United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROBERT C. ALLAN, et al. Plaintiffs,
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. ## 27, 55]
Richard J. Leon, United States District Judge.
are survivors of the terrorist hijacking of TWA Flight 847
from Athens, Greece on June 14, 1985, as well as immediate
family members and estate representatives. Plaintiffs seek
money damages against Iran for injuries and trauma caused by
Iran's provision of material support to the hijackers
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1605 A, the terrorism exception
of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA").
Having considered all of the record evidence, I find that
plaintiffs have established grounds for default. I therefore,
for the following reasons, GRANT
plaintiffs' motion for default on liability, see
Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment on Liability
("Pis.' Mot. on Liability") [Dkt. # 27], and
also GRANT plaintiffs' motion for relief
totaling approximately $349.5 million dollars, consistent
with the findings of the appointed Special Master as to
damages. See Plaintiffs' Motion for Default
Judgment on Damages ("Pis.' Mot. on Damages")
[Dkt. # 55].
14, 1985, two Hezbollah hijackers boarded TWA Flight 847
leaving Athens, Greece headed for Rome, Italy. Amended
Complaint ("Compl.") [Dkt. # 11] ¶ 18. There
were 143 passengers and 8 crewmembers on board at the time,
69 of whom are passenger plaintiffs in this case.
Id. Shortly after takeoff, the two hijackers ran up
the aisle towards the cockpit waving guns and hand grenades,
shouting: "Americans come to die!" Id.
¶ 19; see also Pis.' Mot. on Liability at
4-5 (citing evidence relied on in Stethem v. Islamic
Republic of Iran, 201 F.Supp.2d 80 (D.D.C.
2002)). They held the three pilots at gunpoint
and ordered them to fly to Iran or Algeria. Compl. ¶ 20;
see also Pis.' Mot. on Liability, Ex. 2
(Stethem Transcript. Testimony of Christian
Zimmerman) ("Zimmerman Testimony")), at
123:14-124:19. When informed that the plane did not have
enough fuel to fly to either location, the hijackers
instructed the pilots to land in Beirut, Lebanon. Compl.
ensued was dramatic and terrifying. The hijackers forced some
passengers into the First Class cabin and beat them
repeatedly. Compl. ¶ 21; Pis.' Mot. on Liability at
5. They began to single out passengers who they suspected of
being U.S. Military or Jewish. Compl. ¶ 16, 26;
Pis.' Mot. on Liability, Ex. 2 (Stethem
Transcript, Testimony of Clinton Suggs) ("Suggs
Testimony")), at 87:1-90:23. They interrogated
passengers about their religions. Id. ¶ 16. All
seated passengers were forced to sit in a crash-landing
position for hours at a time, and were forbidden from going
to the bathroom. Id. ¶ 21. The terrorists
landed the plane in Beirut for the first time three hours
later on June 14th. Pis.' Mot. on Liability at 6; see
also id., Ex. 28 (Zimmerman Timeline) at 124. They
demanded the release of nearly 800 prisoners in Israel and
Kuwait. Compl. ¶¶ 22-24. In exchange for fuel, they
released several women and children. Pis.' Mot. on
Liability, Ex. 28 (Zimmerman Timeline) at 124.
hijackers then ordered the pilots to fly the plane to
Algiers, Algeria. Compl. ¶ 23. After refueling again,
they ordered the pilots to return to Beirut. Id.
¶ 23-24. The airport authorities ordered the plane not
to land, and placed obstacles on the runway to enforce the
order. Id. ¶ 24. Despite the dangerous
conditions, the pilots were able to safely land on the
runway. Id. On the ground in Beirut for a second
time, the hijackers demanded that additional terrorists be
allowed to board. Id. ¶ 25. They executed one
passenger-a navy diver named Robert Stethem-and tossed his
body onto the tarmac. Id. Later that day, ten
additional militiamen from the Amal group and one Hezbollah
spokesman boarded the plane. Id.; Pis.' Mot. on
Liability, Ex. 28 (Zimmerman Timeline) at 126. The plane then
headed back to Algeria for a second time. Id. ¶
27. During this period, the hijackers began ramping up their
harassment and abuse-threatening passengers with execution,
beating them, and robbing them of all their belongings.
Id. ¶ 26-27; Pis.' Mot. on Liability, Ex. 4
(Pis.' Decls.) at 6-7, 84, 441, 452. On the ground in
Algeria, the terrorists released another swatch of passengers
in exchange for an additional hijacker being allowed to
board. Compl. ¶28.
morning of June 16, the hijackers ordered the plane back to
Beirut for a third time. Pis.' Mot. on Liability, Ex. 28
(Zimmerman Timeline) at 129. At that point, the passengers
still on board had endured 36 hours on the aircraft with
inadequate food, water, access to bathroom facilities, or
sleep. Id. The plane sat on the tarmac until the
next morning, when 23 men were forced off the plane at
gunpoint and taken into Beirut. Id. at 130; Compl.
¶¶ 28-29. For the next two weeks, the men were
beaten, threatened, given inadequate food and water, and
forced to watch propaganda. Compl. ¶ 28. The terrorists
finally released the Beirut hostages to Syrian military
personnel on June 30, 1985. Id. ¶ 29. The
hijackers were indicted for their roles in the hijacking, but
never taken into United States custody. See
Pis.' Mot. on Liability at 10. They remain on the
FBI's most wanted list. Id. at 11 n. 11.
filed this action on February 24, 2017, seeking default
judgment on liability and damages. On May 23, 2017,
plaintiffs served Iran via diplomatic channels. Iran never
accepted service, so the Clerk entered default on July 26,
2017. On February 2, 2018, plaintiffs moved to appoint a
special master to review their claims for damages.
See Motion for Order Appointing a Special Master for
Damages [Dkt. # 24]. I appointed Special Master Alan Balaran
to make findings on plaintiffs motion for default as to
damages. See 2/12/18 Order [Dkt. # 25]. After
reviewing testimonial and documentary evidence, he issued a
Report and Recommendation awarding compensatory damages on
August 28, 2018. See Special Master Report Filed
Under Seal [Dkt. # 54].
Iran is Liable Under the FSIA's Terrorism Exception-28
U.S.C. § 1605A
argue that Iran should be held liable under the FSIA's
terrorism exception, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, for providing
material support to the terrorist groups that perpetrated the
1985 hijacking incident aboard TWA Flight 847. I begin by
noting that this is not the first time the events at issue
have been the subject of suit under the FSIA. In 2002, Judge
Thomas Penfield Jackson granted default judgment in two
consolidated cases involving the same 1985 hijacking incident
under an older provision of the FSIA, § 1605(a)(7).
See Stethem v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 201
F.Supp.2d 78, 85 (D.D.C. 2002). The two consolidated cases
before Judge Jackson included the individual who was killed
on the plane, Robert Stethem, as well as his surviving family
members. Keeping in mind that "the FSIA
does not require this Court to relitigate issues that have
already been settled," I find that there are grounds to
take judicial notice of these "related proceedings and
records in cases before the same court." Brewer v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 664 F.Supp.2d 43, 54 (D.D.C.
2009) (quoting Estate of Heiser v. Islamic Republic of
Iran, 466 F.Supp. 2d. 229, 263 (D.D.C. 2006) (internal
quotation marks omitted)); see also Valore v. Islamic
Republic of Iran, 700 F.Supp.2d 52, 60 (D.D.C. 2010)
("[T]he Court may review evidence considered in an
opinion that is judicially noticed, without necessitating the
re-presentment of such evidence.").
therefore grant plaintiffs request to take judicial notice of
Judge Jackson's findings of fact, Ex. 1, and to consider
the expert and witness testimony, Ex. 2, and relevant
documentary evidence, Ex. 11-28, presented in
Stethem. Pis.' Mot. on Liability at 34-35. I
will also consider the updated expert report submitted by Dr.
Clawson, the expert who previously submitted testimony on
which Judge Jackson relied. Ex. 3; Stethem, 201
F.Supp.2d at 92.
default judgment for the plaintiffs, I must first determine
whether I have jurisdiction under the FSIA. Section
§1605A(a)(1) imposes three requirements to establish
subject matter jurisdiction: 1) that the claims be against a
foreign state that was designated a state sponsor of
terrorism at the time the acts occurred, §
1605A(a)(2)(A)(i); 2) that plaintiffs be U.S. nationals at
the time the acts occurred, § 1605A(a)(2)(A)(ii); and 3)
that plaintiffs be seeking money damages for personal injury
or death caused by the foreign state's acts of torture,
extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, and hostage taking,
or by the foreign state's provision of material support
or resources for such acts. § 1605A(a)(1); see
also Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 864 F.3d 751, 778
(D.C. Cir. 2017). Having considered the record evidence, I
find that plaintiffs satisfy each of these requirements in
the instant case.
Iran Was a State Sponsor of Terrorism at the ...