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Wultz v. Islamic Republic of Iran

October 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge


I. Introduction

On April 17, 2006, a Palestinian suicide bomber allegedly attacked a restaurant in Tel Aviv, State of Israel ("Israel") ("Tel Aviv bombing"). 1st Am. Compl. ¶ 1, Jan. 13, 2009, ECF No. 12 [hereinafter FAC]. Daniel Wultz allegedly suffered severe physical injuries, resulting in his death, further resulting in economic injuries to his estate. Id. ¶¶ 87, 100. Daniel's father also allegedly suffered physical injuries in the attack. Id. ¶¶ 88, 101. Finally, several of Daniel's family members allegedly also suffered emotional and financial injuries. Id. ¶¶ 101--02.

In the wake of the bombing, Mr. Wultz's estate and family members ("plaintiffs") have brought suit against several defendants, including the Syrian Arab Republic ("Syria"), the Syrian Ministry of Defense, Syrian Military Intelligence, and the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate (collectively, "Syrian defendants"). See FAC. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the Syrian defendants are liable under the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for their provision of material support and resources to the PIJ. FAC ¶ 96 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1605A).

The Syrian defendants have moved the Court to dismiss all claims against them. Mot. of Syria Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (6) to Dismiss the 1st Am. Comp. for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Legal Insufficiency, Nov. 16, 2009, ECF No. 60.*fn1 The Syrian defendants make four arguments: (1) that the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) violates the principle of sovereign equality of nations enumerated in Article 2.1 of the United Nations Charter, (2) that this case presents non-justiciable political questions, (3) that the FSIA terrorism exception unconstitutionally violates separation-of-powers principles, and (4) that plaintiffs have not adequately pled causation.

The Court will address each of these arguments in turn. The first three arguments are utterly meritless, as the salient issues have already been dispensed with by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They will be summarily rejected. Concerning the only remaining argument, the Court concludes that plaintiffs have adequately pled a causal chain.

II. Discussion

Despite the Syrian defendants' arguments to the contrary, which have been repeatedly rejected by the courts of this Circuit, the FSIA terrorism exception does not violate the principle of sovereign equality, does not raise political questions, and does not violate the separation of powers. Concerning causation, plaintiffs have adequately alleged that the Syrian defendants' provision of material support and resources to the PIJ caused plaintiffs' injuries.

A. The FSIA Terrorism Exception Does Not Violate the United Nations Charter

The FSIA terrorism exception provides that a foreign state shall not be afforded immunity from civil suit where, inter alia, the foreign state allegedly provided material support or resources for the commission of an act of extra-judicial killing that caused personal injury or death for which money damages are sought. 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(a)(1). Relatedly, the FSIA also provides that a court "shall hear a claim" under § 1605A if, inter alia, the foreign state in question was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism when the alleged provision of material support occurred. § 1605A(a)(2)(A)(i)(I). The United Nations Charter declares that the "Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members." U.N. Charter art. 2, para. 1.

The Syrian defendants argue that the terrorism exception to the general rule of sovereign immunity violates the U.N. Charter by denying Syria its sovereign equality, because the United States only selectively identifies some states as sponsors of terrorism and thus only deprives some states of immunity under the FSIA. Syria's Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Syria's Rule 12(b) Mot. 1--26, Nov. 16, 2009, ECF No. 60-1 [hereinafter Defs.' Mem.]. The Court of Appeals has already heard and dispensed with this argument under 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7), the jurisdictionally similar predecessor to § 1605A: "[E]ven if Article 2.1 does demand strict equality across states, the provisions are not in conflict because § 1605(a)(7) does not treat Syria (and the other terrorism states) unequally. Any country can come within § 1605(a)(7)'s exception so long as the Secretary of State designates it a terrorism sponsor." Wyatt v. Syrian Arab Republic, 266 F. App'x 1, 2 (D.C. Cir. 2008).

The Syrian defendants argue that the Circuit was wrong: "[U]ntil all are designated, those designated are denied equal sovereignty." Defs.' Mem. 11; see also Defs.' Reply 4--5. This Court emphatically rejects the Syrian defendants' invitation to reconsider the clear-and clearly binding-decision of the court above. Other courts of this District have also dispensed with identical arguments made by Syrian defendants in two other cases, including one decision issued three months before the Syrian defendants filed their motion in this case-a decision conspicuously absent from the Syrian defendants' briefs. Wyatt v. Syrian Arab Republic, No. 08-cv-502, 2010 WL 3501826, at *5 n.8 (D.D.C. Sept. 8, 2010); Gates v. Syrian Arab Republic, 646 F. Supp. 2d 79, 87--88 (D.D.C. 2009). The Syrian defendants' argument, utterly without merit and having been repeatedly ruled against in this Circuit, now flirts with frivolity. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(2). The Court therefore rejects the Syrian defendants' arguments concerning the U.N. Charter.

B. This Case Does Not Raise Political Questions

The Syrian defendants next argue that plaintiffs' claims raise political questions. Defs.' Mem. 27--42. The political question doctrine "excludes from judicial review those controversies which revolve around policy choices and value determinations constitutionally committed for resolution" by the executive and legislative branches. Japan Whaling Ass'n v. Am. Cetacean Soc'y, 478 U.S. 221, 230 (1986). Thus, the doctrine makes non-justiciable those "political decisions that are by their nature 'committed to the political branches to the exclusion of the judiciary.'" Schneider v. Kissinger, 412 F.3d 190, 194 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (quoting Antolok v. United States, 873 F.2d 369, 379 (D.C. Cir. 1989)). Two considerations guide a court's testing for non-justiciable political questions: "the appropriateness under our system of government of ...

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