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Wyatt v. Syrian Arab Republic

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 17, 2012

Mary Nell WYATT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, et al., Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Robert Joseph Tolchin, The Berkman Law Office, LLC, Brooklyn, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Ramsey Clark, Clark & Schilling, New York, NY, for Defendants.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, Chief Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Marvin T. Wilson and Ronald Wyatt were abducted and held hostage in Turkey for twenty-one days by terrorists belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party (" PKK" ). This action was brought by Mr. Wilson, Mr. Wyatt's estate, and members of both of their families against the Syrian Arab Republic (" Syria" ) pursuant to the updated state-sponsored terrorism exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (" FSIA" ), 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. For reasons given below, the Court now enters final judgment against Syria, and orders that it pay plaintiffs $338,000,000, distributed among plaintiffs as described below.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs first filed an action in 2001 under the former state-sponsored terrorism exception, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7). See Wyatt v. Syrian Arab Republic, 01-cv-1628. Congress subsequently

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repealed the former state-sponsored terrorism exception, and replaced it with an updated version, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. After the statutory update, plaintiffs filed the present action to take advantage of the terms contained in the new provision. To avoid needlessly duplicative litigation, the Court dismissed the initial action. See Wyatt, 01-cv-1628, ECF No. 98. Process was served on Syria via diplomatic channels pursuant to § 1608(a)(4).[1] ECF No. 12. Judge Urbina [2] denied Syria's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Wyatt v. Syrian Arab Republic, 736 F.Supp.2d 106 (D.D.C.2010). Syria did not file an answer within fourteen days. See Order, July 2, 2012, ECF No. 29 (noting that Syria's attorney " advised the Court that Syria ... will appear to contest jurisdiction but otherwise [will] have no further participation in this case." ). The Clerk subsequently entered default against Syria. ECF No. 31.

III. FINDINGS OF FACT

Under the FSIA, a court cannot simply enter default judgment; rather, it must ensure that the plaintiffs have established their claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the court. 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e); see also Botvin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 873 F.Supp.2d 232, 235-36 (D.D.C.2012). Accordingly, courts must scrutinize the plaintiffs' allegations, and may not simply accept a complaint's unsupported allegations as true. Rimkus v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 750 F.Supp.2d 163, 171 (D.D.C.2010). Courts may rely upon testimony, documentation and affidavits. Blais v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 459 F.Supp.2d 40, 53 (D.D.C.2006).

Plaintiffs have " establishe[d] [their] claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the Court" as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). The following facts have been established by clear and convincing evidence which would have been sufficient to establish a prima facie case in a contested proceeding:

A. The Parties

1. Plaintiff Marvin T. Wilson, the first hostage, is an American citizen. Decl. Pl. Marvin T. Wilson (" Marvin Wilson Decl." ) ¶ 1, ECF No. 34-1; United States Passport and Birth Certificate of Marvin Thomas Wilson.[3]

2. Plaintiff Ronald Wyatt, the second hostage, died in 1999 of cancer and thus did not participate in this case. Decl. Pl. Mary Nell Wyatt (" Mary Wyatt Decl." ) ¶¶ 3, 14, ECF No. 34-3. He was an American citizen. See Passport of Ronald Eldon Wyatt, ECF No. 36-1.

3. Plaintiff Renetta Wilson is the wife of Marvin Wilson, and was married to him when he was abducted. Decl. Pl. Renetta T. Wilson (" Renetta Wilson Decl." ) ¶ 2, ECF No. 34-2. She is an American citizen. Passport and Birth Certificate of Renetta T. Wilson.[4]

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4. Plaintiff Kimi Lynn Wilson Johns is a daughter of Marvin Wilson. Decl. Pl. Kimi Johns (" Johns Decl." ) ¶ 3, ECF No. 34-7. She is an American citizen. Birth Certificate of Kimi Lynn Wilson.[5]

5. Plaintiff Marty R. Wilson is a son of Marvin Wilson. Decl. Pl. Marty R. Wilson (" Marty Wilson Decl." ) ¶ 2, ECF No. 34-8. He is an American citizen. Passport of Marty Ray Wilson, Ex. 13, ECF No. 34.

6. Plaintiff Gina Wilson is another daughter of Marvin Wilson. Decl. Pl. Gina Wilson (" Gina Wilson Decl." ) ¶ 2, ECF No. 34-9. She is an American citizen. Passport and Birth Certificate of Gina Ranae Wilson.[6]

7. Plaintiff Bradley Key is a stepson of Marvin Wilson. Decl. Pl. Bradley Key (" Bradley Key Decl." ) ¶ 2, ECF No. 34-10. He is an American citizen. Birth Certificate of Bradley Grant Key.[7]

8. Plaintiff Barry Key is another stepson of Marvin Wilson. Decl. Pl. Barry Key (" Barry Key Decl." ) ¶ 2, ECF No. 34-11. He is an American citizen. Passport and Birth Certificate of Barry Todd Key.[8]

9. Plaintiff Mary Nell Wyatt was married to Ronald Wyatt from 1988 until his death in 1999. Mary Wyatt Decl. ¶ 3. She is an American citizen, Passport of Mary Nell Lee,[9] and sues both as a family member plaintiff as well as executrix of Ronald's estate.

10. Plaintiff Amanda Lippelt is the step-daughter of Ronald Wyatt. Decl. Pl. Amanda Lippelt (" Lippelt Decl." ) ¶ 3, ECF No. 34-4. She is an American citizen. Birth Certificate of Amanda Lippelt, Ex. 12, ECF No. 34.

11. Plaintiff Michelle Wyatt Schelles is the daughter of Ronald Wyatt. Decl. Pl. Michelle Wyatt Schelles (" Schelles Decl." ) ¶ 3, ECF No. 34-5. She is an American citizen. Passport of Michelle Wyatt Schelles.[10]

12. Plaintiff Daniel Keith Wyatt is the son of Ronald Wyatt. Decl. Pl. Daniel Keith Wyatt (" Daniel Wyatt Decl." ) ¶ 3, ECF No. 34-6. He is an American citizen. Passport of Daniel Keith Wyatt, Ex. 14, ECF No. 34.

B. The Kidnapping

13. In August 1991, Marvin Wilson and Ronald Wyatt were driving with a guide and several others towards a possible archeological site [11] in the mountains of Ararat

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in Turkey when they came across a commercial passenger bus stopped on the road. Marvin Wilson Decl. ¶ 6. After they stopped their vehicle, several gunmen— who the victims later learned were PKK terrorists— " came running" from the stopped bus towards them, " yelling and screaming, and pointing their weapons at [them]." Id. After their guide informed the gunmen that Mr. Wilson and Mr. Wyatt were Americans, the gunmen took the two men captive at gunpoint along with their American and English companions. Id. ¶ 7. The gunmen allowed the non-Western travelers, including the guide, to go free. Id. The gunmen " kept yelling and screaming" at their captives in " Turkish or Kurdish," and then began " pushing [them] around and roughing [them] up." Id. ¶ 8.

14. The gunmen ordered Mr. Wilson to change out of the light clothes he was wearing into darker clothes in order to become " less visible to Turkish troops that would eventually be searching for [them]." Id. ¶ 9.

15. The men were marched at gunpoint through the " Turkish wilderness" through the night. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Mr. Wilson, who " grew up hunting in the wilderness," Id. ¶ 10, estimates that they covered " at least 25 miles, though it may have been more." Id. ¶ 11. He remembers the march as " torturous" and " extremely arduous," and, because of the " icy winds and the night-time cold biting through [his] soaking wet clothes," he " feared [they] were facing hypothermia." Id. ¶ 10. The men were prohibited from speaking with each other throughout the night. Id. ¶ 11. They were allowed to sleep in the morning with " no cover" in the " freezing cold." Id. ¶¶ 11-12.

16. For several days that followed, the men were moved only at night, allowed to rest during the day, and were prohibited from talking with each other— although this last rule was subsequently relaxed. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. During these first days, the men were given " only a little bit of cheese to eat and then eventually some vegetables too." Id. ¶ 13. Moreover, the men were prohibited from attending to any personal needs without first obtaining permission from their armed captors, and were constantly monitored by them. Id. While in custody, Mr. Wilson lost a significant amount of weight. Id. The terrorists carried many weapons and told the men that if they tried to escape, the " Turks would find [them] and kill [them] so that they could blame the PKK for [their] deaths." Id. ¶ 14.

17. When the men heard helicopters in the area, the gunmen lined their captives up in a row and pointed guns at them as though they were going to execute them. Id. ¶ 17. Mr. Wilson stated that the terrorists did this to prevent them from attempting to escape. Id.

18. The men were marched " high up in the mountains." Id. ¶ 18. Mr. Wilson recalls that although it was " extremely cold," the prisoners were not given " anything to insulate [them] from the frigid weather." Id. ¶ 18. He recalls that the terrorists " would keep saying that they were going to release [them], and yet the days of [their] captivity dragged on endlessly." Id. ¶ 22.

19. The terrorists also tried to indoctrinate their captives, showing them " pictures of people being killed," telling them how " the Americans and Turks were killing innocent civilians," talking to them about ...


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