United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber crashed a truck full of
explosives into the entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut,
Lebanon, setting off a blast that killed 52 people. Among
those who died was Cesar Bathiard, a Lebanese citizen working
at the Embassy. In 2016, his widow and daughters brought suit
against the Islamic Republic of Iran under the Foreign
Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), alleging that
Iran was responsible for the attack and Bathiard's
resulting death. When Iran failed to appear in the case, the
Bathiards filed a motion for default judgment.
Court, in June 2018, denied that motion after raising the
FSIA's statute of limitations sue sponte and
determining that the action was untimely. See Bathiard v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 317 F.Supp.3d 134, 138-43
(D.D.C. 2018). In May 2019, the D.C. Circuit held that
district courts do not have the discretion to raise the
statute of limitations when a FSIA defendant fails to do so
itself-and reversed and remanded this case and others.
See Maalouf v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 923 F.3d
1095, 1115-16 (D.C. Cir. 2019). Back on remand, the Court,
for the reasons that follow, will grant Bathiard's motion
for default judgment and appoint a special master to make a
recommendation on an appropriate damages award.
Bathiard was employed by the Department of State at the U.S.
Embassy in Beirut for a little over a decade. Mot. Default J.
Aff. 1, ¶ 4 (Bathiard Estate Aff.). In April 1983, he
was serving as a driver for Robert S. Dillon, then the U.S.
Ambassador to Lebanon. Id. On April 18, 1983,
Bathiard was in the lobby of the embassy, waiting for
Ambassador Dillon to come downstairs, when an
explosives-laden truck crashed into the building and
detonated. Id. ¶ 5. He was killed instantly.
thirty years later, in August 2016, Bathiard's widow
Marcelle El-Helou and his two daughters Rita Bathiard and
Pascale Mazarei (collectively “the Bathiards”)
filed suit on behalf of themselves and his estate against the
Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of
Information and Security (collectively “Iran”).
The Bathiards alleged that Iranian military and intelligence
operatives financed and directed Hezbollah, the militant
group that carried out the embassy bombing. Compl.
¶¶ 6, 10. They claimed that Iran had
“complete operational control” of Hezbollah and
provided high-level technical support and funding to
Hezbollah without which the April 1983 embassy bombing would
not have been possible. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. Their
suit seeks to hold Iran liable for injuries stemming from
Cesar Bathiard's death under a provision in the FSIA that
authorizes suits by U.S. citizens or employees and their
families against foreign sovereigns who are state sponsors of
terrorism for their involvement in acts of terrorism.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1605A.
September 2017, the Bathiards served Iran with process
through diplomatic channels. See ECF No. 16. When
Iran failed to appear, they obtained a notice of default on
November 29, 2017, see ECF No. 18, and subsequently
moved for a default judgment, see ECF No. 19. Prior
to resolving their motion, however, the Court directed the
parties to file supplemental briefing addressing whether this
suit was timely under the applicable statute of limitations.
After reviewing those submissions, the Court concluded the
action was not timely and therefore denied the motion for
default judgment. See Bathiard, 317 F.Supp.3d at
143. The Court reasoned that “special
circumstances”-including that FSIA suits
“implicate international relations and comity”
and that “several decades of time [had] passed between
the events at issue here and the filing of this
suit”-justified discretionary sua sponte
consideration of the statute of limitations. Id. at
case was consolidated on appeal with five others where the
district court had raised the statute of limitations sua
sponte and dismissed FSIA claims as untimely.
Maalouf, 923 F.3d at 1103. The D.C. Circuit
disagreed with that practice. Noting the background principle
that parties must raise affirmative defenses or lose claim to
them, the Circuit reasoned that the FSIA did not fit into the
“small number of narrow, carefully defined
contexts” in which courts can raise them on their own.
Id. at 1109. Those contexts, the Circuit explained,
“share a common, defining feature, ” namely
“that the circumstances of a case must squarely
implicate the institutional interests of the
judiciary[.]” Id. at 1110. “And, ”
it continued, “in none of these situations was the
defendant on whose behalf the court acted entirely absent
from the litigation.” Id. Because the
sovereign defendants in the cases had defaulted, the cases
fell outside the orbit of those heretofore recognized
exceptions. Id. at 1110-12 (explaining why sua
sponte consideration is only appropriate where
“judiciary's own interests are implicated and the
forfeiting party is present in the litigation”). The
Circuit also explained why the “special
circumstances” this Court and others found compelling,
including the comity concerns, did not counsel in favor of
sua sponte consideration of FSIA's statute of
limitations. Id. at 1112-13.
remand, then, there is no statute of limitations bar to
Bathiard's claim. The Court therefore turns to
considering whether Bathiard's motion otherwise satisfies
the prerequisites for default judgment under the FSIA.
FSIA provides the sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over
a foreign state in a United States court. The statute
generally shields foreign sovereigns from being haled into
court, but carves out exceptions allowing certain kinds of
lawsuits to proceed. See Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
v. Helmerich & Payne Int'l Drilling Co., 137
S.Ct. 1312, 1320 (2017). One such exception greenlights
lawsuits against foreign countries that have been designated
by the U.S. government as state sponsors of terrorism when
the plaintiff seeks money damages for personal injury or
death resulting from the defendant country's involvement
in “an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft
sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material
support or resources for such an act.” 28 U.S.C. §
1605A. As originally enacted in 1996, this provision applied
solely to U.S. nationals; it was amended in 2008 to also
allow federal government employees who are not nationals to
bring suits for personal injuries and deaths occurring while
acting within the scope of their employment. See Sheikh
v. Republic of Sudan, 172 F.Supp.3d 124, 126 (D.D.C.
the FSIA, a plaintiff may obtain a default judgment when the
defendant fails to enter an appearance. 28 U.S.C. §
1608(e); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2).
“[E]ntry of a default judgment is not automatic.”
Goldstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No.
16-CV-2507, 2018 WL 6329452, at *2 (D.D.C. Dec. 4, 2018)
(citation omitted). First, the Court must 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). Id. Even then, a plaintiff must
establish her right to relief “by evidence satisfactory
to the court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). Thus, rather
than accept unsupported allegations as true, the Court must
examine the plaintiff's allegations and any proof
provided to ensure the plaintiff has carried her burden.
See, e.g., Bluth v. Islamic Republic of
Iran, 203 F.Supp.3d 1, 17 (D.D.C. 2016). Generally, a
party seeking to establish its right to relief “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).