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Botvin v. Islamic Republic of Iran

February 16, 2010

YAEL BOTVIN, BY AND THROUGH ITS ADMINISTRATOR RUSSELL ELLIS ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No. 22

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE THE PLAINTIFFS'RENEWED MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the plaintiffs' renewed motion for default judgment. The plaintiffs have asserted claims of wrongful death, survival and intentional infliction of emotional distress*fn1 against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ("the defendants"), pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("the FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602 et seq. On March 27, 2009, the court denied without prejudice the plaintiffs' first motion for default judgment because the plaintiffs had not provided evidence satisfactory to the court regarding their entitlement to a default judgment.

The court concludes that through their renewed motion, the plaintiffs have established the court's subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims, as well as the court's personal jurisdiction over the defendants. The court is constrained to conclude, however, in light of the Circuit's recent ruling in Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 573 F.3d 835 (D.C. Cir. 2009), that under the circumstances of this case, Israeli law -- rather than California law, which the plaintiffs apply in their renewed motion -- governs the plaintiffs' substantive tort claims. Accordingly, the court denies without prejudice the plaintiffs' renewed motion for default judgment, and grants the plaintiffs leave to submit another renewed motion for default judgment demonstrating their entitlement to a judgment in their favor under Israeli law.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs' claims stem from an Iranian-sponsored triple-suicide bombing at an Israeli pedestrian mall on September 4, 1997. Compl. ¶ 18. This terrorist attack resulted in the death of fourteen-year-old Yael Botvin, daughter to plaintiff Julie Goldberg-Botvin and sister to plaintiffs Tamar Botvin and Michal Botvin. Mem. Order (Sept. 24, 2007) at 1.

After the plaintiffs filed proof of service and the defendants failed to respond, the Clerk of the Court entered default against the defendants. Entry of Default (July 31, 2006). The plaintiffs then filed a motion asking the court to take judicial notice of findings of fact and conclusions of law made in Campuzano v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 281 F. Supp. 2d 258 (D.D.C. 2003) (Urbina, J.), which concerned claims brought by victims of the same terrorist incident at issue here. Pls.' Mot. to Take Judicial Notice. On September 24, 2007, the court granted the plaintiffs' request to take judicial notice of the findings of fact and conclusions of law in Campuzano, but declined to enter default judgment, noting that the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in Campuzano "suffice[d] to establish the defendants' guilt in perpetrating the attack in question, but . . . [did] not suffice to establish the impact of the attack on the plaintiffs" in this case. Mem. Order (Sept. 24, 2007) at 2. Accordingly, the court declined to enter default judgment, but permitted the plaintiffs "to file competent written and documentary evidence with the court establishing each element of their particular claims as to both liability and damages." Id. at 3.

The plaintiffs then moved for default judgment on March 21, 2008. See generally Pls.' Mot. for Default J. The court denied that motion without prejudice because the plaintiffs had failed to provide satisfactory evidence to the court on several matters related to their claims and had failed to demonstrate the applicability of 28 U.S.C. § 1605A.*fn2 See generally Mem. Order (Mar. 27, 2009). For instance, the court determined that the plaintiffs had not established that the victim or any plaintiff was a U.S. national at the time of the attack, as required to establish the court's jurisdiction under the FSIA, that the decedent had survived the terrorist attack for a period of time before her death, as needed to state a survival claim, or that the methodology employed to establish damages was consistent with applicable law. Id. at 2-3. The court directed the plaintiffs "to provide further briefing regarding the applicable law in this case under D.C. choice of law provisions and how the facts in this case satisfy each of the elements of the plaintiffs' purported causes of action." Id. at 5.

On May 28, 2009, the plaintiffs filed a renewed motion for default judgment. See generally Pls.' Renewed Mot. for Default J. ("Pls.' Mot."). The court now turns to an examination of that motion.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Default Judgment Against a Foreign State

A court shall not enter a default judgment against a foreign state "unless the claimant establishes his claim or right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e); see also Roeder v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 333 F.3d 228, 232 (D.C. Cir. 2003). This "satisfactory to the court" standard is identical to the standard for entry of default judgments against the United States under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(d).*fn3 Hill v. Republic of Iraq, 328 F.3d 680, 684 (D.C. Cir. 2003). In evaluating the plaintiffs' proof, the court may "accept as true the plaintiff[s'] uncontroverted evidence," Elahi v. Islamic ...


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