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Jeffrey Paul O'brien, et al v. Islamic Republic of Iran

March 28, 2012


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


I. Introduction

This action arises out of the devastating 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The attack decimated the facility, killed 241 U.S. servicemen and left countless others wounded, and caused injuries to servicemen Jeffery Paul O'Brien and Daniel Lane Gaffney. The servicemen, joined by various family members, now bring suit against defendant Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran"). Their action is brought pursuant to the state-sponsored exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1602 et seq., which was enacted 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). That provision, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, provides "a federal right of action against foreign states" that sponsor terrorist acts. Haim v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 784 F. Supp. 2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting reference omitted).

II. Liability

On July 2, 2010, this Court took judicial notice of the findings of fact and conclusions of law in Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, which also concerns the Marine barracks bombing, and entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and against Iran with respect to all issues of liability. See O'Brien v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 06-cv-690 (D.D.C. July 2, 2010), ECF No. 30. This Court then referred this action to a special master for consideration of plaintiffs' claims for damages. Id. at 2. Since the issue of liability has been previously settled, this Court now turns to examine the damages recommended by the special master.

II. Damages

Damages available under the FSIA-created cause of action "include economic damages, solatium, pain and suffering, and punitive damages." 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c). Accordingly, those who survived the attack may recover damages for their pain and suffering, as well as any other economic losses caused by their injuries; estates of those who did not survive can recover economic losses stemming from wrongful death of the decedent; family members can recover solatium for their emotional injury; and all plaintiffs can recover punitive damages. Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 700 F. Supp. 2d 52, 82--83 (D.D.C. 2010).

"To obtain damages against defendants in an FSIA action, the plaintiff must prove that the consequences of the defendants' conduct were 'reasonably certain (i.e., more likely than not) to occur, and must prove the amount of the damages by a reasonable estimate consistent with this [Circuit's] application of the American rule on damages.'" Salazar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 370 F. Supp. 2d 105, 115--16 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Hill v. Republic of Iraq, 328 F.3d 680, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted)). As discussed in Peterson II, plaintiffs have proven that the defendants' commission of acts of extra-judicial killing and provision of material support and resources for such killing was reasonably certain to-and indeed intended to-cause injury to plaintiffs. Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran (Peterson II), 515 F. Supp. 2d 25, 37 (2007)

The Court hereby ADOPTS, just as it did in Peterson II, Valore, and Bland, all facts found by and recommendations made by the special master relating to the damages suffered by all plaintiffs in this case. Id. at 52--53; Valore, 700 F. Supp. at 84--87; Bland v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 05-cv-2124 (D.D.C. Dec. 21, 2011), 2011 WL 6396527. However, if the special master has deviated from the damages framework that this Court has applied in previous cases, "those amounts shall be altered so as to conform with the respective award amounts set forth" in the framework. Peterson II, 515 F. Supp. 2d at 52--53. The final damages awarded to each plaintiff are contained in the table located within the separate Order and Judgment issued this date, and this Court discusses below any alterations it makes to the special master recommendations.

A. Pain and Suffering

Assessing appropriate damages for physical injury or mental disability can depend upon a myriad of factors, such as "the severity of the pain immediately following the injury, the length of hospitalization, and the extent of the impairment that will remain with the victim for the rest of his or her life." Peterson II, 515 F. Supp. 2d at 25 n.26 (citing Blais v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 459 F. Supp. 2d 40, 59 (D.D.C. 2006)). In Peterson II, this Court adopted a general procedure for the calculation of damages that begins with the baseline assumption that persons suffering substantial injuries in terrorist attacks are entitled to $5 million in compensatory damages. Id. at 54. In applying this general approach, this Court has explained that it will "depart upward from this baseline to $7--$12 million in more severe instances of physical and psychological pain, such as where victims suffered relatively more numerous and severe injuries, were rendered quadripeligic, partially lost vision and hearing, or were mistaken for dead," Valore, 700 F. Supp. 2d at 84, and will "depart downward to $2--$3 million where victims suffered only minor shrapnel injuries or minor injury from small-arms fire," id. When a victim suffers severe emotional injury without physical injury, this Court has typically awarded the victim $1.5 million. Id.

After reviewing the special master reports, the Court finds that the special master correctly applied the damages framework outlined in Peterson and Valore, and ADOPTS all of the special master awards for pain and suffering.

B. Solatium

This Court developed a standardized approach for FSIA intentional infliction of emotional distress, or solatium, claims in Heiser v. Islamic Republic of Iran, where it surveyed past awards in the context of deceased victims of terrorism to determine that, based on averages, "[s]pouses typically receive greater damage awards than parents [or children], who, in turn, typically receive greater awards than siblings." 466 F. Supp. 2d 229, 269 (2006). Relying upon the average awards, the Heiser Court articulated a framework in which spouses of deceased victims were awarded approximately $8 million, while parents received $5 million and siblings received $2.5 million. Id.; see also Valore, 700 F. Supp. 2d at 85 (observing that courts have "adopted the framework set forth in Heiser as 'an appropriate measure of damages for the family members of victims'") (quoting Peterson II, 515 F. Supp. 2d at 51). As this Court recently explained, in the context of distress resulting from injury to loved ones-rather than death- courts have applied a framework where "awards are 'valued at half of the awards to family members of the deceased'-$4 million, $2.5 million and $1.25 million to spouses, parents, and siblings, respectively." Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 768 F. Supp. 2d 16, 26 n.10 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting Valore, 700 F. Supp. 2d at 85); see also Bland, 2011 WL ...

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