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Goldberg-Botvin v. The Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 4, 2013

JULIE GOLDBERG-BOTVIN, et al., Plaintiffs,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For JULIE GOLDBERG-BOTVIN, RUSSELL ELLIS, Estate of Yael Botvin, TAMAR BOTVIN-DAGAN, MICHAL BOTVIN, Plaintiffs: Noel Jason Nudelman, Tracy Reichman Kalik, Richard D. Heideman, HEIDEMAN NUDELMAN & KALIK, P.C., Washington, DC.


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Royce C. Lamberth, Chief United States District Judge.


This action against the Islamic Republic of Iran (" Iran" ) arises from an act of state-sponsored terrorism. The decedent, a fourteen-year-old United States citizen named Yael Botvin, was killed in a September 4, 1997, suicide bombing in the crowded pedestrian mall on Ben Yehuda Street in downtown Jerusalem, Israel, by Hamas. In a previous action under the former state-sponsored terrorism exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (" FSIA" ), 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7), the Court awarded $1.7 million in compensatory damages to Yael's estate against Iran and other defendants but denied other forms of requested damages, including solatium damages for family member plaintiffs and punitive damages for all plaintiffs. Estate of Botvin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 873 F.Supp.2d 232, 246 (D.D.C. 2012). Shortly after the verdict in that case, the plaintiffs filed this suit under the updated state-sponsored terrorism provision, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, seeking the damages they had been denied under the old statute.

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The Court GRANTS plaintiffs' motion for default judgment, ECF No. 13, and awards solatium and punitive damages as described below.


A. Factual Background[1]

" Defendant Iran is a foreign state and has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism pursuant to section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, 50 U.S.C. § 2405(j), continuously since January 19, 1984." Botvin, 873 F.Supp.2d at 237 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

In Botvin, this Court drew on expert testimony given during an evidentiary hearing in another § 1605(a)(7) case brought by individuals who were injured in the same bombing, Campuzano v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 281 F.Supp.2d 258, 261 (D.D.C. 2003) (Urbina, J.), to find the following facts regarding Iran's involvement in the September 4, 1997, bombing:

[T]he bombing was planned by a six-person Hamas cell organized by Mahmoud Abu Hanoud--a senior commander in Hamas' military wing. . . . [who] received most of his explosives and military training in an Iranian-sponsored terrorist training camp.
. . . Iran was encouraging and pushing Hamas' leaders to carry out suicide bombings as a policy, and that policy was approved by the highest authorities in Iran. Iran's relationship with Hamas began in the early 1990s. In 1994, Iran received the first delegation of Hamas members who were trained directly by the Iranians on Iranian soil. As the Iran-Hamas relationship matured, the involvement of Iran became stronger and stronger with Hamas and especially with these terrorist activities . . . .
Abu Hanoud personally directed the scouting, planning, disguising, safe housing, traveling, and purchasing involved in this sophisticated attack. . . . Without Iran, Abu Hanoud would never have known how to build this type of bomb and conduct this type of operation. Prior to the attack, Abu Hanoud assigned a Hamas member named Al Zaban--who disguised himself as a surveyor--to scout areas of Jerusalem to find the most crowded, the most effective places for . . . an attack. Al Zaban settled on the pedestrian mall because of its crowds of people and its proximity to government buildings. . . .
On the afternoon of September 4, 1997, three Hamas suicide bombers with cases of powerful explosive bombs arrived at the crowded Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall in downtown Jerusalem. These bombs contained nails, screws, pieces of glass, and chemical poisons to cause maximum pain, suffering, and death. The bombs were intended to be detonated in intervals designed to inflict maximum causalities on both civilians

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and responding rescue workers. The explosion wounded nearly 200 civilians and killed five, including fourteen-year-old Yael Botvin, the daughter of plaintiff Julie Goldberg-Botvin and sister of plaintiffs Tamar and Michal Botvin. Hamas publically claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Botvin, 873 F.Supp.2d at 237-38 (internal quotations, modifications, and citations omitted).

This Court in Botvin found the following facts regarding the four plaintiffs, citing deposition testimony of Yael's mother, Julie Goldberg-Botvin, and sister Michal, an affidavit from her sister Tamar, and other evidence:

Yael Botvin, a fourteen-year-old ninth grader, was on her way home from the Emunah School for the Arts in Jerusalem, Israel, when she was killed by the September 4, 1997 suicide bombing. Yael had stopped by the mall to buy school supplies when the bombing occurred. . . . Yael survived approximately four hours after the bombing, and died due to burns, puncture wounds, and other unspecified internal injuries caused by the explosion. She was an American citizen at the time of her death. . . .
Julie Goldberg-Botvin, Yael's mother, spent " about two hours" not knowing whether Yael was safe or whether Yael had been injured by the bombing. She stated that " [i]t was horrible, but we didn't know what to do with ourselves so we just stayed there." . . . Julie . . . [was] then driven by friends to Bikur Cholim hospital where they were shown a picture of Yael's face and asked to identify her. [Julie testified that t]he first week " was very difficult because we have people coming to the house from the early morning until night." Life without Yael was " very quiet . . . we still miss her." . . . Julie reflected that " [w]e might look okay on the outside, but on the inside we are not okay, even ten years later. For me it's terrible to see Yael's friends who are now 24, 25 years old, and married and some of them have babies. It is very difficult." . . . Julie was a citizen of the United States at the time of Yael's death and remains so today.
Tamar Botvin . .., an American citizen at the time of the bombing and today, was Yael's older sister. . . . She was fifteen at the time of Yael's death. Since Yael's death, Tamar has " found it very difficult to discuss the emotional impact . . . and the best way for [her] to express [her] feelings is in writing." On the day of the bombing, Tamar was returning from a school trip when a teacher told her news Tamar described as the " worst of my life." Her sister's death came " less than four years after [their] father died of coronary artery disease." Tamar stated that " [w]e were just ...

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