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Owens v. Republic of Sudan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 15, 2014

JAMES OWENS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
REPUBLIC OF SUDAN, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN D. BATES, District Judge.

Over sixteen years ago, simultaneous suicide bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, devastated two United States embassies, killed hundreds of people, and injured over a thousand more. This Court has entered final judgment on liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA") and District of Columbia law in this and other civil actions-brought by victims of the bombings and their families-against the Republic of Sudan, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Sudan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security for their roles in these unconscionable acts. And with the help of special masters, the Court has assessed and awarded damages to most of the individual plaintiffs in these cases. See, e.g., Mar. 28, 2014 Mem. Op. [ECF No. 300] at 3. But a few plaintiffs remain. Currently before the Court are a special master's award recommendations for these remaining plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs-the so-called "Aliganga plaintiffs, " who take their name from Jesse Nathanael Aliganga, a United States Marine Corps sergeant who died in the 1998 attack-are twelve United States citizens injured or killed in the Nairobi bombing and their immediate family members. See Am. Compl. in Intervention [ECF No. 262] ("Am. Compl.") at 9; Apr. 11, 2014 Mem. Op. at 1. Although these plaintiffs did not participate in the opening stages of the original Owens lawsuit, this Court allowed them to intervene in this case. July 23, 2012 Order [ECF No. 233] at 1. By that time, other plaintiffs had already served process on each defendant, defendants had failed to respond, and the Court had entered a default against defendants. Moreover, this Court had already held that it has jurisdiction over defendants and that the United States national plaintiffs have a federal cause of action under 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c), while the foreign-national family members of the bombing victims may pursue their claims under the laws of the District of Columbia.[1] See Owens v. Rep. of Sudan , 826 F.Supp.2d 128, 148-51, 153-57 (D.D.C. 2011). Finally (and perhaps most importantly), this Court had already found that defendants were responsible for supporting, funding, or otherwise carrying out the Nairobi bombing, and it therefore entered final judgment on liability against them pursuant to the FSIA. See id. at 135-47, 157.

The Court then referred the Aliganga plaintiffs' claims to a special master, Paul G. Griffin, to prepare proposed findings of fact and damages recommendations for each plaintiff. Sept. 18, 2012 Order [ECF No. 253] at 1. The special master has now filed his reports, which rely on sworn testimony, expert reports, medical records, and other evidence. See Reports of Special Master [ECF Nos. 332-39, 341-42]; see also Filing of Special Master [ECF No. 344] ("Wolf Expert Report"). The reports describe the facts relevant to each plaintiff and carefully analyze each plaintiff's claim for damages under the framework established in other mass-tort-terrorism cases from this District. The Court thanks Special Master Griffin for his work.

The Court hereby adopts all facts found by the special master relating to plaintiffs in this case. Where the special master has received evidence sufficient to find that a plaintiff is a United States national and is thus entitled to maintain a federal cause of action, the Court adopts that finding. In addition, the Court adopts the special master's finding that each plaintiff has established the familial relationship necessary to support standing under the FSIA. See 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(a)(2)(A)(ii); see also Owens , 826 F.Supp.2d at 149. The Court also adopts all damages recommendations in the reports-with the exception of the few adjustments described below. See Valore v. Islamic Rep. of Iran , 700 F.Supp.2d 52, 82-83 (D.D.C. 2010) ("Where recommendations deviate from the Court's damages framework, those amounts shall be altered so as to conform with... the framework." (internal quotation marks omitted)). As a result, the Court will award the Aliganga plaintiffs a total judgment of over $622 million.

This opinion and judgment brings to a close this Court's role in assessing the responsibility for, and the damages recoverable as a result of, the 1998 embassy bombings. But the story is hardly over for the victims of these attacks, who not only must continue the effort to actually recover their awarded damages, but, more importantly, must also continue to live with the devastating consequences of these callous acts. That, after all, is the design of such terrorist activity-to inflict present and future fear and pain on individuals and governments. The Court commends the dedicated, creative, and courageous resolve of all plaintiffs-and their conscientious attorneys-in the cases brought against the terrorists responsible for the embassy bombings and their supporters. They have helped to ensure that terrorism, and its support by defendants, will not ultimately succeed in achieving its long-term goals.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

Defendants' liability in this case under both the FSIA and District of Columbia law was decided long ago.[2] See Owens , 826 F.Supp.2d at 157. But two questions remain. First, what kinds of damages may plaintiffs recover from the (now liable) defendants? And second, what damages awards are appropriate for each plaintiff?

I. PLAINTIFFS MAY RECOVER DAMAGES UNDER EITHER 28 U.S.C. § 1605A OR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA LAW

Both the FSIA and District of Columbia law provide a basis for damages awards here. Start with the FSIA. That statute allows United States national plaintiffs to recover various types of damages, including "economic damages, solatium, pain and suffering, and punitive damages." 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c). But "[t]o obtain damages 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." Valore , 700 F.Supp.2d at 83 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

The Aliganga plaintiffs satisfy these requirements. As discussed in this Court's previous opinions, plaintiffs have proven that the consequences of defendants' conduct were reasonably certain to-and indeed intended to-cause plaintiffs' injuries. See Owens , 826 F.Supp.2d at 135-47. According to the FSIA's remedial scheme, then: "[T]hose 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; [and] family members [so long as they are United States nationals] can recover solatium for their emotional injury." Oveissi v. Islamic Rep. of Iran , 879 F.Supp.2d 44, 55 (D.D.C. 2012); see also Amduso v. Rep. of Sudan, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2014 WL 3687126, at *2 (D.D.C. July 25, 2014) (limiting solatium-damages awards under the FSIA to United States national family members). The Court will therefore award plaintiffs "reasonable" economic, pain-and-suffering, and solatium damages, as appropriate.

This conclusion covers all but one of the Aliganga plaintiffs. And District of Columbia law suffices to cover the damages claim of the sole remaining plaintiff: Egambi Fred Kibuhiru Dalizu, who is a national of the Republic of Kenya, and who was the husband of Jean Rose Dalizu, a United States citizen and embassy employee killed in the Nairobi attack. Am. Compl. at 44. Dalizu hopes to recover solatium damages under District of Columbia law, because, he alleges, defendants' actions amounted to intentional infliction of emotional distress. As this Court has previously held, District of Columbia law applies to Dalizu's claim. Owens , 826 F.Supp.2d at 153-57. A prima facie claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under that jurisdiction's law requires Dalizu to show: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct on the part of defendants which, (2) either intentionally or recklessly, (3) causes him severe emotional distress. Larijani v. Georgetown Univ. , 791 A.2d 41, 44 (D.C. 2002).

Dalizu meets every element of this tort. Here, just as in the FSIA context, acts of terrorism "by their very definition" amount to extreme and outrageous conduct, Valore , 700 F.Supp.2d at 77 (internal quotation marks omitted), and the facts in this case prove that defendants acted intentionally and recklessly, causing Dalizu severe and lasting emotional trauma, see Report of Special Master [ECF No. 339] ("Dalizu Report") at 3-6, 25; see also Owens , 826 F.Supp.2d at 135-46; Murphy v. Islamic Rep. of Iran , 740 F.Supp.2d 51, 74-75 (D.D.C. 2010) (describing an immediate family member's intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim in the state-sponsored-terrorism context). Because Dalizu presented evidence sufficient to prove his ...


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