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Moradi v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

January 5, 2015

NIK MORADI, et al., Plaintiffs,

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For Nik Moradi, Deborah Moradi, Plaintiffs: Carol Elder Bruce, LEAD ATTORNEY, Noam A. Kutler, Amy J. Eldridge, K& L GATES, LLP, Washington, DC USA.

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ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge.

Nik Moradi (" Nik" ) and his wife, Deborah Moradi (" Deborah" ), bring this action against the Islamic Republic of Iran (" Iran" ) under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (" FSIA" ), 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, seeking money damages for injuries they suffered as a result of alleged acts of torture committed against Nik during his almost six-month detention in an Iranian prison. Iran failed to respond to the complaint, and plaintiffs have now moved for a default judgment. (Mot. for Default Judgment, Sept. 23, 2014 [ECF No. 18].) In order to obtain a default judgment under the FSIA, plaintiffs must establish their claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). As explained herein, plaintiffs have met this standard. Accordingly, the Court will grant the motion for default judgment.


The evidence in the record before the Court establishes the following facts.

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Nik Moradi was born in Iran in 1950. (Decl. of Nik Moradi ¶ 1 (" N. Moradi Decl." ).) At the age of 14 or 15, after his father had died, he came to the United States, joining an older brother and sister. ( Id. ¶ 4.) Nik became a United States citizen in 1975, and he has maintained dual citizenship ever since. ( Id. ¶ 9.) He never finished college, but he became a successful businessman, owning and operating several clothing stores. ( Id. ¶ 6.) In 1983, his mother moved to the United States. ( Id. ¶ 1.) In 1985, he married Deborah. ( Id. ¶ 8.) For over 20 years, from 1985 until 2007, Nik and Deborah enjoyed a " happy life," with frequent social engagements. ( Id. ¶ 8.) During those years, Nik traveled to Iran from time to time to visit family who remained there, in particular a sister and her two children. ( Id. ¶ 9.)

A. Nik Moradi's Detention by the Islamic Republic of Iran (October 2007-April 2008)

The events directly relevant to the pending action began on October 31, 2007, when Nik arrived at the International Airport in Teheran for what he thought would be a four-day visit. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 10, 12.) When Nik arrived he was met by Iranian authorities who told him there was a " problem" and that he would be their " guest for the night." ( Id. ¶ 12.) He was then handcuffed, blindfolded and driven from the airport to an unknown location where he was told to undress and put on a pair of pajamas and plastic sandals. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 13, 15.) A piece of masking tape with numbers on it was stuck to his chest. ( Id.) His clothes were put in a garment bag, and the bag was hung from a pipe where other garment bags were also hanging. ( Id.) The man who took Nik's clothes described himself as a " mortician" -- a person who " is brought people who are dead so that he can wash them and put the[m] in the ground." ( Id.) After the mortician gave Nik a few supplies (" two blankets, a pillow-sized piece of foam, a plastic pitcher, two plastic cups and a bar of soap" ) ( id. ¶ 16), he was again blindfolded and taken to a cell. ( Id.) When Nik saw the size of the cell -- no more than five feet by eight feet -- he " panicked and started to yell" ( id. ¶ 17); he also tried to stop the door from being shut by putting his head next to the door and told them he " was dying and couldn't breathe." ( Id.) At that point, he was injected with something and thrown into the cell. ( Id.)

Nik was kept in solitary confinement in this cell for the next 5 1/2 months, except when he was taken out for interrogations. ( Id.) The cell was concrete with no light other than what could be glimpsed in the hallway through the small opening with iron bars at the top of the door. ( Id. ¶ 16.) There was no bed or other furniture or toilet. ( Id. ¶ 26.) He was not allowed to make noise or to speak to the guards, and he had no contact with any other human beings, except his interrogators. ( Id. ¶ 27.) Whenever he was taken out of the cell, he was blindfolded. ( Id.) If he needed to use a bathroom, he showed the guard a card with a picture on it. ( Id.) He was punished if he asked to go to the bathroom more than once a day. ( Id. ¶ 29.) He was given very little food to eat and was " constantly starving." ( Id. ¶ 28.) He was also given " truth pills" every day. ( Id. ¶ 31.)

In addition to being kept in solitary confinement under these harsh conditions, Nik was repeatedly subjected to lengthy interrogations, during which he was accused of working with foreign agencies against Iran and of being a spy. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 20, 25, 37.) During these interrogations, he was both verbally threatened and mentally and physically abused. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 21, 35, 41, 42.) He was repeatedly told that he would be hanged. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 21, 30, 31, 32.) On more than one occasion, his

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left hand was cuffed to a railing on the wall or a bar while he was on the floor, forcing him to contort his body into an extremely painful position. ( Id. ¶ 35.) He would be left alone in that position for extended periods of time. ( Id. 35.) For a long time, Nik responded truthfully that he was not working for anyone or against the Islamic Republic of Iran. ( Id. ¶ 39.) Over time the interrogations became more brutal. ( Id. ¶ 41.) Nik was subjected to lengthy beatings while being interrogated and would often pass out; on one occasion a hole was burned into his thigh. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 41, 42.) On another occasion, he was shown a picture of another prisoner who had been tied with rope to a frame, hanging upside down, and had a cut from his crotch through his intestines, which were hanging out of his body. ( Id. ¶ 43.) Standing next to this prisoner was a man in a black executioner's mask, holding a meat cleaver. ( Id.) After showing Nik the picture, the interrogators tied him to a similar frame and threatened him with similar treatment if he did not confess to spying against Iran. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 44, 45.) On yet another occasion, guards urinated on Nik's head while he was lying on the ground blindfolded and with his hands and feet bound. ( Id. ¶ 46.) Nik was also sexually assaulted while blindfolded. ( Id.) He also often had seizures, which he had never had before. ( Id. ¶ 49.)

There came a point when Nik thought that he could bear no more and that he wanted to die. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 47, 48.) He made several unsuccessful attempts to kill himself or to goad his interrogators into beating him severely enough to kill him. ( Id. ¶ 47.) Finally, after having a dream about his mother that made him worry that something had happened to her, Nik broke down and told his interrogators that he would tell them whatever they wanted as long as he could call his mother. ( Id. ¶ 52.) The interrogators told him that they would find his mother, but that in the meantime he should start writing down answers to their questions, which they proceeded to dictate to him. ( Id. ¶ 53.) As directed, Nik falsely confessed that he had worked with the FBI, the CIA, the KGB and other groups. ( Id.) Nik's captors then tried to get him to implicate one of his friends, but Nik refused. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 55-57.)

Shortly after Nik's confession, he was taken before a judge for the first time. ( Id. ¶ 58.) The judge ripped up Nik's confession, stating that he " knew" Nik was not a spy and that he would " issue a verdict" that Nik was not guilty and order him released. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 54, 58, 59.) Nik's relatives in Iran put up the money for a $500,000 bond, and he was released on April 15, 2008. ( Id. ¶ 60.)

By the time of his release, Nik had lost 40 to 50 pounds. (Decl. of Deborah Moradi ¶ 15 (" D. Moradi Decl." ).) Due to passport issues, he was unable to leave Iran until November 2008. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 61; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ 14.) He initially flew to Dubai, where he was met by Deborah. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 68; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ 14.) By then he had regained some weight, but still weighed 20 pounds less than he had when he left the United States. (D. Moradi ¶ 15.) Only then did Deborah tell her husband that his mother had died while he was in prison. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 68; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ 14.)

After Nik had left Iran, the Revolutionary Court decided to hold another hearing. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 70.) Nik did not return to Iran for the hearing, forfeiting the $500,000 bond. ( Id. ¶ 70.) The Revolutionary Court found him guilty of spying and sentenced him in absentia to ten years in prison and 100 lashes. ( Id. ¶ 71.)

B. Injuries Suffered by Nik Moradi

1. Physical and Psychological Injuries

Nik suffered significant physical and psychological injuries while he was in prison.

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In addition, his detention has caused long-term psychological injuries.[1] When Nik first returned to the United States and for some time thereafter, he successfully suppressed his memory of many incidents; however, his memories eventually returned, causing him significant problems. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ ¶ 45, 46; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ 17.) By all accounts, he is now a much different man than he was before his detention. He often cries and thrashes in his sleep, causing Deborah to wake him to try and calm him down. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 74; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ ¶ 17, 25.) He and Deborah both feel that he is not the person he used to be. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 75; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ 16 (after his return, " it soon became clear that he was not the same man he had been before he was imprisoned" ).) He has trouble thinking clearly. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 75.) He used to have good relationships with many people; now, he cannot connect. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 75; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ 16 (describing Nik Moradi as " distant, fearful, and unable to connect with me or others" ).) He has no desire to go places or socialize with people. (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 75.) He usually feels depressed and lonely. ( Id. ¶ 75.) He takes medication to help him sleep, but he is never well-rested. ( Id.) According to Nik, the only emotion he strongly feels now is anger at his captors. ( Id. ¶ 76.) He says that he " feel[s] as though my captors stole from me what it really is to be human." ( Id.)

Nik has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (" PTSD" ) and major depressive disorder. (Expert Report of Stuart Grassian, M.D., ¶ 11 (" Grassian Rep." )[2] Expert Report of Carol Santucci, LICSW, ¶ ¶ 5, 28, 29, 33 (" Santucci Rep." ).[3], PTSD is:

the result of experiencing psychological trauma -- an experience so horrifying, so frightening, that it overcomes the individual's capacity to cope, reducing him to absolute terror and horror. It is characterized by intrusive images and thoughts of the traumatic event (awake, or asleep in the form of nightmares); acute physiologic reactions (heart pounding, sweating, dizziness, etc.) to stimuli reminiscent of the event; increased arousal (a constant state of vigilance, anxiety and tension, irritability, jumpiness), emotional numbing and depression (an inability to find pleasure or passion in anything), and avoidance of stimuli reminiscent of the event. PTSD is characterized as well by feelings of shame and guilt, and not infrequently leaves the person immobilized with depression.

(Grassian Rep. ¶ 13.) MDD " may be the result of a single terrifying event such as rape or surviving a fatal car accident, but

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the worst traumatic situations involve inescapable, repetitive trauma; the trauma of prolonged combat is an obvious example." (Grassian Rep. ¶ 14.) " MDD is characterized by somatic symptoms such as sleep or appetite disturbance, social withdrawal, impaired concentration, inability to find pleasure in usual activities, a loss of libido, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt." ( Id. ¶ 15.) Nik has also been diagnosed with " Delirium: Solitary Confinement Syndrome." (Grassian Rep. ¶ 11.)

In Dr. Grassian's opinion, Nik's disorders are the " direct result" of his treatment while detained and " [t]here is little hope for further improvement." (Grassian Rep. ¶ ¶ 11, 65 (" These illnesses have persisted now for approximately six years without any significant improvement. . . . Studies have demonstrated that without significant amelioration of the symptoms of PTSD even after just six months, the prognosis for further improvement is very poor." ).) According to Dr. Grassian, Nik " remains deeply depressed, unable to find any pleasure in his life. He feels shame that he has not wanted to have intimate relations with his wife in all the years since his release. He feels hopeless -- like the world has closed in on him." (Grassian Rep. ¶ 67.) Dr. Grassian concludes that " [d]espite some efforts at receiving psychiatric and psychological help, there has been little change in Mr. Moradi's condition over the years since his release. It unfortunately is not surprising that he has not, and likely cannot ever, heal from his wounds." (Grassian Rep. ¶ 69; Santucci Rep. ¶ 33.)

2. Economic Injuries

During the time Nik was detained, " Deborah made the payments on the store, but it was not open for most of the time I was incarcerated and then unable to leave Iran." (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 80.) Nik estimates that the store's closing during this period " caused [him] a loss in income of at least . . . $1,184,000, calculated based on sales over the previous years." (N. Moradi Decl. ¶ 80; D. Moradi Decl. ¶ 10.) Nik indicates that before his detention in Iran, he " did not plan to retire at particular age, and . . . [he] would have continued to own and operated the store for many more years. ( Id. ¶ 80.)

C. Injuries Suffered By Deborah Moradi

When Nik was first detained, Deborah had no idea what had happened to him. (D. Moradi Decl. ¶ ¶ 5, 9.) After a few days, she learned that he had been detained by the Iranian authorities, but for over a month after that she had no idea whether he was dead or alive. ( Id. ΒΆ 8.) She eventually learned through the State Department, which made inquiries through the Swiss Embassy, that he was alive and that ...

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