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Foley v. Syrian Arab Republic

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 21, 2017

VIRGINIA L. FOLEY, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge

         This case arises from the deaths of three Americans-Laurence Michael Foley, Sr., Keith Matthew Maupin and Kristian Menchaca-in Iraq and Jordan between 2002 and 2006. Plaintiffs-the estates and family members of the deceased-allege that all three were killed by a terrorist organization led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (the “Zarqawi Terrorist Organization”). Proceeding under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Syrian Arab Republic (“Syria”), Syrian Military Intelligence, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian General Asif Shawkat, provided material support and resources to the Zarqawi Terrorist Organization and accordingly should be held liable for these deaths. The Court agrees.

         Defendants have not answered or otherwise participated in this litigation, with the exception of filing an opposition to a motion filed by Plaintiffs regarding the sufficiency of service. The case accordingly proceeded in a default setting. The Court held a liability hearing on November 16 and 17, 2016. In a previous Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court determined that Plaintiffs had established their claims by evidence satisfactory to the Court, and accordingly granted default judgment against Defendants as to liability. The Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in that Memorandum Opinion and Order are incorporated into this Memorandum Opinion as though stated in full. The Court referred the issue of damages to a Special Master.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court will now grant Plaintiffs default judgment in this case in full. It will affirm and adopt the Special Master's findings and recommendations on damages, with the exception of his recommended award to Virginia Foley. Mrs. Foley's award will be increased.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on April 8, 2011. Compl., ECF No. 1. An Amended Complaint was filed on September 13, 2011. Am. Compl., ECF No. 11. Plaintiffs then struggled for years to effectuate service because of the civil war in Syria and the attendant breakdown in diplomatic relations between that country and the United States. On the Court's order, between November 2011 and February 2015 Plaintiffs filed a series of status reports updating the Court on their efforts to effectuate service on Defendants. ECF Nos. 20-38, 44. On April 23, 2015, Plaintiffs moved this Court for an order that service had been completed under 28 U.S.C. § 1603(a)(3). ECF No. 48. Defendant Syrian Arab Republic filed an opposition to this Motion, the only pleading filed by any Defendant in this matter. ECF No. 49. On January 21, 2016, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion. ECF No. 51 at 11. The Court found that Plaintiffs had accomplished service and ordered the Clerk of the Court to enter a default as to each Defendant pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Id. The Clerk of the Court entered default on January 22, 2016. ECF No. 52.

         The Court held a liability hearing on November 16 and 17, 2016, at which Plaintiffs offered documentary, photographic and video evidence, and presented the testimony of fact and expert witnesses. This hearing was limited to Defendants' liability-Plaintiffs were not required to present evidence of damages. At the close of the hearing Plaintiffs filed Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. ECF No. 71.

         In a previous Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment against each Defendant as to liability. ECF Nos. 75, 76. The Court then appointed Alan Balaran as a Special Master to administer damages proceedings. ECF No. 75 at 1. The Court ordered Mr. Balaran to file a damages report for each Plaintiff. Id. at 2. The Court further ordered that any party could file an objection to Mr. Balaran's reports within 21 days of the filing on the public docket. Id. The Court further ordered that failure to meet this deadline would result in permanent waiver of objections to Mr. Balaran's findings, and that absent objection, Mr. Balaran's findings, reports and recommendations would be deemed approved, accepted and ordered by the Court, unless the Court provided otherwise. Id.

         Special Master Balaran reviewed the record in this case upon which the Court based its liability findings, and also received additional evidence. On October 6, 2017, Special Master Balaran filed three reports: one regarding the death of Laurence Michael Foley, Sr., one regarding the death of Staff Sergeant Keith Matthew Maupin, and one regarding the death of Private First Class Kristian Menchaca. ECF Nos. 81, 82, 83. The recommendations of the Special Master are summarized below:

Laurence Michael Foley, Sr.: The Special Master recommended that Laurence Fo l e y S r. 's estate receive compensatory damages for pain and suffering in the amount of $1 million and economic damages in the amount of $1, 309, 517. The Special Master also recommended that Virginia Foley be awarded $6, 250, 000 and that Megan Foley, Jeremie Foley Robenolt and Laurence Foley, Jr. each be awarded $3 million in compensatory damages for loss of solatium. The Special Master recommended Plaintiffs not be granted prejudgment interest on their damages awards, and recommended that their damages not be increased to account for inflation.
Staff Sergeant Keith Matthew Maupin: The Special Master recommended that that the estate of Keith Matthew Maupin receive $10 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering and $1, 087, 294 in economic damages. The Special Master also recommended that Carolyn Maupin and Keith Maupin each receive $7 million in compensatory damages for loss of solatium. The Special Master recommended Plaintiffs not be granted prejudgment interest on their damages awards, and recommended that their damages not be increased to account for inflation.
Private First Class Kristian Menchaca: The Special Master recommended that the estate of Kristian Menchaca receive $30 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering and economic damages in the amount $2, 382, 658. The Special Master recommended that Christina Menchaca receive $17 million for loss of solatium, that Maria Vasquez receive $5 million for loss of solatium, that Pedro Menchaca receive $3.5 million for loss of solatium, and that Julio Menchaca receive $ 2.5 million for loss of solatium. The Special Master recommended no loss of solatium damages be granted to Julietta and Kenneth MacKenzie, Kristian's aunt and uncle, or Isaac Murillo, Kristian's “stepson.” Finally, the Special Master recommended Plaintiffs not be granted prejudgment interest on their damages awards, and recommended that their damages not be increased to account for inflation.

         Plaintiffs filed timely objections to Special Master Balaran's reports. Plaintiffs objected that the Special Master erred in the following ways:

• Departing without explanation from the most relevant precedent regarding a damage award for an individual tortured to death by AQI, which is Gates v. Syrian Arab ...

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