia at the time of the attack, may bring a claim for IIED under the laws of those states because the attack was directed at them as well as those killed in the attack.*fn18

Two other states at issue in this case--Louisiana and Pennsylvania--have narrowly construed their interpretation of what constitutes a valid IIED claim, and have expressly found that the presence element is required for third party plaintiffs to recover.*fn19 Accordingly, this Court finds those plaintiffs who were not contemporaneously present at the site of the attack would not be able to recover under either Louisiana or Pennsylvania law for a claim of IIED. Without a valid cause of action under state law, the plaintiffs domiciled in Louisiana and Pennsylvania lack a viable means to redress their injury, and therefore lack standing.

Accordingly, this Court must regrettably deny and dismiss the claims of those plaintiffs who were domiciled in Louisiana and Pennsylvania at the time of the attack.*fn20 The claims brought by the following individuals must be DISMISSED due to lack of standing:

Deborah Spencer Rhosto, Catherine Bonk, John Bonk Sr., Thomas Bonk, Patricia Kronenbitter, Catherine Bonk Hunt, Kevin Bonk, Marilou Fluegel, Thomas A. Fluegel, Penni Joyce, Robert Fluegel, Julia Bell Hairston, Felicia Hairston, Evans Hairston, Virginia Ellen Hukill, Henry Durban Hukill, Melissa Hukill, Meredith Anne Hukill, Mark Andrew Hukill, Matthew Scott Hukill, Mitchell Charles Hukill, Monte Hukill, Bill Laise, Betty Laise, Kris Laise, Lorraine Macroglou, Bill Macroglou, James Macroglou, Shirley Kirkwood, Carl Kirkwood Sr., Kathy McDonald, Sally Jo Wirick, Storm Jones (a/k/a Shirley Ann Storm Pettry), Edward Joseph McDonough, Sean McDonough, Edward W. McDonough, Carl Arnold Kirkwood Jr., Jeff Kirkwood, Marion DiGiovanni, (Estate of) Luis Rotondo (father), (Estate of) Rose Rotondo, Danielle DiGiovanni, Lisa DiGiovanni, Robert DiGiovanni, (Estate of) Phyllis Santoserre, Larry H. Simpson Sr., Anna Marie Simpson, Renee Eileen Simpson, Sherry Lynn Fiedler, Robert Simpson.

2. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Extent of Family Members' Respective Recovery

Though many of the states at issue in this case have recognized the existence of IIED claims for family members who were not present at the scene of the injury, this does not necessarily extend the ability to bring an IIED claim to all family members. As the D.C. Circuit has noted previously, Section 46 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts does not extend causes of action beyond members of the victim's "immediate family." See Bettis v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 315 F.3d 325, 334-35 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (refusing to extend "direct victims" under § 46(1) and "third party victims" under § 46(2) to include nieces and nephews not present at the scene of injury). Accordingly, this Court finds that those members of the families of the servicemen who are not within the immediate family of the serviceman at the time of the attack may not recover.

This Court has previously deemed near relatives to include only the victim's spouse, parents, children, and siblings. See Jenco v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 154 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2002) (Lamberth, J.), affirmed sub nom., Bettis, 315 F.3d at 335. Though the Court does not deny the extreme pain and suffering felt by those outside of this class of individuals, it is necessary to draw such a line at immediate family members in order "to prevent a potentially unlimited number of plaintiffs who were not present at the site of the attack from seeking redress." Heiser, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 329. Moreover, such a delineation is consistent with the provisions of Section 46 of the Restatement. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46, cmt. l; cf. Bettis, 315 F.3d at 335 (finding that permitting nieces and nephews to recover under § 46(1) would undermine the limitations on recovery of "immediate family" members under § 46(2)). Therefore, those plaintiffs who are not members of this class of individuals in relation to the servicemen cannot recover.*fn21 Accordingly, the Court must dismiss the claims of the following plaintiffs: Ashley Tutwiler Beamon, David Clark, Michael Clark, Jr., Rebecca Iverson Green, Geraldine Morgan, Pamela Nashton, Natalie Rochwell, (Estate of) Lula Mae Watkins,*fn22 and Simon Watkins.

3. Claims That Must Be Dismissed Due to Lack of Evidence and Participation

"[T]he entry of a default judgment is not automatic." Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Personal Jurisdiction must still be determined before entering default judgment against an absent defendant. Id. As standing must be determined prior to and independent of any determination of a court's jurisdiction,*fn23 so too must standing be determined before a court enters default judgment against an absent defendant.

With respect to standing, the trial court has power "to allow or to require the plaintiff to supply, by amendment to the complaint or by affidavits, further particularized allegations of fact deemed supportive of plaintiff's standing. If, after this opportunity, the plaintiff's standing does not adequately appear from all materials of record, the complaint must be dismissed." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501-02 (1975).

After an evidentiary hearing before this Court establishing the defendants' complicity in bringing about the attacks, the Court designated special masters to hear each of the plaintiffs' respective claims, so that damages might be determined. As is unfortunately sometimes the case in a situation with as far-reaching an effect as this, certain family members of the deceased and injured servicemen--family members who undoubtedly shared equally in the grief and suffering caused by the tragic deaths of their loved ones--could not be located or were unable to present evidence before this Court and its designated special masters to establish a valid claim for damages. Without evidence supporting their claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Court cannot determine ...


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