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Lawton v. Republic of Iraq

October 10, 2008

V. Z. LAWTON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
REPUBLIC OF IRAQ, DEFENDANT,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently before the Court is one issue upon which the Court reserved an earlier judgment it had rendered when addressing the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims against defendant Republic of Iraq. See August 20, 2008 Order. The remaining issue is whether the plaintiff's claim pursuant to the federal Anti-Terrorism Act ("ATA"), 18 U.S.C. §2333 (2000), must be dismissed. The plaintiffs oppose the defendant's motion to dismiss. For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum Opinion, the Court agrees with the defendant and will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' § 2333 claim.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs, Oklahoma citizens or former Oklahoma citizens who are either survivors of the Murrah Building bombing of April 19, 1995, or who lost loved ones in the bombing, have brought this lawsuit against the defendant, the Republic of Iraq, asserting several causes of action arising out of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Amended Complaint ¶¶ 5, 30-39.

Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the defendant provided material support through its alleged agent, Ramzi Youssef, to the individuals who actually carried out the bombing.Id. ¶¶ 7-29. The plaintiffs bring their lawsuit under 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(7) (2000),*fn1 which authorizes United States district courts to exercise subject matter jurisdiction over suits brought against foreign states, which generally are immune from suit in United States courts. See28 U.S.C. § 1604 (2000). Generally speaking, this exception removes the immunity accorded to foreign states who are designated by the United States government as state sponsors of terrorism, and where United States nationals are seeking to recover damages against that foreign state for its alleged acts of terrorism or material support of terrorism.

The Court previously vacated judgment against the defendant on the plaintiff's claim arising under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act, ("ATA"), 18 U.S.C. § 2333 (2000). Section 2333 provides:

Any national of the United States injured in his or her person, property, or business by reason of an act of international terrorism, or his or her estate, survivors, or heirs, may sue therefor [sic] in any appropriate district court of the United States and shall recover threefold the damages he or she sustains and the cost of the suit, including attorney's fees.

18 U.S.C. § 2333. Section 2333 is not absolute, however, as it is limited to the extent that:

No action shall be maintained under section 2333 of this title against--(1) the United States, an agency of the United States, or an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof acting within his or her official capacity or under color of legal authority; or

(2) a foreign state, an agency of a foreign state, or an officer or employee of a foreign state or an agency thereof acting within his or her official capacity or under color of legal authority.

18 U.S.C. § 2337 (2000).

The defendant argues that dismissal is required here because "the ATA never has -- and does not now -- provide any ground whatsoever upon which the Court may grant any relief to Plaintiffs against the Republic of Iraq." Defendant Republic of Iraq's Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complain and Objection to Certain "Evidence" Offered in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition ("Def.'s Reply") at 18. The plaintiffs respond that dismissal is improper because § 2337 does not provide an "absolute" exemption from liability under § 2333; rather, they contend that the exemption is subject to a further exception that "[o]nce a FSIA [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act] exception is established, the ATA exemption is overcome and the ATA becomes available as a basis for pursing claims against a foreign state." Plaintiffs' Objections and Responses to the Motion by the Republic of Iraq to Dismiss this Case ("Pls.' Opp'n") at 22. The Court cannot agree and must side with the defendant.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is proper if the plaintiff does not "state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court "must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true" and "must grant [the] plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Sparrow v. United Airlines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff need not allege specific details that prove the veracity of a claim; rather, a properly pleaded complaint only need contain a clear and concise statement of the claim sufficient to place a defendant on "notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). "A court may dismiss a complaint only if it is ...


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