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Kinyua v. Republic of Sudan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 17, 2018

GEOFFREY GITHUI KINYUA, et al., Plaintiffs,
REPUBLIC OF THE SUDAN, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is [38] plaintiffs' motion to alter the judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) or relieve them from judgment under Rule 60(b). For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court will assume familiarity with the facts of this case as set out in its prior opinions. See Mar. 30, 2018 Mem. Op. [ECF No. 34]; Mar. 24, 2016 Mem. Op. [ECF No. 28].[1] Plaintiffs are family members of Moses Kinyua, who was injured in al Qaeda's bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya in 1998. They filed a lawsuit sixteen years later, alleging that Sudan and Iran were liable for their emotional distress and other injuries under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). Compl. [ECF No. 1] at 2. Sudan challenged plaintiffs' claims as untimely and, on March 24, 2016, the Court dismissed plaintiffs' claims against the Sudanese defendants as outside the FSIA's statute of limitations. See Mar. 24, 2016 Order [ECF No. 29]. Iran, on the other hand, never appeared in the case, as is its custom in FSIA cases. Because plaintiffs had not briefed the statute of limitations issue as applied to Iran, the Court did not immediately dismiss the claims against the Iranian defendants, but rather ordered plaintiffs to show cause why those claims should not likewise be dismissed. Id. Plaintiffs filed a supplemental brief providing several reasons why they believed the statute of limitations should not bar their claims against the Iranian defendants. See Pls.' Supp. Br. [ECF No. 31] at 2-6.

         As the Court examined the issue, however, Sudan appealed the Court's judgment holding Sudan liable for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in several other FSIA cases. The Court therefore decided neither to dismiss the claims against Iran nor to grant a default judgment, but rather to stay the case until that appeal-which raised legal questions relevant to the disposition of this case-was resolved. See Apr. 27, 2016 Order [ECF No. 32] at 1-2. The D.C. Circuit issued its opinion in the Owens appeal in July 2017. See Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 864 F.3d 751 (D.C. Cir. 2017). The Court ultimately un-stayed this case and denied plaintiffs' motion for a default judgment against the Iranian defendants. See Mar. 30, 2018 Order [ECF No. 33]; Mar. 30, 2018 Mem. Op. at 14. Plaintiffs then timely filed the instant motion to alter the judgment or relieve them from judgment under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b). See Mot. to Alter J. [ECF No. 38]; Statement of P. & A. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot. (“P. & A.”) [ECF No. 38-1].


         Rule 59(e) allows a party to file “[a] motion to alter or amend a judgment . . . no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). This rule “may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 486 n.5 (2008) (citation omitted). Therefore, Rule 59(e) motions may be granted “under three circumstances only: (1) if there is an ‘intervening change of controlling law'; (2) if new evidence becomes available; or (3) if the judgment should be amended in order to ‘correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.'” Leidos, Inc. v. Hellenic Republic, 881 F.3d 213, 217 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). “Although the court has considerable discretion in ruling on a Rule 59(e) motion, the reconsideration or amendment of a judgment is nonetheless an extraordinary measure.” Id.

         Under Rule 60(b), “the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding” for several reasons, among them “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)-(b)(1). The rule “was intended to preserve the delicate balance between the sanctity of final judgments and the incessant command of the court's conscience that justice be done in light of all the facts. It cannot be employed simply to rescue a litigant from strategic choices that later turn out to be improvident.” Smalls v. United States, 471 F.3d 186, 191 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citation and alterations omitted). Therefore, like Rule 59(e), Rule 60(b) “does not afford [a litigant] an opportunity to retry her case.” Greer v. Paulson, 505 F.3d 1306, 1317 (D.C. Cir. 2007). In particular, “relief for excusable neglect ‘is rare' as ‘such motions allow district courts to correct only limited types of substantive errors.'” Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 864 F.3d at 818 (citation omitted). As under Rule 59(e), motions under Rule 60(b) are committed to the broad discretion of the Court. See id.

         “As the moving part[ies], [plaintiffs have] the burden of demonstrating that relief under either of these Rules is warranted.” Kittner v. Gates, 783 F.Supp.2d 170, 172 (D.D.C. 2011).


         Among the cases considered in the consolidated Owens action were Wamai v. Republic of Sudan and Opati v. Republic of Sudan. In their reconsideration motion, plaintiffs claim that they “actively tried to be involved in the timely Wamai and Opati cases involving fellow family members, believed they were covered by the timely Wamai and Opati cases, and diligently sought assistance of counsel when they learned they were not included.” P. & A. at 5. Plaintiffs therefore ask the Court either to alter the judgment under Rule 59(e) or to vacate the judgment under Rule 60(b). The Court examines these requests in turn.

         1. Alteration Under Rule 59(e)

         Plaintiffs first contend that the Court should alter its judgment under Rule 59(e) because “a manifest injustice would result if the Court's sua sponte raising of the statute of limitations stands.” Id. The Court should not invoke the statute of limitations, plaintiffs assert, since they filed their suit late only because they mistakenly believed they had been involved in earlier, timely actions, and they did not realize their error until a list of successful claimants from those suits was published in 2014. See id. However, “Rule 59(e) motions are aimed at reconsideration, not initial consideration.” GSS Grp., Ltd. v. Nat'l Port Auth., 680 F.3d 805, 812 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). “Accordingly, a ‘Rule 59(e) motion may not be used to . . . raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.'” Id. (citation omitted).

         As plaintiffs themselves acknowledge, the facts they now raise to support their motion “were not before the Court when the Court rendered its decision.” P. & A. at 4. Plaintiffs do not give any reason why they could not have provided the Court with this information earlier. Indeed, the Court invited just such an argument as plaintiffs now make when it gave them the “opportunity” to “review the Court's analysis” on the statute of limitations in its March 2016 opinion “and to raise any argument” as to why the claims against Iran should not be dismissed. Mar. 24, 2016 Mem. Op. at 15. In response, plaintiffs raised four arguments for maintaining its claims against Iran: (1) that it would be an abuse of discretion to invoke the statute of limitations when Iran has deliberately not raised the issue; (2) that it is not “readily apparent” that plaintiffs' claims are untimely, because their case may have been filed within sixty days of a timely related action; (3) that the equities weigh against raising timeliness on Iran's behalf; and (4) that the FSIA does not require dismissal of plaintiffs' claims. See Pls.' Supp. Br. at 2-6. ...

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