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Relvas v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 27, 2018

JOHN RELVAS, et al., Plaintiffs,



         I. LIABILITY

         This civil action was filed under 28 U.S.C. § 1605A and arises out of the bombing of the United States Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. Foley v. Islamic Republic of franco. 14-CV-01752-RCL(D.D.C2014). ECFNo. 1 (Complaint). The nearly 80 plaintiffs in this action include servicemen killed or injured in the terrorist attack, their estates, and family members. Defendants were served through diplomatic channels on May 17, 2016. ECF No. 38. Prompted by defendants' failure to answer, and upon affidavit by plaintiffs' counsel, the clerk of court entered a default against defendants on July 21, 2016. ECF Nos. 39 and 40. On July 27, 2016, plaintiffs' counsel filed a motion for default judgment, asking this Court "to take notice of the liability decisions entered in the related cases of Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran (Peterson 7), 264 F.Supp.2d. 46 (D.D.C. 2003) and Fain v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 856 F.Supp.2d 109 (D.D.C. 2012)." ECF No. 41. That same day, plaintiffs' counsel moved for the appointment of a special master. ECF No. 42. This Court granted both motions on October 25, 2016. ECF No. 45.

         II. DAMAGES

         Damages available under the FSIA-created cause of action "include economic damages, solatium, pain and suffering, and punitive damages." 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c). Survivors may recover damages for their pain and suffering; estates of the deceased may recover economic losses stemming from wrongful death to the victims of terrorism; family members may recover solatium for their emotional injury; and all plaintiffs may recover punitive damages. Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 700 F.Supp.2d 52, 82-83 (D.D.C. 2010).

         Under the FSIA, a "default winner must prove damages in the same manner and to the same extent as any other default winner." Hill v. Republic of Iraq, 328 F.3d 680, 683 (D.C. Cir. 2003). A 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."' Salazar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 370 F.Supp.2d 105, 115-16 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Hill, 328 F.3d at 681 (internal quotations omitted)). Plaintiffs in this action have amply demonstrated that defendants' commission of acts of extrajudicial killing and provision of material support and resources for such killing were reasonably certain to - and indeed intended to - cause injury to plaintiffs. Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran (Peterson II), 515 F.Supp.2d 25, 37 (D.D.C. 2007).

         Apropos of damage awards, the Court has received and reviewed the recommendations of the special master and hereby ADOPTS, without discussion, all facts found by and recommendations made by the special master which conform to the well-established damages frameworks articulated below. See Peterson II, at 52-53; Valore, 700 F.Supp.2d at 84-87. The Court will, however, discuss those instances where the special master has recommended awards that deviate from these frameworks.

         A. Pain and Suffering

         Assessing appropriate damages for physical injury or mental disability depends upon a myriad of factors. Where "death was instantaneous there can be no recovery" Elahi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 124 F.Supp.2d 97, 112 (D.D.C. 2000) (citation omitted). See also Thuneibat v. Syrian Arab Republic, 167 F.Supp.3d 22, 39 n.4 (D.D.C. 2016) (where plaintiffs "submit[] no evidence ... showing that either of the [v]ictims suffered any pain and suffering prior to their deaths in the suicide bombings, " damages must be denied). Victims who survived a few minutes to a few hours after the bombing typically receive an award of $1 million. Elahi, 124F.Supp.2d at 113.

         For victims surviving for a longer period of time, this Court considers "the severity of the pain immediately following the injury, the length of hospitalization, and the extent of the impairment that will remain with the victim for the rest of his or her life." Peterson II, 515 F.Supp.2d at 52 n. 26 (citing 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 damages that begins with the baseline assumption that persons suffering substantial injuries in terrorist attacks are entitled to $5 million in compensatory damages. Id. at 54. This approach is not rigidly applied, however, and this Court has indicated it will "depart upward from this baseline to $7-$ 12 million in more severe instances of physical and psychological pain, such as where victims suffered relatively more numerous and severe injuries, were rendered quadriplegic, partially lost vision and hearing, or were mistaken for dead, " Valore, 700 F.Supp.2d at 84, and will "depart downward to $2-$3 million where victims suffered only minor shrapnel injuries or minor injury from small-arms fire." O'Brien v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 853 F.Supp.2d 44, 47 (D.D.C. 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         For servicemen suffering emotional, but no physical injury, this Court has adopted a general framework for the calculation of pain and suffering damages whereby they are "typically awarded $1.5 million." Worley v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 177 F.3d 283, 286 (D.D.C. 2016). See also Davis v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 882 F.Supp.2d 7 (D.D.C. 2012) (awarding $1.5 million in damages to Marine stationed aboard USS Iwo Jima at time of attack but participated in recovery efforts and suffered from PTSD). See also Peterson, 515 F.Supp.2d at 56; Valore, 700 F.Supp.2d at 84.

         The following represent instances where the special master's recommended awards for pain and suffering damages do not comport with the frameworks articulated above.

         1. Upwa ...

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