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Amy Battle Taylor, et al v. Islamic Republic of Iran

August 29, 2011

AMY BATTLE TAYLOR, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises out of the horrific bombing of the United States Marine Corp barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983. The attack destroyed the facility, killing 241 servicemen and leaving scores wounded. Plaintiffs are family members of eight servicemen killed in the explosion, and they bring this action under the "state-sponsored terrorism" exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1602 et seq., which was enAacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 ("NDAA"). Pub. L. No. 110-181, § 1083, 122 Stat. 3, 338--44 (2008). This provision, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, creates a "federal right of action against foreign states." Simon v. Republic of Iran, 529 F.3d 1187, 1190 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Plaintiffs' suit alleges that defendant Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran") created and supported the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and subsequently directed that organization to take "spectacular action" against the U.S. Marines stationed in Lebanon. According to plaintiffs, Iran may be held liable under § 1605A for the infliction of severe mental anguish and emotional devastation that resulted from the death of plaintiffs' family members in Beirut. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that plaintiffs have provided sufficient evidence to establish a cause of action against Iran under the FSIA's state-sponsored terrorism exception.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Prior Beirut Bombing Litigation

There is a lengthy history of litigation before this Court concerning the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. In the seminal case, Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, dozens of family members of the 241 deceased servicemen, as well as several injured survivors of the attack, sued both Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS"), seeking to hold them liable for the attack under the former state-sponsored terrorism exception, which at that time was codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7). 264 F. Supp. 2d 46, 48 (D.D.C. 2003). Over two days in March of 2003, the Court conducted a bench trial at which it heard testimony from lay and expert witnesses and received documentary evidence concerning the bombing, the catastrophic results, the involvement of Iran and MOIS, and their support for international terrorism in general. See generally id. at 48--59 (discussing evidence and findings of fact). Based on that evidence, the Court found "that it is beyond question that Hezbollah and its agents received massive material and technical support from the Iranian government. . . . [and] that it is highly unlikely that this attack could have resulted in such loss of life without the assistance of regular military forces, such as those of Iran." Id. at 58. The Court then determined, as a legal matter, that "MOIS actively participated in the attack" and was "acting as an agent of . . . Iran" when doing so, and thus Iran and MOIS were "jointly and severally liable to the plaintiffs" for damages. Id. at 61.

Several new suits against Iran and MOIS were filed following the finding of liability in Peterson. Of greatest importance for these purposes are the cases consolidated in Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, which involved the servicemen at the center of this case, among others. 700 F. Supp. 2d 52, 61 n.1 (D.D.C. 2010).*fn1 In addition, various family members of these three servicemen "brought claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, seeking solatium."

Id. at 60 & 61 n.4. The Court, relying extensively on the evidence presented in Peterson, determined that "defendants are liable for extra-judicial killing and the provision of material support and resources for such killing, which was committed by officials, employees, and agents of defendants; which caused injury under several theories of liability; and for which the Court has jurisdiction for money damages." Id. at 80--81. The Court then awarded compensatory and punitive damages, totaling $290,291,092 and $1,000,000,000, respectively. Murphy v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 740 F. Supp. 2d 51, 82 (D.D.C. 2010) (summarizing awards in Valore). Subsequent to the opinion in Valore, several other cases related to the 1983 attack, including this one, were filed.

B. This Action

Plaintiffs's suit was filed in the Spring of 2010. Complaint, May 20, 2010 [3]. In their complaint, plaintiffs declare that they "consist entirely of U.S. nationals who are immediate family members or the estates of such family members of deceased members of the United States Marine Corps, United States Navy, or United States Army, who died as a result of injuries inflicted in the terrorist attack upon the United Staets Marine Corps . . . in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 23, 1983. Id. at ¶ 3. They allege that Hezbollah, a "Lebanese terrorist organization," was "given extensive support by the Defendant, which permitted it to carry out a wide ranging program of terrorist against the United States and the State of Israel." Id. at ¶¶ 5--6. Plaintiffs further allege that, "at the time of the acts which give rise to this action, Hezbollah was under the complete operational control of the Defendant" and that the "provision of extensive economic support by the Defendant to Hezbollah, was necessary for that organization to carry out a terrorist attack of the scope and technological sophistication of the attack of October 23, 1983." Id. at ¶ 6. Based on these allegations, plaintiffs allege that defendant intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon them by causing Hezbollah to decimate the Marine barracks in Beirut and murder their family members. Id. at ¶¶ 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25 & 27. Plaintiffs seek solatium damages for pain and suffering, see generally id. at Counts I--VIII, as well as punitive damages on the ground that defendant acted in an "intentional and malicious" manner that was "in willful, wanton and reckless disregard of the rights and physical well-being of each of the Plaintiffs." Id. at ¶ 29.

Plaintiffs served Iran by mail as permitted by the FSIA, 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(3), and defendant accepted service in late December. Return of Service/Affidavit, Feb. 23, 2011 [9]. This acceptance of service obligated Iran to respond in some manner to the Complaint by February 23rd of this year. 28 U.S.C. § 1608(d). Several months later, after no response was received from defendant, plaintiffs obtained entry of default, Clerk's Entry of Default, May 11, 2011 [14], and subsequently moved for default judgment. Motion for Entry of Default, May 10, 2011 [12]. Based on this motion, as well as the facts in the record or available for judicial notice, the Court renders the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

III. FINDINGS OF FACT

Under the FSIA, a court cannot simply enter default judgment, but must, out of respect for the principle of sovereign immunity, ensure that plaintiffs "establish [their] claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the court." 28 U.S.C. 1608(e). This requirement "imposes a duty on FSIA courts to not simply accept a complaint's unsupported allegations as true, and obligates courts to inquire further before entering judgment against parties in default. Rimkus v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 750 F. Supp. 2d 163, 171 (D.D.C. 2010) (internal quotations omitted) ("Rimkus II"). To satisfy this burden, plaintiffs presented evidence concerning their backgrounds and injuries suffered, and also that the Court take judicial notice of prior findings of fact and evidence related to the Beirut bombing and defendant's involvement in the attack. Earlier judicial findings of fact "represent merely a court's probabilistic determination as to what happened," and thus constitute hearsay and are inadmissible. Anderson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 753 F. Supp. 2d 68, 75 (D.D.C. 2010). At the same time, this Court has previously observed that "the statutory obligation found in § 1608(e) was not designed to impose the onerous burden of re-litigating key facts in related cases arising out of the same terrorist attack." Rimkus II, 750 F. Supp. 2d at 172 (citing Brewer v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 664 F. Supp. 2d 43, 54 (D.D.C. 2009)). Thus, the FSIA "permits courts in subsequent related cases to rely upon the evidence presented in earlier litigation . . . without necessitating the formality of having that evidence reproduced." Id. (citing Murphy v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 740 F. Supp. 2d 51, 55 (D.D.C. 2010)). Bearing these parameters of judicial notice in mind, and armed with the special master's summary of the evidence,*fn2 the Court renders the following findings of fact:

David L. Battle

Documentary evidence presented to the assigned special master in Valore demonstrates that David L. Battle was born on July 13, 1944 in the United States, and did at all times in his life remain a citizen of the United States. Report of Special Master (Battle) 1, May 12, 2009, Valore, No. 03 Civ. 1959 [29]. Records indicate that Serviceman Battle was stationed in Beirut on October 23, 1983, and died as a result of the attack. Id. at 2.

Matilde Hernandez, Jr.

Documentary evidence presented to the assigned special master in Valore demonstrates that Matilde Hernandez, Jr. was born on February 1, 1946 in the United States, and did at all times in his life remain a citizen of the United States. Report of Special Master (Hernandez) 1, May 12, 2009 [30]. Records indicate that Serviceman Hernandez was stationed in Beirut on October 23, 1983, and died as a result of the attack. Id. at 2.

John Frederick Muffler

Documentary evidence presented to the assigned special master in Valore demonstrates that John Frederick Muffler was born on December 13, 1963 in the United States, and did at all times in his life remain a citizen of the United States. Report of Special Master (Muffler) 3, Oct. 13, 2009, Valore, No. 03 Civ. 1959 [39]. Records indicate that Serviceman Muffler was stationed in Beirut on October 23, 1983, and died as a result of the attack. Id. at 3--4.

John J. Tishmack

Documentary evidence presented to the assigned special master in Valore demonstrates that John Jay Tishmack was born on March 14, 1964 in the United States, and did at all times in his life remain a citizen of the United States. Report of Special Master (Tishmack) 3, Oct. 13, 2009, Valore, No. 03 Civ. 1959 [40]. Records indicate that Serviceman Tishmack was stationed in Beirut on October 23, 1983, and died as a result of the attack. Id. at 3--4.

Leonard W. Walker

Documentary evidence presented to the assigned special master in Valore demonstrates that Leonard Warren Walker was born on September 20, 1961 in the United States, and did at all times in his life remain a citizen of the United States. Report of Special Master (Walker) 1, May 12, 2009, Valore, No. 03 Civ. 1959 [34]. Records indicate that Serviceman Walker was stationed in Beirut on October 23, 1983, and died as a result of the attack. Id. at 2.

Walter E. Wint, Jr.

Documentary evidence presented to the assigned special master in Valore demonstrates that Walter Emerson Wint, Jr. was born on September 16, 1955 in the United States, and did at all times in his life remain a citizen of the United States. Report of Special Master (Wint) 1, May 12, 2009, Valore, No. 03 Civ. 1959 [35]. Records indicate that Serviceman Wint was stationed in Beirut on October 23, 1983, and died as a result of the attack. Id. at 2.

James Yarber

Documentary evidence presented to the assigned special master in Valore demonstrates that James Glenn Yarber was born on November 24, 1945 in the United States, and did at all times in his life remain a citizen of the United States. Report of Special Master (Yarber) 3, Dec. 2, 2009, Valore, No. 03 Civ. 1959 [29]. Records indicate that Serviceman Yarber ...


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