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Amir Reza Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran

March 8, 2011

AMIR REZA OVEISSI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Amir Reza Oveissi brought this suit over seven years ago, seeking to hold defendants Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran") and the Iranian Ministry of Information Security ("MOIS") liable for the assassination of his grandfather, Gholam Oveissi. Gholam Oveissi was a general and high-ranking official in Iran prior to the 1979 revolution, which saw the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and the transformation of Iran into an Islamic state. Shortly before the revolution, General Oveissi and his family fled to the United States, where Amir Reza was born. After a brief stay in the U.S., the family settled in Paris, France, where they resided for nearly five years. Their stay in Paris was cut short, however, after Gholam Oveissi was gunned down in a busy street in February 1984. Islamic Jihad-a relatively-unknown group at the time- immediately claimed responsibility for the assassination. Following his brutal murder, the remaining members of Gholam Oveissi's family, including five year-old Amir Reza, were whisked away to Africa, and eventually made their way back to the United States, where plaintiff has since resided. Since his grandfather's death, plaintiff-and the world-has learned that Islamic Jihad was actually a cell composed of members of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and that the group acted "under the direction of MOIS, and were materially supported by Iran." Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, ___ F. Supp. 2d __, __, No. 03 Civ. 1197, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120168, at *35 (D.D.C. Nov. 12, 2010) ("Oveissi III") (quotations omitted).

Plaintiff Amir Reza Oveissi brings this action under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1602 et seq., seeking to hold both Iran and MOIS liable for their complicity in the murder of his grandfather. That Act contains a provision known as the "state-sponsored terrorism" exception, which, at the time plaintiff initiated his suit, was codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7) and "lifted the immunity of foreign states for a certain category of sovereign acts which are repugnant to the United States and the international community- terrorism." Flatow v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 999 F. Supp. 1, 12 (D.D.C. 1998). Following seven years of litigation, this Court determined that plaintiff had provided sufficient evidence to establish that "Islamic Jihad was responsible for the murder of Gholam Ali Oveissi in Paris, France, and the agents carrying out the assassination were funded and controlled by defendant Iran through defendant MOIS." Oveissi III, ___ F. Supp. 2d at __, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120168 at *12. Following the directions of the D.C. Circuit, see Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 573 F.3d 835, 844 (D.C. Cir. 2009) ("Oveissi II") ("We leave it to the district court on remand to evaluate the plaintiff's claims under French law."), this Court-applying the law of France*fn1 -found that the assassination of Gholam Oveissi was "undertaken within the scope of [an] agency relationship" between Islamic Jihad and defendants, and thus ordered "judgment [to be] entered against all defendants as to all issues of liability." Oveissi III, ___ F. Supp. 2d at __, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120168 at *37--38.

As a result of the original dismissal of plaintiff's cause of action, Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 498 F. Supp. 2d 268 (D.D.C. 2007) ("Oveissi I"), the Court had not received any evidence concerning the appropriate measure of damages at the time that it rendered its opinion on liability in Oveissi III. Plaintiff, recognizing this gap in the record, requested leave to brief the Court concerning damages, Memorandum of Law on the Applicability of Relevant French Law 7--8, June 8, 2010 [45], which the Court granted. Oveissi III, ___ F. Supp. 2d at __, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120168 at *37--38. Plaintiff subsequently submitted a brief to the Court outlining his estimation of the appropriate measure of damages, and appending his own sworn declaration as well as those of his brother Amir Ali Oveissi and his father Mohammad Reza Oveissi. Damage Estimate and Brief in Support of Damage Award, Dec. 10, 2010 [49] ("Damage Estimate"). The Court then held an evidentiary hearing concerning damages on December 20, 2010, at which all three declarants from plaintiff's Damage Estimate appeared and provided sworn affirmations of the truth of their declarations. A few weeks after this hearing, the Court issued an Order in which it observed that "in any FSIA litigation, recoverable economic losses are limited to those that 'result from decedent's premature death,'" Order 3, Jan.

This Court originally determined that the United States' "unique interest in having its domestic law apply when its citizens are injured by state-sponsored terrorist acts"-an interest that "elevates the interests of the United States to nearly their highest point"-required application of U.S. law to plaintiff's claims against Iran. Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 498 F. Supp. 2d 268, 281 (D.D.C. 2007) (quotations omitted). In particular, the Court held that California law should be applied, as that was the state where plaintiff was born. Id. The Court then found that plaintiff could not state a claim for relief for wrongful death under California law because the California probate code did not permit him to recover in such an action, and dismissed the suit Id. at 282.

Plaintiff appealed the dismissal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the relevant choice-of-law factors "overwhelmingly point in the direction of France" because (1) the deceased Gholam Oveissi was an Iranian decedent and French domiciliary and (2) Iran's goal in perpetrating the assassination was to deter French intervention in Iranian affairs. Oveissi II, 573 F.3d at 842--43. The Court of Appeals thus remanded the case with instructions to apply French law in evaluating plaintiff's claims. Id. at 844.7, 2011 [50-1] (emphasis in original; quoting Flatow, 999 F. Supp. At 27), and invited plaintiff to submit additional evidence to "establish, to the satisfaction of the Court, that [Amir Reza] would have experienced some economic gain as a result of his grandfather's holdings (and quantify that gain), and . . . demonstrate that the assassination of Gholam Oveissi was the cause of his alleged economic losses." Id. In response, plaintiff submitted a supplemental brief and new evidence to address the concerns raised by the Order. Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Damage Estimate, Feb. 4, 2011 [53] ("Supp. Br."). On the basis of all the evidence submitted by plaintiff here, as well as judicial notice of certain evidence presented in Oveissi I,*fn2 the Court makes the following factual findings, and awards damages as appropriate.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT

The evidence submitted by plaintiff tends to fall into one of three categories: evidence related to the nature of his relationship with, and reaction to the death of, his grandfather Gholam Oveissi; evidence concerning the extent of General Oveissi's former properties and businesses in Iran; and evidence concerning how Amir Reza would have benefited from his grandfather's holdings had he not been assassinated. The Court discusses each of these subjects in turn.

A.Evidence Concerning Plaintiff's Relationship with his Grandfather

In Oveissi I, plaintiff submitted substantial evidence concerning his relationship with his grandfather, the deceased Gholam Oveissi. Plaintiff now supplements that information by submitting sworn declarations from both himself and his brother, Amir Ali Oveissi. These combined proofs establish the following facts:

General Gholam Oveissi was a prominent figure in pre-revolution Iran. He was "a four-star general in Iran's armed forces," Oveissi I, 498 F. Supp. 2d at 274--75, and was closely linked with the ruling Shah of Iran prior to the Shah's overthrow in 1979. Id. Contemporary accounts of General Oveissi describe him as "one of the most powerful Iranian generals," and state that he was "the commander of the imperial Iranian army." Dec. 10, 2010 Declaration of Amir Reza Oveissi*fn3 ("Amir Reza 1st Decl.") at ¶¶ 2--3 & Exs. A--B. Plaintiff also submits numerous photographs and other documentary evidence to the Court that corroborate General Oveissi's position as one of power and prestige during the Shah's rule of Iran. See id. at Exs. K--P.

Following his flight from Iran and the birth of his grandchildren-including plaintiff- Gholam Oveissi became very close to his family. Indeed, plaintiff Amir Reza Oveissi remembers his grandfather being present for virtually all of his life prior to the assassination. Id. at ¶ 5. The family moved to the United States following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, and shortly thereafter they all moved to Paris. Oveissi I, 498 F. Supp. 2d at 274. During this period, the entire family-including Gholam Oveissi-was always together, id., and plaintiff submits several family photos of the whole family together at various times and in various places, all of which include both him and his grandfather. Amir Reza 1st Decl. Exs. C--I. Once the entire family arrived in Paris, they lived in the same apartment together. Oveissi I, 498 F. Supp. 2d at 274. They were a "very close and loving family." Amir Reza 1st Decl. ¶ 6.

In addition to the physical proximity between plaintiff and his grandfather, the two also shared a special bond. They would see each other almost every day, and his grandfather always came with his father to pick him up from daycare. Id. at ¶ 14. He and his grandfather would take special trips together, just the two of them, going to the park for a picnic or to one of Paris' great museums. Id. Amir Reza's grandfather also acted as his Farsi instructor. Id. This relationship between grandson and grandfather was a special one, as Gholam Oveissi filled the role of father-figure and mentor who "was always very patient" with the young Amir Reza Oveissi. Id. at ¶ 15. Indeed, plaintiff's brother explains that his grandfather was "particularly fond" of Amir Reza. Dec. 10, 2010 Declaration of Amir Ali Oveissi*fn4 ("Amir Ali Decl.") ¶ 2. As a result of this special relationship, during this period plaintiff "did not really distinguish between" his father and his grandfather. Amir Reza 1st Decl. ¶ 16.

Following Gholam Oveissi's brutal murder, plaintiff's shock at the loss of such a close and important figure in his life was amplified by the fact that-from his perspective-Gholam Oveissi's death was entirely unexpected. Though Gholam himself remained active in the movement to retake Iran and re-install the Shah as the secular leader of that country, Oveissi I, 498 F. Supp. 2d at 274, plaintiff-at the time a young child less than six years old-was unaware that his grandfather was in any danger at all. Amir Reza 1st Decl. ¶ 18. In plaintiff's mind, Paris was a safe place where he was surrounded by family; indeed, the very street on which Gholam Oveissi was gunned down-Rue de Passy-was a place where Amir Reza "would often go for walks with [his] grandfather," and where his grandfather "would buy [him] and [his] brother ice cream." Id. at ¶ 19. As a result, plaintiff testified that the murder of Gholam Oveissi "was a complete shock" which jarred him from his normal life. Id. at ¶ 18. This unpreparedness for the loss of his grandfather was not without consequences; plaintiff's brother explains that plaintiff would occasionally suffer "outbursts of anger" at the fact that the assassination was so "unexpected and violent." Amir Ali Decl. ¶ 6.

In addition to the suddenness and surprise of Gholam Oveissi's death, the evidence demonstrates that the murder also had a lingering and terrifying impact on the lives of Amir Reza and his family. Shortly after General Oveissi was killed, the entire family was whisked away to Morocco, in fear of further reprisals. Oveissi I, 498 F. Supp. 2d at 274. At the time, plaintiff did not understand why they were leaving, nor why they were in such a hurry-he did not even learn of his grandfather's brutal murder until after the family arrived in Morocco. Amir Reza 1st Decl.¶ 21. This sudden and violent disruption in plaintiff's life had a significant impact; as plaintiff himself explains, to be whisked away from his "comfortable" life in Paris, surrounded by family and friends, at the age of five "was an extremely traumatic experience." Id. at ¶ 21.

Only adding to the trauma was the lingering threat that the same terrorist group that killed General Oveissi would come after additional members of plaintiff's family. See Amir Ali Decl. ¶ 7 ("Because our grandfather was a target of Iranian extremists, our parents feared another assassination attempt on our immediate family."). Indeed, in addition to Gholam Oveissi, plaintiff's great-uncle-Gholam's brother-was also murdered in the same attack. Amir Reza 1st Decl. ¶ 20. And had plaintiff's mother not called his father to ask him to come home and help sell their car, plaintiff's father might also have been killed, as he had been with Gholam and plaintiff's great-uncle just prior to the murder. Id. Living in this constant state of terror and fear was a heavy burden for the young Amir Reza, who felt like he was "in hiding" and was constantly reminded that the same dangerous forces that killed his grandfather remained at large and possibly interested in targeting other members of his family. Furthermore, Amir Ali Oveissi, plaintiff's brother, explains that after the assassination "[b]odyguards carrying guns [became] a common sight in our home," and that this period "was a very difficult time for Amir [Reza]." Amir Ali Decl. ¶ 7. In short, the murder of Gholam Oveissi turned plaintiff's "peaceful and loving home into a place of chaos and turmoil." Amir Reza 1st Dec. ¶ 35.

All of these facts concerning the nature of the attack in this case had a substantial impact on the loss that plaintiff felt at the murder of his grandfather, and have hindered his ability to recover from that loss. Plaintiff's brother explains that plaintiff became withdrawn following Gholam's death, and the family never again saw the playful and cheery child that Amir Reza once was. Amir Ali Decl. ¶ 4. This withdrawn nature eventually gave way to a troubled child who suffered from outbursts of anger and fits of denial in which plaintiff would act as if his grandfather was still alive. Id. at ¶¶ 5--6. As Amir Reza began to accept what had happened, he fell into a long period of depression, and throughout his adolescence he battled alcoholism as he attempted to cope with the tragic event. Amir Reza 1st Decl. ¶ 22. Now an adult, plaintiff feels compelled to frequently remind himself of the assassination, keeping mementos close by and repeatedly reviewing film footage discussing his grandfather's murder. Id. at ¶¶ 23--25. The loss of Gholam Oveissi has even affected plaintiff's career choices, as he chose to study comparative politics and focus on the Middle East and Iran throughout his education-even though doing so provided constant reminders of the tragedy. Id. at ¶ 38. In sum, the murder of plaintiff's grandfather "has defined who he is today." Oveissi I, 498 F. Supp. 2d at 274--75.

B. Evidence Concerning Gholam Oveissi's Property Holdings in Iran

In addition to the substantial emotional pains that plagued him, plaintiff also seeks to recovery pure economic losses that he and his family suffered as a result of General Oveissi's assassination. In particular, the Complaint in this action alleges that Gholam Oveissi "lost his property, earnings, profits and monetary value that would have accrued to his estate," and that plaintiff, as an heir to that estate, suffered losses from the destruction of his "right[] to inherit this property." Amended Complaint at ΒΆ 8. To support his allegations, plaintiff submits a declaration from his father, ...


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