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Goldstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 4, 2018

SHALOM GOLDSTEIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Shalom Goldstein is one of some 130 people who were either killed or injured in a Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem in August 2003. Goldstein survived and brings this suit for assault and battery and, along with his relatives, emotional distress. Plaintiffs name as defendants the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security, and the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, all of which (plaintiffs say) sponsored the Hamas organization and enabled the bus bombing to occur.[1] Defendants did not appear in the action, and plaintiffs have moved the Court to (1) take judicial notice of the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in a related case, Cohen v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 238 F.Supp.3d 71 (D.D.C. 2017), involving the same August 2003 terrorist attack and essentially identical legal claims; (2) adopt Cohen's findings of fact and conclusions of law in this case; (3) enter default judgment against the defendants on the issue of liability; and (4) appoint a Special Master to conduct a damages proceeding. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant each of plaintiffs' requests.

         I. Background

         The facts of the 2003 attack, and the allegations related to Iran's support of Hamas, are recounted exhaustively in this Court's opinion in the Cohen case. 238 F.Supp.3d at 75-79. Because the Court will ultimately adopt those factual findings, the Court will only briefly summarize them here, in addition to highlighting those facts specific to Mr. Goldstein's claims.

         On August 19, 2003, Shalom Goldstein was riding in the Number 2 Egged Bus in Jerusalem, Israel. Compl. ¶ 58. When the bus passed through the Shmuel Ha-Navi neighborhood, a man named Ra'ad Misk boarded the bus and denotated an explosive belt strapped to his body. Id. ¶ 60. The explosion killed 23 people and wounded over 130, including Goldstein. Id. ¶ 61. Goldstein suffered lacerations and bruises to his body, face, and eyes, experienced shock, and has been rendered largely deaf. Id. ¶ 62; Declaration of Shalom Goldstein (“Shalom Decl.”) ¶¶ 4, 6, 7-9.

         Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Id. ¶¶ 66-67. Hamas, short for Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya or the “Islamic Resistance Movement, ” is a group dedicated to the destruction to the state of Israel. Id. ¶¶ 33-36. Goldstein alleges that Iran, through its Ministry of Information and Security and Revolutionary Guard Corps, has long been a state sponsor of Hamas. Id. ¶¶ 44-53. As a consequence, he alleges that it is liable for his injuries. Id. ¶ 68.

         Goldstein filed suit against the Iran defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that allows suit against state sponsors of terror. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for assault and battery and emotional distress. Id. ¶¶ 69-90. Goldstein is joined by assorted relatives, who all sue for loss of society and emotional distress stemming from the same episode. Id. ¶¶ 12-26. Goldstein properly served the defendants, but the defendants failed to file an answer or otherwise appear in the case; Goldstein moves the Court to take judicial notice of its previous findings of fact and conclusions of law in the Cohen case and to grant default judgment. Plaintiff's Motion to Take Judicial Notice and for Default Judgment (“Mot. Default Judgment”). These motions are now ripe for the Court's resolution.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Judicial Notice

         Federal Rule of Evidence 201(b) permits courts to take judicial notice of facts “not subject to reasonable dispute” that are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” “A court may take judicial notice of, and give effect to, its own records in another but interrelated proceeding[.]” Opati v. Republic of Sudan, 60 F.Supp.3d 68, 73-74 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Booth v. Fletcher, 101 F.2d 676, 679 n.2 (D.C. Cir. 1938)); see also 29 Am.Jur.2d Evidence § 151 (2010). Given the large number of victims in terrorist attacks, and the flood of cases that they generate, courts regularly take judicial notice of the record in related cases in the FSIA context. See, e.g., Rimkus v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 750 F.Supp.2d 163, 171 (D.D.C. 2010) (collecting cases).

         B. Default Judgment

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2), the Court may consider entering a default judgment when a party applies for that relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). “[S]trong policies favor resolution of disputes on their merits, ” and therefore, “default judgment must normally be viewed as available only when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party.” Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (quoting H.F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970)).

         Under FSIA, “entry of a default judgment is not automatic.” Braun v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 228 F.Supp.3d 64, 74, 2017 WL 79937, at *4 (D.D.C. Jan. 9, 2017) (internal citation omitted). First, the Court must still consider whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over the action, James Madison Ltd. by Hecht v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1092 (D.C. Cir. 1996), and whether it has personal jurisdiction over the defendants, Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 6-7 (2005). And even then, a claimant must “establish[ ] his claim or right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). “The Court, therefore, may not simply accept a complaint's unsupported allegations as true . . . but may rely upon uncontroverted factual allegations that are supported by affidavits.” Worley v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 75 F.Supp.3d 311, 319 (D.D.C. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. ...


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