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Asemani v. Syrian Arab Republic

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


November 30, 2009

BILLY G. ASEMANI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

Document Nos. 14, 18

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff is a prisoner at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Eastover, Maryland. He sues, inter alia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Syrian officials under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602-1611 (2008).*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that defendants provided information to two Iranian terrorist organizations responsible for a "torture incident" against him in July 2000. Compl. at 10. Following the court officers' unsuccessful attempts to serve any of the defendants, plaintiff has moved to compel service pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 and the FSIA, 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a).*fn2 Having reviewed the complaint, however, the Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction and, thus, will deny plaintiff's motion and dismiss the case as it is required to do "at any time" it determines that subject matter jurisdiction is wanting. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).

"The FSIA provides the sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign state in a United States court." Sabbithi v. Saleh, 623 F.Supp.2d 93, 97 (D.D.C. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The FSIA generally grants foreign states immunity from liability in United States courts. See 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq. Congress has created several specific exceptions to this immunity. This Court lacks jurisdiction over any claim against a foreign government unless one of these exceptions is met. As the Supreme Court has explained, a "foreign state is presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of United States courts; unless a specified exception applies, a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim against a foreign state." Saudi Arabia v. Nelson, 507 U.S. 349, 355 (1993).

Plaintiff alleges that he was tortured on July 14, 2000, by two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in Tehran, Iran, for his religious beliefs. Compl. at 10; see Asemani v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 266 F.Supp.2d 24 (D.D.C. 2003). He claims that defendants "proximately caused" his injuries because "Syrian military and intelligence agents" informed Iranian authorities of his "Baha'i agenda," thereby providing "material support" to the actual torturers. Id. at 6, 10.

Foreign states are not immune from claims for money damages based on "personal injury . . . caused by an act of torture, . . . 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 [in his official capacity]" and the foreign state was or is "designated as a state sponsor of terrorism." 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. "To subject a foreign sovereign to suit under [that provision], plaintiffs must demonstrate: (1) that the foreign sovereign was designated by the State Department as a 'state sponsor of terrorism'; (2) that the victim or plaintiff was a U.S. national at the time the acts took place; and (3) that the foreign 3 sovereign engaged in conduct that falls within the ambit of the statute," i.e., here by providing material support for an act of torture. Bodoff v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 424 F.Supp.2d 74, 82 (D.D.C. 2006). Material support is defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2339A, see 28 U.S.C. § 1605A (h)(3), which states the following.

(1) [T]the term 'material support or resources' means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel . . . , and transportation, except medicine or religious materials; . . . (3) the term 'expert advice or assistance' means advice or assistance derived from scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge.

18 U.S.C. § 2339A. Defendants' alleged act of supplying information about plaintiff's religious activities to his alleged torturers falls short of the statutory definition of material support. Defendants therefore are immune under the FSIA from this Court's jurisdiction.*fn3 A separate Order of dismissal accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.


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