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Warmbier v. Democratic People's Republic of Korea

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 24, 2018

CYNTHIA WARMBIER, et al., Plaintiffs,



         “What the heck did you do to my kid?”[1] This is the anguished question voiced by the mother of Otto Warmbier when, after detaining the young man for over 17 months, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (“North Korea”) returned Otto's comatose body to the United States.[2] Before Otto traveled with a tour group on a five-day trip to North Korea, he was a healthy, athletic student of economics and business in his junior year at the University of Virginia, with “big dreams” and both the smarts and people skills to make him his high school class salutatorian, homecoming king, and prom king. Decl. of Cynthia Warmbier (“C. W. Decl.”) ¶¶ 11-16, ECF No. 16-2; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 50-51 (Austin Warmbier (“A. W.”)); id. at 58 (C. W.). He was blind, deaf, and brain dead when North Korea turned him over to U.S. government officials for his final trip home. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 31, 36 (Frederick Warmbier (“F. W.”)). Otto died within a week of his return. Decl. of Dr. Daniel Kanter (“Kanter Decl.”) ¶ 20, ECF No. 16-4.

         A deeply knowledgeable expert from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University describes North Korea as “unique” in the world today: North Korea is the “most advanced, most perfected totalitarian state in world history, ” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 105, 110 (Expert Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee), and has “perfected its means of terrorizing” both its own people and others, id. at 111. The dictator who leads North Korea, and his cronies, “show[] no regard for human life, ” id. at 127, creating, for example, a “manmade . . . famine” in the late 1990s that killed “upwards of 2 million people, ” id., and maintaining “political prisoner concentration camps, ” id. at 110, such that “North Korean escapees” tell “a consistent story” of “a life of extreme deprivation and repression, ” id. at 111. Moreover, North Korea is “unprecedented” in its state sponsorship of “elicit activities, like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counterfeiting U.S. dollars, [and] the production and sale of drugs like opium, heroin, and meth[amphetamines].” Id. at 106. Indeed, North Korea is the world's “leading” and “best qualified candidate for indictment” at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Id. at 122. An American family, the Warmbiers, experienced North Korea's brutality first-hand when North Korea seized their son to use as a pawn in that totalitarian state's global shenanigans and face-off with the United States. As Otto's mother said, “there's evil in this world, ” id. at 82 (C. W.), and “[i]t's North Korea, ” id.

         Having been compelled to keep silent during Otto's detention in North Korea in an effort to protect his safety, Otto's parents have since promised to “stand up” and hold North Korea accountable for its “evil” actions against their son. Id. at 58-60 (C. W.). To that end, Otto's parents, Cynthia (“Cindy”) and Frederick (“Fred”) Warmbier, initiated this action individually and as personal representatives of Otto's estate, seeking damages under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1602, et seq., against North Korea for its torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto. Compl. ¶¶ 1-5, ECF No. 1. North Korea never entered an appearance in, or defended against, this action, and the plaintiffs now move for default judgment for the damage caused by North Korea to Otto and his parents. For the reasons discussed below, default judgment is granted and Otto and his parents are awarded damages totaling $501, 134, 683.80.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual background surrounding Otto's detention in North Korea is summarized below, followed by an overview of the procedural history of this case. The factual background is based upon the detailed declarations submitted by the plaintiffs in support of their motion for default judgment, as well as exhibits and testimony presented at an evidentiary hearing held on December 19, 2018.[3]

         A. Otto Warmbier's Detention in North Korea

         Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, with a curiosity to learn more about the world through travel, took a five-day trip to North Korea, between December 29, 2015 and January 2, 2016, in advance of a study abroad program in China. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 13-15 (F. W.); id. at 59 (C. W.); C. W. Decl. ¶¶ 15-16. Otto had an “open mind” and “wanted to explore, ” and he viewed the trip to North Korea as an opportunity to experience a different culture and way of life. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 59, 64-65 (C. W.); C. W. Decl. ¶ 15. Although Otto's parents were “nervous” about Otto's trip, a University of Virginia professor advised Otto that travel to North Korea was safe with certain tour groups, and the website for the operator of Otto's tour group, Young Pioneer Tours, attested to the safety of their guided trips into North Korea. Decl. of Frederick Warmbier ¶ 5 (“F. W. Decl.”), ECF No. 16-1; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 14 (F. W.).

         On January 2, 2016, Otto's scheduled departure date from North Korea, Fred and Cindy expected Otto to call them when he arrived in China, but that call never came. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 14-15 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 5. The next morning, the tour company explained that Otto missed his flight because North Korean officials took him out of the security line at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, and he could not leave North Korea with the rest of his tour group. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 15 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 5; C.W Decl. ¶ 16. The tour company reassured Otto's parents that “everything was fine, ” adding that the president of the tour company stayed with Otto and he would be “on the next flight out.” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 15-16 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 5. Over “the next day or two, ” the tour company again reassured Otto's parents that “everything was fine, ” and Otto's inability to leave North Korea “was just a misunderstanding.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 6; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 15 (F. W.). Shortly thereafter, however, the tour company said that Otto was sick and had been taken to a hospital, and the president of the tour company left North Korea for China, leaving Otto unaccompanied in North Korea. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 15-16 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 6.

         When Otto was detained, the U.S. State Department advised Fred and Cindy that Otto's detention was part of North Korea's “normal routine” when “they want something, ” and assured them that, “based on history, ” Otto would “be home in six months.” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 17-18 (F. W.). The State Department cautioned the Warmbiers against speaking to media outlets or publicly about Otto's detention because North Korea was “going to want something for Otto, ” and the more the family spoke publicly, “the more it's going to cost.” Id. at 17, 22-24 (F. W.); id. at 65 (C. W.). Otto's parents were also told that, at some point, North Korea would permit Otto to call home, usually late at night, and in a statement dictated by North Korea through Otto would provide a clue as to what North Korea wanted as a condition of his release. Id. at 67 (C. W.).

         Given the repeated cautions against speaking publicly, Otto's parents were “[t]errified, ” “afraid to . . . speak out or discuss” Otto “with anyone, ” including their neighbors and friends. Id. at 16, 23 (F. W.); id. at 72 (C. W.). They had a “sixth sense” that “things were bad for Otto, ” but what transpired was worse than they “could have imagined.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 27. Even Otto's two younger siblings, Austin and Greta Warmbier, and Otto's friends were fearful about speaking publicly due to the possibility that North Korea would punish Otto. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 45 (Greta Warmbier (“G. W.”)); id. at 59-60 (C. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 7. “[S]peaking out against North Korea would antagonize the country and prolong or worsen Otto's detention.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 16. In this way, over the duration of Otto's detention, North Korea “controlled” the “dialogue the whole time.” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 82-83 (C. W.).

         Otto's parents remained in the dark about the reason for Otto's detention in North Korea until three weeks later, on January 22, 2016, F. W. Decl. ¶ 7, when the Korean Central News Agency (“KCNA”), North Korea's state media outlet, Expert Decl. of David Hawk (“Hawk Expert Decl.”) ¶ 11, ECF No. 16-9, released an article stating Otto was “under investigation, ” Decl. of Benjamin L. Hatch (“Hatch Decl.”), Ex. A (KCNA Article titled, “American Arrested for His Hostile Act Against DPRK”), ECF No. 16-1. The article reported that Otto had been “arrested while perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK, ” having entered the country “under the guise of tourist [sic] for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.” Id.

         Then, on February 29, 2016, North Korea televised Otto reciting a prepared “confession” to “severe crimes against” the DPRK, that amounted to Otto allegedly taking down a poster with a political slogan supporting North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-Il, from a hotel's staff-only area, at the behest of a church in Ohio and the CIA. Hatch Decl., Ex. B (Tr. of Otto's “Confession”); Hatch Decl., Ex. C (Video of Otto's “Confession”); see also Expert Decl. of Robert M. Collins (“Collins Expert Decl.”) ¶ 21, ECF No. 16-10. The preposterous “confession” was riddled with “totally bizarre, ” “completely false” statements, F. W. Decl. ¶ 8, and malapropisms tied to North Korean cultural references that would not be used by an American, H'rg Tr. at 123-26 (Expert Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee). In short, the “confession” was plainly coerced and “completely manipulated.” Id. at 18 (F. W.).

         Examples of the many untruths in the purported “confession” include: (1) Otto called his father's company “Finishing Cincinnati Black Oxide, ” but that company, in fact, is called “Finishing Technology, ” F. W. Decl. ¶ 8; (2) Otto said he practiced for his alleged crime by stealing street signs at the University of Virginia and storing the stolen signs under his bed, H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 19 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 8, yet his father never found any such stolen signs, let alone under Otto's bed at Otto's apartment, H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 19 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 8; (3) Otto said he conspired with the Friendship United Methodist Church, which had assets of $42 million, even though Otto had no relationship with that church, was not Methodist, and the church has no such extensive assets, H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 19 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 8; (4) Otto said he agreed to take the poster because he “‘desperately' needed a car” and $200, 000 to fund his two siblings' college tuition, when Otto “had his own car and was never expected or asked to pay for his siblings' tuition, ” F. W. Decl. ¶ 8; and (5) Otto said he conspired with “the Z Society, ” but had no connection to any such organization, id.

         In addition to these false statements in his “confession, ” Otto spoke with “unnatural” language that sounded as if he had “been forced to memorize” the words. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9. Otto, for instance, said “I came to commit this crime task, ” “[t]he United States administration already knows about my act through the CIA, which is closely linked to the Z Society and connived at my crime, ” “[t]his was a very foolish aim, ” “[t]his made an innocent-minded, adventurous young man, like myself, want to show my bravery to improve my reputation and show a Western victory of the DPR Korea, ” and “I intentionally packed my quietest boots, the best for sneaking. I knew that I would wear them during my crime commitment.” Id. ¶ 9.

         Otto's “strange phrases, ” such as the references to the “U.S. administration, ” “DPR Korea instead of DPRK, ” and his “quietest boots for sneaking” were “clumsy” North Korean “stock phrase[s]” that provide “no doubt . . . that this was a coerced confession under great duress.” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 123-25 (Expert Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee). Moreover, Otto's reference to “hostile U.S. policy” three times, and the notion that Otto, as the oldest child, would need to subsidize his younger siblings' college tuition-an expectation of the eldest son in Korean culture-are reflective of “Korean connotation, ” further indicating North Korea “imposed” this material in Otto's confession. Id. at 124-25 (Expert Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee).

         Shortly after Otto's purported “confession, ” the U.S. State Department assured Otto's parents that Otto's detention was nearing a “mature phase, ” and North Korea would “finally call.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 10. Fred and Cindy learned nothing, however, until KCNA reported on North Korea's “trial” of Otto, on March 16, 2016, where North Korea convicted Otto on a charge of state subversion and sentenced him to fifteen years of hard labor, based on his purported “confession” to the crime. Hatch Decl., Ex. E (KCNA Article on Otto's “Trial, ” titled “American Student Sentenced to 15 Years of Hard Labor in DPRK”). KCNA stated Otto committed the crime “pursuant to the U.S. government's hostile policy” towards North Korea. Id. Short video excerpts of Otto's “trial” were released, but no public court records have ever been made available. See Hatch Decl., Ex. F (ABC Good Morning America News Broadcast Containing Clips of Otto's “Trial”) (“Video of ‘Trial'”); Hatch Decl. ¶ 7. In the excerpts, Otto's hands are “curled in, ” and he is “completely distressed” and “visibly upset.” See Hatch Decl., Ex. F (Video of “Trial”); F. W. Decl. ¶ 11.

         North Korea continued to detain Otto for an additional 15 months after this “trial, ” for a total detention period of approximately 17.5 months. See F. W. Decl. ¶ 21. During Otto's detention, Otto's family received “almost no information about [Otto's] condition, ” F. W. Decl. ¶ 15, and Otto's parents ultimately had no way to communicate with him, H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 21- 22 (F. W.); C. W. Decl. ¶ 17. Although Otto's parents initially were told they could send Otto emails through the State Department, which forwarded them to Swedish intermediaries in North Korea for delivery to Otto, Otto's parents never heard anything directly from Otto and have no idea if he received any of this correspondence. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 21-22 (F. W.); C. W. Decl. ¶ 17; F. W. Decl. ¶ 12. By June 2016, the State Department told Otto's parents that they could no longer email Otto because North Korea considered him a “Prisoner of War” and a “War Criminal.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 14.

         Over the course of Otto's detention, Otto's parents spoke regularly with State Department and other senior officials, and were told “on several occasions” that Otto was being imprisoned because “North Korea wanted something from the United States, ” and he “would not be released until they obtained that.” Id. ¶ 15; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 67 (C. W.). Then-Secretary of State John Kerry told Otto's family at a meeting that “Otto is being held hostage by North Korea, ” F. W. Decl. ¶ 15, and “they want something for Otto, ” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 26 (F. W.). Otto's parents “knew he was a hostage, a pawn, a political prisoner, ” “left alone” and “abandoned, ” id. at 28 (F. W.). They lived “in fear” of talking about Otto because of the “threat” of what North Korea would do to Otto as a result. Id. at 23, 25 (F. W.).

         In June 2017, Joseph Yun, the former U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy at the State Department, and the Deputy Secretary of State informed Fred that Otto had been in a coma for over a year since April 2016. Id. at 29 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 18; C. W. Decl. ¶ 23. Once again, however, Otto's parents were advised not to speak about Otto's condition publicly because if they mentioned Otto in the media, North Korea would not release him and there was “no guarantee” about his safety. H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 29, 31 (F. W.); F. W. Decl. ¶ 18.

         Otto's family remained silent after that call, H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 31 (F. W.), and ultimately, North Korea agreed to release Otto, after pardoning Otto for his purported crime, F. W. Decl. ¶ 20. Representative Yun traveled to North Korea to bring Otto back. Id. Cindy “held out hope” that “Otto could be brought back” as the “young man” she once knew. C. W. Decl. ¶ 23. Having been told Otto was in a coma, she pictured him asleep and thought he would be able to recover with medical care. Id. These hopes were “shattered” on June 13, 2017, when Otto landed at the Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport. Id. ¶¶ 23-24; F. W. Decl. ¶ 21.

         Fred, Cindy, and Otto's younger siblings climbed the steps of the plane and immediately heard “loud inhuman sounds.” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 33 (F. W.). When Otto's family saw him, Otto's condition was “horrible and unrecognizable.” C. W. Decl. ¶ 24. Otto was “jerking violently” and “howling.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 22; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 33 (F. W.). He wore a diaper and had a “feeding tube” and a “shaved head, ” “his arms . . . curled and mangled, ” “his eyes . . .bulging out, ” and it “almost appeared that he had chewed a hole through his bottom lip.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 22; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 33 (F. W.); id. at 47 (G. W.); id. at 54 (A. W.). His once “perfectly straight” teeth were misaligned, H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 61 (C. W.), and Otto was blind and deaf, with severe brain damage, unable to perceive anything around him, id. at 36 (F. W.).

         The entire family was “shocked” upon seeing Otto. Id. at 35 (F. W.); id. at 46, 47 (G. W.); id. at 54 (A. W.). Greta “ran off the plane screaming” because Otto looked like a “monster, ” and “not Otto”; she was scared of him. C. W. Decl. ¶ 24; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 47 (G. W.). Otto's mother, too, “almost passed out” upon seeing Otto, and ran off the plane with Greta. C. W. Decl. ¶ 24; F. W. Decl. ¶ 22; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 47 (G. W.). Fred and Austin remained on the plane with Otto until he was transported to an ambulance, an experience that was “traumatic” and “tragic.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 22; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 33-34 (F. W.).

         Otto's mother, although distraught by the sight of her son in such a state, rode in the ambulance with Otto from the airport to the hospital because she did not want Otto “to be alone anymore.” C. W. Decl. ¶ 24. Over the next couple of days at the hospital, Otto's family was advised by medical personnel about the severity of Otto's brain damage: he was a “vegetable, ” completely unresponsive to his family, blind, deaf and without “any signs of consciousness.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 25; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 33, 36 (F. W.). In addition to these horrendous signs of his torture, Otto also had “a large scar on his left foot, ” a wound not present before he left for North Korea, and his once “perfectly straight” teeth were “noticeably misaligned.” F. W. Decl. ¶ 24; H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 36 (F. W.); id. at 61 (C. W.). Seeing Otto in that state “was horrible.” H'rg Tr. (Rough) at 36 (F. W.).

         Otto's lead neurologist, Dr. Daniel Kanter, concluded Otto's brain damage most likely resulted from the loss of blood flow to the brain for a period of five to twenty minutes. Kanter Decl. ¶ 15. Otto was in an unrecoverable state of non-responsiveness. Id. ¶ 16. After Otto's physicians concluded that his condition would never improve, Otto's family transitioned him to palliative care and ultimately ceased feeding and breathing assistance. Id. ¶ 20; F. W. Decl. ¶ 25. Otto died quickly on June 19, 2017, less than a week after his release from North Korea. Kanter Decl. ¶ 20.

         Since Otto's death, North Korea has denied any responsibility, calling his death a mystery and blaming it on “botulism” and the United States government. F. W. Decl. ¶ 24; Hatch Decl., Ex. G (KCNA Article titled, “DPRK FM Spokesman Accuses U.S. of Slandering Humanitarian Measure”).

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs Fred and Cindy Warmbier, individually and as personal representatives of the estate of Otto Warmbier, filed this lawsuit against North Korea, on April 26, 2018. See Compl. They served North Korea in accordance with the FSIA, which provides the procedure for completing service upon a foreign state or political subdivision of a foreign state. Decl. Supp. Default, ECF No. 13; see also infra Part III.B for further discussion. After the plaintiffs sought entry of default, see Decl. Supp. Default, the Clerk entered default against North Korea on September 7, 2018, see Entry of Default, ECF No. 14; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a) (“When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default.”). The plaintiffs subsequently filed the instant motion for default judgment, see Pls.' Mot. Default J., ECF No. 16 (“Pls.' Mot.”), supported by eleven declarations, as well as testimony and exhibits presented at an evidentiary hearing on December 19, 2018, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2).[4] The plaintiffs' motion for default judgment is now ripe for review.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2), a 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, “‘[t]he 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)).

         Notwithstanding its appropriateness in some circumstances, “entry of a default judgment is not automatic.” Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (footnote omitted). Thus, the procedural posture of a default does not relieve a federal court of its “affirmative obligation” to determine 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). Additionally, “a court should satisfy itself that it has personal jurisdiction before entering judgment against an absent defendant.” Mwani, 417 F.3d at 6. The “plaintiffs retain ‘the burden of proving personal jurisdiction, [and] they can satisfy that burden with a prima facie showing.'” Id. (quoting Edmond v. U.S. Postal Serv. Gen. Counsel, 949 F.2d 415, 424 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). In doing so, “they may rest their argument on their pleadings, bolstered by such affidavits and other written materials as they can otherwise obtain.” Id. at 7.

         When default judgment is sought under the FSIA, a claimant must “establish[] his claim or right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). “This provides foreign sovereigns a special protection akin to that assured the federal government by Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(e), ” which has been renumbered by the 2007 amendment to Rule 55(d). Jerez v. Republic of Cuba, 775 F.3d 419, 423 (D.C. Cir. 2014); see also H.R. Rep. No. 94-1487, at 26 (1976) (stating that § 1608(e) establishes “the same requirement applicable to default judgments against the U.S. Government under rule 55(e), F.R. Civ. P.”). While the “FSIA leaves it to the court to determine precisely how much and what kinds of evidence the plaintiff must provide, requiring only that it be ‘satisfactory to the court, '” courts must be mindful that Congress enacted Section 1605A, FSIA's terrorism exception, and Section 1608(e) with the “aim[] to prevent state sponsors of terrorism-entities particularly unlikely to submit to this country's laws-from escaping liability for their sins.” Han Kim v. Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 774 F.3d 1044, 1047-48 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e)).

         With this objective in mind, the D.C. Circuit has instructed that “courts have the authority-indeed, we think, the obligation-to ‘adjust evidentiary requirements to . . . differing situations.'” Id. at 1048 (quoting Bundy v. Jackson, 641 F.2d 934, 951 (D.C. Cir. 1981)) (alteration adopted). Courts must draw their “findings of fact and conclusions of law from admissible testimony in accordance with the Federal Rules of Evidence.” Id. at 1049 (quoting Daliberti v. Republic of Iraq, 146 F.Supp.2d 19, 21 n.1 (D.D.C. 2001)). Uncontroverted factual allegations that are supported by admissible evidence are taken as true. Roth v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 78 F.Supp.3d 379, 386 (D.D.C. 2015) (“Courts may rely on uncontroverted factual allegations that are supported by affidavits.” (citing Rimkus v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 750 F.Supp.2d 163, 171 (D.D.C. 2010))); Gates v. Syrian Arab Republic, 580 F.Supp.2d 53, 63 (D.D.C. 2008), aff'd, 646 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Estate of Botvin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 510 F.Supp.2d 101, 103 (D.D.C. 2007)); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (authorizing court to “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion” when adverse party “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact”). Section 1608(e), thus, “does not require a court to step into the shoes of the defaulting party and pursue every possible evidentiary challenge.” Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 864 F.3d 751, 785 (D.C. Cir. 2017). “This is part of the risk a sovereign runs when it does not appear and alert the court to evidentiary problems.” Id. at 786.

         In a FSIA default proceeding, a district court can find that the evidence presented is satisfactory “when the plaintiff shows ‘her claim has some factual basis, '. . . even if she might not have prevailed in a contested proceeding.” Id. at 785 (citations omitted). “This lenient standard is particularly appropriate for a FSIA terrorism case, for which firsthand evidence and eyewitness testimony is difficult or impossible to obtain from an absent and likely hostile sovereign.” Id. Thus, courts are accorded “an unusual degree of discretion over evidentiary rulings in a FSIA case against a defaulting state sponsor of terrorism.” Id. This “broad discretion extends to the admission of expert testimony, which, even in the ordinary case, ‘does not constitute an abuse of discretion merely because the factual bases for an expert's opinion are weak.'” Id. (quoting Joy v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 999 F.2d 549, 567 (D.C. Cir. 1993)). Indeed, “[t]he testimony of expert witnesses is of crucial importance in terrorism cases . . . because firsthand evidence of terrorist activities is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, ” “[v]ictims of terrorist attacks, if not dead, are often incapacitated and unable to testify about their experiences, ” and “[p]erpetrators of terrorism typically lie beyond the reach of the courts and go to great lengths to avoid detection.” Id. at 787 (citations omitted). “Eyewitnesses in a state that sponsors terrorism are similarly difficult to locate and may be unwilling to testify for fear of retaliation, ” and “[t]he sovereigns themselves often fail to appear and to participate in discovery.” Id. Accordingly, “[w]ith a dearth of firsthand evidence, reliance upon secondary materials and the opinions of experts is often critical in order to establish the factual basis of a claim under the FSIA terrorism exception.” Id.


         In a FSIA case, “[a] default judgment may be entered when (1) the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the claims, (2) personal jurisdiction is properly exercised over the defendants, (3) the plaintiffs have presented satisfactory evidence to establish their claims against the defendants, and (4) the plaintiffs have satisfactorily proven that they are entitled to the monetary damages they seek.” Braun v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 228 F.Supp.3d 64, 75 (D.D.C. 2017); accord Akins v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 332 F.Supp.3d 1, 32 (D.D.C. 2018). Each of these requirements is addressed seriatim below.

         A. Subject ...

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