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Fritz v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 20, 2018

NOALA FRITZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Following the submission of the special master's report and recommendations regarding damages, Dkt. 90, Plaintiffs have now moved for the Court to approve the special master's damages award and to enter partial final judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) with regard to the U.S.-national plaintiffs. For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the damages recommendations provided by the special master, subject to the modifications discussed below. In addition, the Court awards punitive damages in favor of Al-Taie's estate and U.S.-national family members. Finally, the Court concludes that there is no just reason to delay entry of final judgment with regard to the U.S.-national plaintiffs and will, accordingly, enter partial final judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In January 2007, First Lieutenant Jacob Fritz, Specialist Johnathan Bryan Chism, and Private First Class Shawn Falter were abducted from the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, Iraq, and, shortly thereafter, murdered by their captors. In October 2006, Staff Sergeant Ahmed Al-Taie was abducted while in Baghdad, held hostage, and ultimately murdered. Plaintiffs, the estates and family members of the four direct victims, brought this action against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (collectively, “Iran”), alleging that the terrorist organization that carried out these brutal acts, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (“AAH”), could not have done so without material support from Iran. To establish subject matter jurisdiction, Plaintiffs invoked the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”). 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(a). Plaintiffs-all except one of whom are U.S. nationals-relied on another provision in the statute, § 1605A(c), to supply a federal cause of action, alleging that Iran provided “material support” to AAH, which in turn engaged in acts of extrajudicial killing, hostage taking, and torture. 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c).

         On August 2, 2018, this Court made findings of fact and conclusions of law relating to these claims. In summary, the Court concluded that (1) Iran provided AAH with “significant support-in the form of training, supplies, intelligence, and funding-as part of its larger strategy to destabilize Iraq and [to] drive the United States from the Middle East, ” Dkt. 89 at 6 (Memorandum Opinion); (2) AAH “took Fritz, Chism, and Falter hostage, and brutally beat and murdered them, ” id.; (3) “AAH held Al-Taie hostage, brutally beat and murdered him, ” id. at 7; and (4) AAH could “not have committed any of these acts without Iran's support, ” id. at 8. The Court further concluded that Iran's role in these events was sufficient to support the Court's subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(a). See Id. at 39. However, because the FSIA's cause of action, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c), applies only to “a national of the United States, ” “a member of the armed forces, ” “an employee [or contractor] of the [U.S.] Government . . . acting within the scope of the employee's employment, ” or “the legal representative of ” any such person, the Court found that only the U.S.-national plaintiffs had established their right to relief under the FSIA. See Dkt. 89 at 56. The Court, accordingly, granted Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment against Iran with respect to the U.S. nationals, but the motion denied without prejudice with respect to the claims of Bashar Al-Taie, concluding that he had yet to establish his right to relief under D.C. law. Id. at 58.

         Having granted Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment against Iran with regard to liability, the Court referred the case to a special master, Deborah Greenspan, to prepare proposed findings of fact and recommendations for damages. See Dkt. 88 (Order Appointing Special Master). The special master has now filed her report. See Dkt. 90 (Special Master Report). In compiling her report and drafting her recommendations, the special master relied on sworn testimony, video depositions, medical records and autopsies, and expert reports, all of which have been filed with this Court. See Dkt. 69-83. The report lays out the effects that the abductions and murders of the four servicemen have had on the family members of the direct victims, and carefully analyzes these effects under the applicable framework for state-sponsored terrorism cases. The Court thanks the special master for her thorough and thoughtful analysis, which she completed on an expedited schedule.

         Plaintiffs now request that the Court approve the special master's proposed damage awards and enter partial final judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) with regard to the U.S.-national plaintiffs. As explained below, the Court adopts the proposed findings and recommendations of the special master, subject to the modifications discussed below. In addition, the Court will award punitive damages to the estate of Staff Sergeant Ahmed Al-Taie and his U.S.-national family members. In total, the Court awards the U.S.-national plaintiffs $193, 044, 753 in compensatory damages and awards the estate and family of Staff Sergeant Al-Taie $55, 903, 936 in punitive damages.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In its prior Memorandum Opinion, the Court concluded that the U.S.-national plaintiffs had “demonstrat[ed] that they are entitled to relief under § 1605A(c).” Dkt. 89 at 58. The only remaining questions, therefore, are what type of damages Plaintiffs are entitled to recover and in what amounts. Below, the Court resolves common questions regarding the award of damages. The damages awarded to each individual plaintiff are listed in the separate Order that accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

         A. Damages

         Having reviewed the special master's damages calculation, the Court concludes the following: (1) the estates of the direct victims are entitled to economic damages; (2) all of the U.S.-national plaintiffs are entitled to non-economic damages for of pain and suffering and/or solatium; (3) an award of prejudgment interest is appropriate for both economic and non-economic damages, and; (4) the estate and U.S.-national family members of Staff Sergeant Al-Taie are entitled to punitive damages for Iran's conduct that post-dates the enactment of the FSIA's cause of action in 2008. See 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c).

         1. Economic Damages

         As other district courts have noted, “[s]ection 1605A explicitly provides that foreign state-sponsors of terrorism are liable to victims for economic losses stemming from injuries or death sustained as a result of the foreign state's conduct.” Thuneibat v. Syrian Arab Republic, 167 F.Supp.3d 22, 48 (D.D.C. 2016) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c)). Traditionally, plaintiffs may prove economic losses by the submission of a forensic economist's expert report. See Roth v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 78 F.Supp.3d 379, 402 (D.D.C. 2015); Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 700 F.Supp.2d 52, 83 (D.D.C. 2010). When evaluating an expert's report, the Court must consider the “reasonableness and foundation of the assumptions relied upon by the expert.” Roth, 78 F.Supp.3d at 402 (citing Reed v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 845 F.Supp.2d 204, 214 (D.D.C. 2012)).

         Plaintiffs have submitted expert economic loss reports for each of the direct victims, prepared by Dr. James Markham, a senior economist at the Center for Forensic Economic Studies (“CFES”), and Chad Staller, President and Senior Economist at CFES. See Dkt. 71-10 (economic loss report for Jacob Fritz); Dkt. 74-9 (economic loss report for Bryan Chism); Dkt. 77-17 (economic loss report for Shawn Falter); Dkt. 80-10 (economic loss report for Ahmed Al-Taie). The special master notes that “Dr. Markham's and Mr. Staller's experience and expertise in the field of forensic economics are well-documented, ” Dkt. 90 at 33, and that both “have testified as experts in state and federal courts nationwide, ” including this Court. See, e.g., Roth, 78 F.Supp.3d at 404-05; Osongo v. Republic of Sudan, 60 F.Supp.3d 144, 149 (D.D.C. 2014), aff'd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds sub nom Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 864 F.3d 751 (D.C. Cir. 2017)). After finding that the CFES calculations were “reasonable, ” “consistent with generally accepted practices, ” and “appl[ied] appropriate assumptions based on reasonable and well-documented sources, ” the special master recommends that the Court adopt their proposed economic loss calculations, including their proposal ...


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