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Stansell v. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 26, 2019

KEITH STANSELL et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
REVOLUTIONARY ARMED FORCES OF COLOMBIA (FARC) et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs move for writs of attachment against blocked assets belonging to four purported agencies or instrumentalities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. See ECF Nos. 9, 16. Under the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018, Congress made assets blocked under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, such as those at issue here, subject to attachment and garnishment by eligible victims of terrorism. As a result, and for the reasons explained, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' motions.

         I. Background

         In June 2010, Plaintiffs obtained a default judgment against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (“FARC”) and other associated defendants under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2331 et seq., based on repeated acts of international terrorism between 2003 and 2008. See Default J., Stansell v. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colom. (FARC), No. 09-2308 (RAL-MAP), ECF No. 233 (M.D. Fla. June 15, 2010). Plaintiffs' judgment is in the amount of $318, 030, 000, id., of which $301, 831, 178.28 remained uncollected when Plaintiffs filed the instant motions, see ECF No. 9 ¶ 5; ECF No. 16 ¶ 5. Plaintiffs have previously sought to enforce that judgment against assets held by the FARC within the United States under Section 201(a) of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA), Pub. L. No. 107-297, 116 Stat. 2322. See Stansell v. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colom., 704 F.3d 910, 913 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam). Section 201(a) provides that the “blocked assets” of a terrorist party or “any agency or instrumentality” of a terrorist party are “subject to execution or attachment in aid of execution” to satisfy a judgment against that terrorist party.

         In 2011, Plaintiffs sought to collect against certain assets belonging to a Colombian money-exchange house that were frozen under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (“Kingpin Act”), 21 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq. Stansell, 704 F.3d at 913. Plaintiffs argued that the assets qualified as “blocked assets” of an “agency or instrumentality” of the FARC, and thus that they could be garnished pursuant the TRIA. Id. At that time, the TRIA defined “blocked assets” to mean “any asset seized or frozen by the United States under section 5(b) of the Trading With the Enemy Act . . . or under sections 202 and 203 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.” TRIA § 201(d)(2)(A).

         The Eleventh Circuit rejected that effort, however, holding that Plaintiffs could not execute against assets frozen under the Kingpin Act because such assets were not expressly included under the TRIA's definition of “blocked assets.” Stansell, 704 F.3d at 915-16. Then, in October 2018, Congress responded to that decision by passing the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (ATCA), Pub. Law 115-253, 132 Stat. 3183 (codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2331, 2333-34), which amended the definition of a “blocked asset” under the TRIA to include “any asset of [a] terrorist party (including the blocked assets of any agency or instrumentality of that party) seized or frozen by the United States under Section 805(b) of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.”

         Plaintiffs now move for writs of attachment under the amended TRIA against two sets of assets blocked under the Kingpin Act. See ECF Nos. 9, 16. First, Plaintiffs seek writs of attachment against blocked assets of Aero Continente, S.A., held by Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and American Express National Bank (“Aero Continente Motion”). ECF No. 9. Plaintiffs purport that Aero Continente is an agency or instrumentality of the FARC because it operates as a front company for and is controlled by the Zevallos organization, a Peru-based drug-trafficking operation. Second, Plaintiffs seek writs of attachment against blocked assets of Banco Continental, S.A., held by Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and of Inversiones Continental (Panama), S.A. de C.V. and Inverciones Continental, U.S.A., Corp., held by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC (“Continental Motion”). ECF No. 16. Plaintiffs allege that Banco Continental, Inversiones Continental (Panama) and Inverciones Continental, U.S.A., are all agencies or instrumentalities of the FARC because they are controlled by the Honduras-based Rosenthal organization, which launders money and provides other services in support of narcotics trafficking.

         II. Legal Standard

         Plaintiffs seek post-judgment attachment of blocked assets of an agency or instrumentality of a terrorist party under Section 201(a) of the TRIA, which provides that:

[I]n every case in which a person has obtained a judgment against a terrorist party on a claim based upon an act of terrorism, . . . the blocked assets of that terrorist party (including the blocked assets of any agency or instrumentality of that terrorist party) shall be subject to execution or attachment in aid of execution in order to satisfy such judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages for which such terrorist party has been adjudged liable.

         The TRIA therefore requires the Court to determine (1) whether the plaintiff has obtained a judgment against a terrorist party based on an act of terrorism, (2) whether the relevant assets are “blocked” under the TRIA, and (3) whether the owner of the assets is a terrorist party subject to the judgment or an agency or instrumentality of that party. See Stansell v. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colom., 771 F.3d 713, 723 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Weininger v. Castro, 462 F.Supp.2d 457, 479 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Under the TRIA, “any court of competent jurisdiction” may enforce judgments rendered on behalf of victims of terrorism “by enabling them to satisfy such judgments through the attachment of blocked assets of terrorist parties” or the agency or instrumentality of a terrorist party. Estate of Heiser v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 885 F.Supp.2d 429, 436 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Weininger, 462 F.Supp.2d at 483). This Court therefore has subject matter ...


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