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Worley v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2016

NANCY WORLEY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, et al, Defendants

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge.

I. BACKGROUND

This action arises out of the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The attack resulted in the deaths of 241 U.S. servicemen. Many more were wounded. Still more were permanently traumatized. Among those killed were David E. Worley, John B. Buckmaster, Virgel Hamilton, Lloyd Dennis West, and Roy Lee Edwards. Also present were Mario H. Vasquez and Jeffrey Dadich. These individuals, their estates, and their family members bring mis suit against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1602 et seq. ("FSIA"), which was enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 ("NDAA"). Pub. L. No. 110-118, § 1083, 122 Stat 3, 338-44 (2008). The exception, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, provides "a federal right of action against foreign states" that sponsor terrorist acts. Haim v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 784 F.Supp.2d 1, 4 (D.D.C2011).

II. LABILITY

In an order and accompanying memorandum opinion, ECF Nos. 32 and 33, dated December 8, 2014, the Court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute and that it could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendants. In the same order and opinion, the Court found the defendants liable under 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c) for wrongful death, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as survival claims arising out of the same. In accordance with its liability determination and pursuant to its authority under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 53, the Court appointed Alan Balaran Special Master for the purpose of taking evidence and filing reports and recommendations regarding the amount of individual damages to be afforded each plaintiff.

In that same memorandum opinion, the Court noted that the various estate plaintiffs had failed to present evidence regarding their ability to bring and maintain the claims they alleged. Mem. Op. 26-27. Accordingly, the Court directed the Special Master to take evidence and make specific findings on the state law that governs each estate plaintiffs claim, and whether under that law the estate plaintiff has standing to bring the claim. Id. at 27. The Special Master has done so, and the Court hereby ADOPTS the Special Master's findings with regard to the estate plaintiffs' standing under state law.

III. DAMAGES

Damages available under the FSIA include "economic damages, solatium, pain and suffering, and punitive damages." 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c). Those individuals who survived the attack may recover damages for their pain and suffering, as well as any other economic losses caused by their injuries. Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 700 F.Supp.2d 52, 83 (D.D.C. 2010). Correspondingly, the estates of those who did not survive may recover economic losses stemming from wrongful death of the decedent. Id. Family members may recover solatium for emotional injury, and all plaintiffs are eligible to recover punitive damages. Id.

"To obtain damages in an FSIA action, the plaintiff must prove that the consequences of the defendants' conduct were reasonably certain" to occur, and "must prove the amount of damages by a reasonable estimate consistent with this Circuit's application of the American rule on damages." O'Brien v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 853 F.Supp.2d 44, 46 (D.D.C. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted); see Hill v. Republic of Iraq, 328 F.3d 680, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

The Court hereby ADOPTS all facts found by and recommendations rendered by the Special Master relating to the damages suffered by all plaintiffs in this case. An evaluation of each category of damages and the Special Master's specific findings thereon follows.

A. Pain and Suffering

Assessing appropriate damages for physical injury or mental disability can depend upon myriad factors, such as "the severity of pain immediately following the injury, the length of hospitalization, and the extent of impairment that will remain with the victim for the rest of his or her life." Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 515 F.Supp.2d 25, 52 n.26 (D.D.C. 2007) (Peterson II) (quoting Blais v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 459 F.Supp.2d 40, 59 (D.D.C. 2006)). In Peterson II, this Court adopted a general procedure for the calculation of pain and suffering damages in terrorist attacks under which those servicemen suffering psychological harm are awarded $1.5 million in pain and suffering damages. See 515 F.Supp.2d at 56; see also Valore, 700 F.Supp.2d at 84.

This Court has also awarded pain and suffering damages to the estates of those victims of terrorist attacks who were injured in the attack, but later succumbed to their injuries. See, e.g., Eisenfeld v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 172 F.Supp.2d 1, 8 (D.D.C. 2000) (awarding pain and suffering damages to the estates of deceased victims where expert testimony established a period of several minutes elapsed between injury and death). In this action, the estates of John B. Buckmaster and David E. Worley bring survival claims for pain and suffering. Pls.' Am. Compl., ECF No. 43, at 10, 13-14. The Special Master declined to award pain and suffering damages to these estates due to the lack of evidence indicating death was anything but instantaneous for both of these men. Report of Special Master Counts I-IV, ECF No. 46, at 13; Report of Special Master Counts V-VIII, ECF No. 47, at 11. The Court agrees with the Special Master. In the absence of evidence tending to show an attack resulted in the fatal but noninstantaneous injury of a victim and that the victim was conscious thereafter, see, e.g., Peterson II, 515 F.Supp.2d at 53, an award of pain and suffering is inappropriate.

After reviewing the Special Master's reports, the Court finds the Special Master correctly applied the damages framework outlined in Peterson II and Valore, and therefore ADOPTS ...


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