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Friends of Mayanot Institute, Inc. v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 1, 2018



          Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge

         From July 12, 2006, through August 14, 2006, the Hezbollah terrorist organization perpetrated a prolonged attack (“2006 attack”) along the border between Israel and Lebanon, firing thousands of rockets and missiles at civilian targets in northern Israel. Plaintiff Friends of Mayanot Institute, Inc. (“Plaintiff” or “Mayanot”)-a New York non-profit corporation that operates educational, experiential learning, and leadership training programs in Israel-claims that it suffered economic losses as a result of the 2006 attack. It brings this action against the Islamic Republic of Iran under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602 et seq., asserting that Iran's material support of Hezbollah in furtherance of the 2006 attack renders Iran liable for the resulting economic losses it suffered.

         Iran has never entered an appearance in this action, and upon Plaintiff's request, the Clerk of Court entered default against Iran on May 17, 2017. Plaintiff subsequently moved for entry of default judgment against Iran as to liability, additionally requesting that the court appoint a Special Master to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to Plaintiff pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(e). For the reasons stated below, the court denies without prejudice Plaintiff's motion for default judgment on liability.


         The court begins by making factual findings regarding the 2006 attack-including Iran's involvement-as well as the financial status of Plaintiff Mayanot's business in Israel before and after the attack. To do so, the court draws upon the allegations contained in Plaintiff's complaint and motion for entry of default judgment, which rely extensively upon the findings of other judges in this District Court in other related matters and on United States government official reports.

         Additionally, the court takes judicial notice of the underlying evidentiary record in Kaplan v. Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 55 F.Supp.3d 189 (D.D.C. 2014), in making its findings of fact in this case.[1] In Kaplan, a number of American nationals-injured survivors and family members of victims of the 2006 attack-filed suit in this District Court under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the FSIA, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, asserting that North Korea and Iran were liable for injuries caused by the 2006 attack because they provided material support and resources to Hezbollah. See Kaplan, 55 F.Supp.3d at 197. Presiding over the case, Judge Lamberth conducted a hearing to determine the liability of North Korea and Iran for the 2006 attack, receiving evidence and testimony from a number of expert witnesses. See Id. at 192-98. Based on that record, the court made extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law in finding North Korea and Iran liable under 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c). See generally Kaplan, 55 F.Supp.3d 189. In taking judicial notice of the proceedings in Kaplan, this court is mindful that it must not “simply adopt previous factual findings without scrutiny” and must “reach [its] own, independent findings of fact” in the case at hand. Worley v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 75 F.Supp.3d 311, 319- 20 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Opati v. Republic of Sudan, 60 F.Supp.3d 68, 73-74 (D.D.C. 2014)).

         A. Hezbollah and the July-August 2006 Attack

         Hezbollah-Arabic for “Party of God”-is a radical Shi'ite Islamic group founded in Lebanon “under the auspices of the government of Iran.” Peterson v. Republic of Iran, 264 F.Supp.2d 46, 51 (D.D.C. 2003); see Pl.'s Mot. to Take Judicial Notice & for Entry of Default J., ECF No. 18 [hereinafter Pl.'s Mot.], Ex. C, ECF No. 18-3 [hereinafter Podoler Decl.] ¶¶ 26-27. Hezbollah is opposed to the United States and the state of Israel, and has been designated a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the U.S. Department of State since 1997. See Designation of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, 62 Fed. Reg. 52, 650 (Oct. 8, 1997); Kaplan, 55 F.Supp.3d at 193. Hezbollah historically has engaged in acts of terror against Israeli and U.S. targets, and carried out the July-August 2006 attack at issue in this case. See Kaplan, 55 F.Supp.3d at 193; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. A, ECF No. 18-1 [hereinafter Rubin Decl.], at 8-11; Suppl. Decl., ECF No. 21, Ex. B, ECF No. 21-2 [hereinafter Kaplan Hr'g Tr.], at 10-11 (testimony of Dr. Podoler explaining that he “can't point to any other group, militant or other” other than Hezbollah “that could have launched such a prolonged and heavy attack”); Kaplan Hr'g Tr. at 30-31 (testimony of Dr. Bechtol explaining that “[Hezbollah] told the world that they were responsible for attacking . . . Israeli civilians and military facilities in 2006”).

         Beginning on July 12, 2006 and continuing until August 14, 2006, Hezbollah engaged in a prolonged attack across the Lebanese border into northern Israel, firing thousands of missiles and rockets on Israel's northern civilian communities. Rubin Decl. ¶¶ 27-28. Hezbollah simultaneously engaged in a ground infiltration of Israel's northern border. Podoler Decl. ¶ 7. Forty-three civilians were killed as a result of Hezbollah rocket fire during the attack, and 4, 262 civilians were injured. Rubin Decl. ¶ 29.

         B. Iran's Support of Hezbollah

         Judges of this District Court have held that Iran supports Hezbollah. See, e.g., Stern v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 271 F.Supp.2d 286, 292 (D.D.C. 2003) (“[Hezbollah] is an Iranian proxy organization, controlled, funded and operated by Iran.”); Peterson, 264 F.Supp.2d at 53 (“It is clear that the formation and emergence of Hezbollah as a major terrorist organization is due to the government of Iran. Hezbollah presently receives extensive financial and military technical support from Iran, which funds and supports terrorist activities.”). Dr. Podoler characterized Iran as Hezbollah's “closest ally, providing it with political, economic[], and military assistance” since its founding, Podoler Decl. ¶ 27, and Dr. Bechtol testified at the Kaplan hearing that there is “[no] other way to describe” the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah other than that “Hezbollah is a project of Iran, ” Kaplan Hr'g Tr. at 29.

         The court finds that Iran's historical support of Hezbollah and its terrorist acts includes material support and the provision of resources to Hezbollah in support of its commission of the 2006 attack. See Kaplan, 55 F.Supp.3d at 197. Specifically, Iran provided financial support and weapons, as well as weapons training, to Hezbollah prior to the attack. During the Kaplan hearing, Dr. Bechtol explained that “[t]his whole thing”-the 2006 attack-“was financed by Iran.” Kaplan Hr'g Tr. at 28. According to Dr. Podoler, “[o]n the eve of the [rocket attacks] ¶ 2006, Iran's status in Lebanon was particularly strong”: at that time, Iran provided training to Hezbollah fighters; delivered Iranian missiles, firing systems, and launching equipment to Hezbollah; and assisted in the identification of targets and firing the weapons provided. Podoler Decl. ¶ 28. Evidence introduced during the Kaplan hearing also establishes that Iran worked in concert with North Korea and Syria to provide the rocket and missile components that Hezbollah used in the 2006 attack. See generally Kaplan Hr'g Tr. Specifically, North Korea, as Iran's “key supplier of arms, ” sent rocket and missile components to Iran to be assembled and then shipped to Hezbollah through Syria. Id. at 29-30. Iran also secured the assistance of North Korean instructors who cooperated with Iranian engineers to construct a sophisticated underground tunnel network in southern Lebanon to move Hezbollah fighters during the 2006 attack. Podoler Decl. ¶¶ 30-31. The underground tunnel network enabled Hezbollah to “hide the troops from being hit by Israeli retaliations” during the 2006 attack and also likely served as a hiding place for Hezbollah's stockpile of missiles and rockets. Kaplan Hr'g Tr. at 18, 27.

         In light of this evidence, the court finds that Iran provided material support and resources to Hezbollah in carrying out the 2006 attack at issue here.

         C. Plaintiff Mayanot

         For nearly twenty years Mayanot has operated educational, experiential learning, and leadership training programs in Israel. Pl.'s Mot., Ex. D, ECF No. 18-4 [hereinafter Shemtov Decl.], ¶ 3. Specifically, Mayanot operates a religious academy, or yeshiva, for men; a women's study program; a summer study program; and heritage travel programs in conjunction with Birthright Israel, an American organization that sponsors trips to Israel for young Jewish men and women. Id. ¶ 4. After the 2006 Hezbollah attack, enrollment and participation in Mayanot's programs declined. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. For example, prior to the 2006 attack, the Mayanot yeshiva had 80 full-time students enrolled; by the end of the attack, enrollment in the yeshiva declined to fewer than 20 students. Id. ¶¶ 9-12. Mayanot was forced to cancel its 2006 summer study program due to withdrawals and cancellations by enrolled participants. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Additionally, although in a typical year Mayanot conducts Birthright Israel heritage trips in Israel for approximately 3, 200 individuals, participation in Mayanot's Birthright travel programs in 2006 declined 50%, to approximately 1, 600 individuals. Id. ¶¶ 14-19.

         II. ...

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