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Robles v. Kerry

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

November 21, 2014

HIRAM PADILLA ROBLES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN KERRY, in his official capacity as U.S. Secretary of State, and UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Defendants

Page 255

For HIRAM PADILLA ROBLES, MIGDALIA PADILLA ROBLES, FERDINAND PADILLA ROBLES, DAMARIS PADILLA ROBLES, WILLIAM PADILLA GUZMAN, ANTONIO PADILLA GUZMAN, Plaintiffs: Jean Paul Vissepo Garriga, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Vissepo Law Group, P.S.C, San Juan, PR; Lorenzo J. Palomares, Miami, FL.

For JOHN KERRY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Defendants: Nathan Michael Swinton, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

Page 256

Re Document No.: 10

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

A 1972 terrorist attack claimed the life of Juan Padilla Ortiz. After his half-siblings (" Plaintiffs" ) were denied monetary compensation by the State Department, they filed the instant action against the Department and the Secretary of State in his official capacity (" Defendants" ). Plaintiffs ask this Court to issue a declaratory judgment that the Department's denial of compensation violated their constitutional and statutory rights, and to order payment of the requested compensation. Before this Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 10). Having reviewed the parties' filings, this Court grants the motion and dismisses the complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

II. BACKGROUND

While on a religious pilgrimage, Juan Padilla Ortiz was killed in a terrorist attack at the Lod Airport in Israel in May 1972. See Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. In April 2006, his siblings brought an action in this Court against Libyan authorities and others, alleging that they had provided material support to the attackers and seeking damages. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1, Franqui v. Syrian Arab Republic, No. 06-cv-734 (D.D.C. Apr. 21, 2006).[1]

In 2008, the United States and Libya concluded an agreement providing for the settlement of terrorism-related claims against Libya pending in U.S. courts. See Claims Settlement Agreement Between the United States of America and the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (" Claims Settlement Agreement" ), Aug. 14, 2008, Defs.' Ex. A, ECF No. 10-2. Subsequently, the Secretary of State certified that Libya had provided sufficient funds for executing the settlements,[2] and the President issued an Executive Order ordering the settlement of covered claims and directing the Secretary to " provide for procedures" governing the settlements. Settlement of Claims Against Libya, Exec. Order No. 13,477, 73 Fed.Reg. 65,965 (Oct. 31, 2008). Mr. Padilla Ortiz's siblings then

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dismissed the Franqui action and obtained $10 million from the State Department under the prescribed claims settlement process. See Pls.' Notice of Dismissal with Prejudice, ECF No. 51, Franqui v. Syrian Arab Republic, No. 06-cv-734 (D.D.C. Dec. 31, 2008).

In 2009, pursuant to the International Claims Settlement Act of 1949, 22 U.S.C. § 1623(a)(1)(C), the Secretary of State referred several categories of claims against Libya to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (the " Commission" ), an independent federal agency with authority to adjudicate certain international claims of the United States and its nationals. See Notice, Commencement of Claims Program, Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, 74 Fed.Reg. 32,193 (July 7, 2009); 22 U.S.C. § § 1622-23 (describing structure and function of Commission). One such category--Category E--covered claims for wrongful death resulting from the 1972 terrorist attack in which Mr. Padilla Ortiz was killed, so long as the claimant " was not a plaintiff in [the Franqui action]," and the claim " meets the standard for . . . wrongful death . . . adopted by the Commission." 74 Fed.Reg. at 32,194.

Plaintiffs--Mr. Padilla Ortiz's half-siblings who were not party to the Franqui litigation--then filed a timely wrongful death claim with the Commission under Category E of the referral.[3] In its final decision, the Commission explained that although Category E " does cover wrongful death claims . . . by claimants who were not plaintiffs in a Pending Litigation," " the wrongful death claim for Mr. [Padilla] Ortiz has already been paid by the Department of State" in the amount of $10 million. Final Decision 3, Pls.' Ex. 1, ECF No. 12-1. The Commission then determined that this amount was the maximum per-death payment, based on a 2008 letter authored by the Deputy Secretary of State and past Commission practice. Id. at 3-5. On this basis, the Commission denied Plaintiffs' claim for lack of jurisdiction. Id. at 2, 7; Compl. 4.

Plaintiffs next filed an administrative claim before the State Department, seeking a " proportionate share of the $10,000,000.00 destined to the relatives of Juan Padilla Ortiz . . . ." Administrative Claim 8, Defs.' Ex. C, ECF No. 10-4. Construing Plaintiffs' claim as an " administrative tort claim" governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act, the State Department denied the claim on the grounds that no federal officials committed any " negligent or wrongful act or omission." Letter from Mary E. McLeod, U.S. Department of State, to Jean Paul Vissep& #8057; Garriga, Counsel for Claimants, Defs.' Ex. D, ECF No. 10-5 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2672). The Department also advised Plaintiffs of their right to seek judicial review of " this determination under the Federal Tort Claims Act." Id.

Plaintiffs then filed the instant action against Defendants. In their complaint, Plaintiffs request two specific forms of relief. First, they seek a declaratory judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 2201[4] " that the State Department decision of denying plaintiff's [sic] right to compensation under the Libya Claims Program, violates the Fifth Amendment . . . and 42 U.S.C. § 1983."

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Compl. 9. Plaintiffs allege that because the State Department failed to notify them before issuing the maximum $10 million payment to Mr. Padilla Ortiz's full siblings, they were deprived of " their proprietary right of compensation without the due process of law, even when they followed the legal course established by the Commission and the Department of State." Compl. 7. Second, they ask this Court to " order the United States Department of State to compensate plaintiffs with $10,000,000 as established by the Libya Claims Program," on the basis that they are " entitled to the compensation" under 22 U.S.C. § 1623(a)(1)(C). Id. at 7, 9.

Before this Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss, which argues that because Defendants have not expressly waived sovereign immunity, this Court is without subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Mem. Supp. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 7-10, ECF No. 10. Alternatively, the motion submits that even if jurisdiction is proper, dismissal is warranted on the grounds that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Mem. Supp. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 11-18.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard


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