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Radmanesh v. The Government of Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 24, 2019

DARIOUSH RADMANESH, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          G. MICHAEL HARVEY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter was referred to the undersigned for all purposes.[1] Plaintiff Darioush Rad-manesh brought this action under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act's (“FSIA”) state sponsor of terrorism exception (“terrorism exception”). 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. He seeks to hold the Government of the Islamic State of Iran (“Iran”)[2] to account for the abuse and torment he suffered during the several years he was forced to live in Iran and for the three months he was forced to serve as a wartime soldier in the Iranian military.

         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for entry of default judgment. After thorough review of the record, [3] and consideration of this Court's case law adjudicating similar actions against foreign sovereigns, Plaintiff's Motion will be denied, and his claims dismissed for want of subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD FOR ENTRY OF A DEFAULT JUDGMENT AGAINST A FOREIGN SOVEREIGN

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure grant district courts discretion to enter a default judgment upon a party's motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). A default judgment is normally available when, as here, “the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party.” Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (internal quotation marks omitted). The party seeking the judgment must demonstrate that the court has both subject matter jurisdiction over the action and personal jurisdiction over the absent defendant. See Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Thuneibat v. Syrian Arab Republic, 167 F.Supp.3d 22, 33 (D.D.C. 2016).

         Additionally, before a default judgment can be entered against a foreign sovereign, the FSIA requires a plaintiff to establish “his claim or right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court.” Thuneibat, 167 F.Supp.3d at 33 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e)). A court must thoroughly review a plaintiff's allegations and evidence against an absent foreign sovereign. See Han Kim v. Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 774 F.3d 1044, 1047 (D.C. Cir. 2014); Bluth v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 203 F.Supp.3d 1, 16-17 (D.D.C. 2016). While a court “may not unquestioningly accept a complaint's unsupported allegations as true, ” Reed v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 845 F.Supp.2d 204, 211 (D.D.C. 2012), “[u]ncontroverted factual allegations that are supported by admissible evidence are taken as true.” Thuneibat, 167 F.Supp.3d at 33; Roth v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 78 F.Supp.3d 379, 386 (D.D.C. 2015). An evidentiary hearing is not required; rather, a “plaintiff may establish proof by affidavit.” Reed, 845 F.Supp.2d at 212; see also Mwani, 417 F.3d at 7 (“In the absence of an evidentiary hearing, although the plaintiffs retain ‘the burden of proving personal jurisdiction, [they] can satisfy that burden with a prima facie showing.' . . . [T]hey may rest their argument on their pleadings, bolstered by such affidavits and other written materials as they can otherwise obtain.” (quoting Edmond v. U.S. Postal Serv. Gen. Counsel, 949 F.2d 415, 424 (D.C. Cir. 1991))). The court may also “take judicial notice of related proceedings and records in cases before the same court.” Ben-Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 540 F.Supp.2d 39, 43 (D.D.C. 2008).

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed suit in August 2017 (ECF No. 1) under the FSIA's terrorism exception to sovereign immunity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. The statute allows service to be made upon a foreign state

(1) by delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint in accordance with any special arrangement for service between the plaintiff and the foreign state or political subdivision; or
(2) if no special arrangement exists, by delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint in accordance with an applicable international convention on service of judicial documents; or
(3) if service cannot be made under paragraphs (1) or (2), by sending a copy of the summons and complaint and a notice of suit, together with a translation of each into the official language of the foreign state, by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned, or
(4) if service cannot be made within 30 days under paragraph (3), by sending two copies of the summons and complaint and a notice of suit, together with a translation of each into the official language of the foreign state, by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the Secretary of State in Washington, District of Columbia, to the attention of the Director of Special Consular Services--and the Secretary shall transmit one copy of the papers through diplomatic channels to the foreign state and shall send to the clerk of the court a certified copy of the diplomatic note indicating when the papers were transmitted.

28 U.S.C.A. § 1608(a). The Court took judicial notice, that there are no special arrangements for service between Iran and United States-based plaintiffs and that Iran is not a party to any applicable international convention on service of judicial documents. ECF No. 10; Minute Order dated March 2, 2018. Thus, the Court concluded service pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(1) or (2) was not possible and authorized Plaintiff to attempt service in accordance with 28 U.S.C. 1608(a)(3). Minute Order dated March 2, 2018.

         Plaintiff therefore attempted service on Iran by mailing a copy of the summons and complaint and notice of suit, along with a translation of those materials into Farsi, the official language of the Islamic State of Iran. See ECF No. 12 (certifying court mailing of the materials). Service was attempted on March 18, 2018, by the carrier DHL but was refused by Iran. ECF No. 13, ¶ 5. The Court, concluding Plaintiff could confirm only that service was attempted on Iran, notified Plaintiff he must clarify whether service by mail was attempted on IRGC before proceeding to attempt service on that entity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(4). Minute Order dated June 5, 2018.

         After difficulty in ascertaining the state of mailed service on IRGC, in June 2018 Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of IRGC. ECF No. 17. In July 2018 the Court dismissed the claims against IRGC without prejudice. Minute Order dated July 26, 2018. Plaintiff then served Iran in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(4) through diplomatic channels on October 1, 2018. ECF No. 18. Iran had until November 30, 2018 to respond to the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. 1608(d) (“[A] foreign state . . . shall serve an answer or other responsive pleading to the complaint within sixty days after service has been made under this section”). Iran did not respond within the allotted time. See Minute Order dated January 24, 2019. At Plaintiff's request, the Clerk of the Court entered default against Iran on December 10, 2018. ECF No. 19; ECF No. 20. Plaintiff now seeks a default judgement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). ECF No. 21.

         III. BACKGROUND

         A. Findings of Fact

         1. Forced to Stay in Iran

         Plaintiff was born in Kirksville, Missouri in 1969. ECF No. 21-2, ¶ 4.1. Plaintiff's mother is American, a native of Kirksville. Id. His father is Iranian and met his mother while studying as an Iranian exchange student at Northeast Missouri State University. Id. Plaintiff was raised and remains a devout Christian. Id. In 1975, Plaintiff's family moved to South Carolina where Plaintiff's father received job training to become an engineer for Polyacryl Iran, a DuPont affiliate. Id., ¶ 4.2. In 1978, after his father's training was complete, Plaintiff's family moved together to Isfahan, Iran, so his father could start his job with Polyacryl. Id., ¶ 4.3. Plaintiff and his family were living in Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Id., ¶ 4.4. After the Shah of Iran was overthrown, Plaintiff's father was charged and summarily convicted of treason against Iran. Id., ¶¶ 4.6-4.7. Plaintiff and his family “were told that they would be executed as spies unless (1) they remained in Iran, and (2) Plaintiff's father trained Iranian citizens to be engineers capable of operating and maintaining the then shuttered, and soon to be nationalized factories.” Id., ¶ 4.7. Plaintiff believes that this “forced quid pro quo” saved the lives of his family, but “required they remain in Iran.” Id.

         In the years that followed, Plaintiff alleges he “was coerced into [attending] the Iranian-run, Anti-American, school system.”[4] Id., ¶ 4.9. Although ten years old, Plaintiff was “pushed back to first grade” because he was deemed not proficient in Farsi or Arabic. Id., ¶¶ 4.5, 4.9. Plaintiff alleges he was often “pushed to the ground, spat upon, and then kicked” by other students “while they chanted ‘Death to Americans.'” Id., ¶ 4.10. Sometimes during these attacks, Plaintiff could see the “school principal watching and laughing.” Id. The Basaji-a youth paramilitary organization operating under the IRGC-also abused Plaintiff by shouting at him, “physically attacking” him, and drenching him in urine. Id., ¶ 4.11. Plaintiff alleges he was once hospitalized after the Basaji “punched [him] in the face, knocked him to the ground, and kicked him all over his body.” Id. Plaintiff suffered broken ribs (which never fully healed), contusions all over his body, lacerations, and a concussion from this attack. Id.

         During this time, Plaintiff was exposed to “violence on the streets around him.” Id., ¶ 4.12. At the age of thirteen, Plaintiff witnessed a naked, pregnant woman being stoned to death. Id. He also witnessed the IRGC routinely mock, curse at, and beat his mother because she was American and a Christian. Id., ¶ 4.13. After being expelled from school at the age of fifteen for refusing to step on the American flag, Plaintiff moved to Shaheen-Shahr, Iran, and went to work in a machine shop. Id., ΒΆ 4.15. In August 1986, Iraqi jets ...


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