United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. Boasberg, United States District Judge
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act lays out a detailed
statutory scheme for effecting service of process on a
foreign state. On July 2, 2019, given some concerns apparent
on the docket, this Court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause as
to why they have complied with that scheme. They replied by
sharing new service-related facts with the Court, which
disclose a messy but proper course of service under the Act.
They may thus proceed in their effort to obtain a default
Saeed Abedini and his sister Zibandeh Abedini Galangashy
filed suit against Defendant Islamic Republic of Iran on
March 16, 2018. See ECF No. 1. Alleging that Mr.
Abedini was taken hostage by Iran and tortured for more than
three years, they seek compensatory and punitive damages.
Id, ¶¶ 37-64. After Plaintiffs attempted
service as described below, Defendants failed to appear and
the Clerk entered a default on December 10, 2018. See ECF No.
14. Plaintiffs then moved for default judgment on April 5,
2019, see ECF No. 17, and the Court set an evidentiary
hearing for July 12. See May 14, 2019, Minute Order.
preparing for that hearing, the Court noticed a possible
issue with the manner in which Plaintiffs attempted to serve
Iran. Seeking more information on this question, the Court on
July 2, 2019, issued a Show Cause Order and vacated the
hearing. See ECF No. 19. Plaintiffs responded on
July 5, 2019, with significant added detail on their attempts
at service, including email correspondence with an attorney
at the State Department. See ECF No. 20 (Response to
Show Cause Order) & Exh. 2 (State Emails).
Law of Service
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act is the “sole basis for
obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign state in our
courts.” Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess
Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428, 434 (1989). Under the Act,
“[p]ersonal jurisdiction over a foreign state shall
exist as to every claim for relief over which subject matter
jurisdiction exists . . . so long as the defendant was
properly served.” I.T. Consultants, Inc. v. Islamic
Republic of Pakistan, 351 F.3d 1184, 1191 (D.C. Cir.
2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
lists, “in hierarchical order, ” four methods for
serving a foreign state. Republic of Sudan v.
Harrison, 139 S.Ct. 1048, 1054 (2019). The summons and
complaint may be delivered, first, “in accordance with
any special arrangement for service between the plaintiff and
the foreign state or political subdivision, ” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1608(a)(1), or, second, “in accordance with an
applicable international convention on service of judicial
documents.” Id., § 1608(a)(2). If the
countries lack such agreements, defendants may be served
through a third method, which involves sending the requisite
documents “by any form of mail requiring a signed
receipt . . . to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs
of the foreign state concerned.” Id., §
1608(a)(3). And “if service cannot be made within 30
days” under that method, plaintiffs may resort to
method four: sending the requisite documents to the Secretary
of State for transmittal “through diplomatic channels
to the foreign state.” Id., § 1608(a)(4); see also
Harrison, 139 S.Ct. at 1054.
D.C. Circuit has explained that “a plaintiff must
attempt service by the first method (or determine that it is
unavailable) before proceeding to the second method, and so
on .” Angellino v. Royal Family Al-Saud, 688
F.3d 771, 773 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). Indeed, regarding the fourth method, the
Court of Appeals has specified that “a plaintiff can
serve the appropriate documents through the Department of
State” only “if none of the first three methods
works.” Barot v. Embassy of the Republic of
Zambia, 785 F.3d 26, 27 (D.C. Cir. 2015); see also
Azadeh v. Gov't of Islamic Republic of Iran, 318
F.Supp.3d 90, 101 (D.D.C. 2018); Estate of Hirshfeld v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 235 F.Supp.3d 45, 48 (D.D.C.
2017). These requirements are jurisdictional and strictly
construed. See Barot 785 F.3d at 27 (“When serving a
foreign sovereign, strict adherence to the terms of 1608(a)
is required.”) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted); Azadeh, 318 F.Supp.3d at 100
(“[W]ith respect to serving a foreign state under
section 1608(a), a near miss is still a miss.”)
(citation omitted); cf Bowles v. Russell 551 U.S.
205, 214 (2007) (“[T]his Court has no authority to
create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional
Court issued its Show Cause Order because it was not certain
Plaintiffs had met those requirements. Their sequencing did
not seem to be in “strict adherence” to the terms
of the statute, which greenlights transmitting documents to
the State Department for diplomatic service only after a
plaintiff has attempted service under § 1608(a)(3). See
Barot, 785 F.3d at 27. Plaintiffs have now responded to the
Show Cause Order with significantly more detail, which the
Court now examines.
face no hurdles regarding methods one and two, as Iran lacks
a service arrangement with Plaintiffs and is not party to an
applicable legal convention. See Dep't of State,
Bureau of Consular Affairs, Service of Process,
(last visited July 10, 2019, 11:20 AM) (discussing
international service conventions); Hague Conf. on Private
Int'l Law, Status Table,
(last visited July 10, 2019, 11:20 AM) (showing Iran not
signatory to Hague Convention on Service Abroad of Judicial
and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters).
rather than try method three, Plaintiffs skipped right to
method four. On April 26, 2018, they transmitted their
documents to the State Department for diplomatic service
under § 1608(a)(4) - without first attempting service by
mail under § 1608(a)(3). See ECF No. 5
(Certificate of Transmittal Pursuant to 28 USC §
1608(a)(4)). Only after corresponding with the State
Department did Plaintiffs try service by mail on May 14,
2018, more than two weeks after seeking diplomatic service.
See State Emails ...