United States District Court, District of Columbia
ESTER LELCHOOK, et al. Plaintiffs,
SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT RE
DOCUMENT NOS. 27, 28, 29
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.
August 2, 2006, one of the thousands of rockets and missiles
launched by Hezbollah that summer struck Kibbutz Saar in
northern Israel, fatally injuring kibbutz resident David
Lelchook. Compl. ¶¶ 14–15, ECF No.
1. Plaintiffs Ester Lelchook,  Michal Lelchook,
Yael Lelchook, Alexander Lelchook, and the Estate of Doris
Lelchook,  respectively the spouse, two daughters,
brother, and mother of David Lelchook, brought suit against
Defendant the Syrian Arab Republic pursuant to the Foreign
Sovereign Immunity Act (“FSIA”) terrorism
exception, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(a). Alleging that
Syria’s provision of “material support” to
Hezbollah rendered it liable for the extrajudicial killing of
David Lelchook, id. ¶ 21, Plaintiffs sought
damages for extrajudicial killing and wrongful death,
id. ¶¶ 23–29, and intentional
infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) and
solatium, id. ¶¶ 30–36. After
Defendant failed to enter an appearance, Plaintiffs moved for
entry of default, see ECF No. 14, which the Clerk of
Court granted on September 20, 2017, see ECF No. 15.
Plaintiffs then moved for entry of default judgment.
See ECF No. 17.
prior ruling, this Court granted in part Plaintiffs’
motion for default judgment regarding liability. See
generally Lelchook II, 2019 WL 2191177. Accepting the
thoughtful and thorough report and recommendation by
Magistrate Judge Meriweather, see Lelchook v. Syrian Arab
Republic (“Lelchook I”), No.
16-1550 (RC/RMM), 2019 WL 2191323 (D.D.C. Jan. 31, 2019), the
Court concluded that it had subject matter jurisdiction over
the suit, that Plaintiffs each had a private right of action
under the FSIA, and that Plaintiffs presented viable theories
of liability regarding (1) Ester Lechook’s wrongful
death claim on behalf of the Estate of David Lelchook and (2)
Michal, Yael, Alexander, and the Estate of Doris
Lelchook’s IIED claim. Lelchook II, 2019 WL
2191177, at *2–3. The question now facing the Court is
the measure of damages to award for each of these claims
pursuant to the FSIA’s federal cause of action.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1605A(c). For the reasons set
forth below, the Court will enter default judgment for
economic damages and compensatory damages and deny punitive
LEGAL STANDARD FOR DAMAGES UNDER THE FSIA
the FSIA, a plaintiff may recover “economic damages,
solatium, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.”
§ 1605A(c)(4). “To obtain damages, the plaintiff
must prove that the consequences of the defendant[’s]
acts were reasonably certain to occur, and they must prove
the amount of damages by a reasonable estimate.”
Reed v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 845 F.Supp.2d 204,
213 (D.D.C. 2012) (citing Hill v. Republic of Iraq,
328 F.3d 680, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2003); see also Valore v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 700 F.Supp.2d 52, 83 (D.D.C.
2010). The consequences of a defendant’s acts are
“reasonably certain . . . to occur” when they are
“more likely than not.” Braun v. Islamic
Republic of Iran, 228 F.Supp. 3d 64');">228 F.Supp. 3d 64, 82 (D.D.C. 2017)
(quoting Roth v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 78
F.Supp. 3d 379, 402 (D.D.C. 2015)); see also Wultz v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 864 F.Supp.2d 24, 37 (D.D.C.
2012). To prove the amount of a damages by “a
reasonable estimate consistent with this [Circuit]’s
application of the American rule on damages, ”
Salazar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 370 F.Supp.2d
105, 115–16 (D.D.C. 2005) (internal quotations omitted)
(quoting Hill, 328 F.3d at 681), a court may
consider expert testimony as well as comparable awards in
similar cases, see Braun, 228 F.Supp. 3d at 82;
Reed, 845 F.Supp.2d at 214; Acosta v. Islamic
Republic of Iran, 574 F.Supp.2d 15, 29 (D.D.C. 2008).
Lelchooks seek damages against Syria pursuant to the FSIA.
See Pls.’ Mem. Setting Forth Damages Evid.
(“Pls.’ Mem.”), ECF No. 29. More precisely,
Ester Lelchook, as the representative of the Estate of David
Lelchook, seeks economic damages for the wrongful death of
David Lechook, id. at 2, and Michal, Yael,
Alexander, and the Estate of Doris Lelchook seek compensatory
damages for their IIED claim, id. at 4.
All five Plaintiffs also seek punitive damages, which the
Court will briefly discuss before addressing the other claims
established in this Court’s prior judgment in this
case, see Lelchook II, 2019 WL 2191177, and as
discussed in depth in Magistrate Judge Meriweather’s
Report and Recommendation, see Lelchook I, 2019 WL
2191323, at *5–6, entry of liability against Syria, a
foreign sovereign, was authorized pursuant to the
FSIA’s “terrorism exception, ” as codified
at 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. This Circuit has made clear that
“the FSIA terrorism exception does not retroactively
authorize the imposition of punitive damages against a
sovereign for conduct occurring before the passage of §
1605A” in 2008. Owens v. Republic of Sudan,
864 F.3d 751, 812 (D.C. Cir. 2017). Because Defendant’s
conduct occurred on August 2, 2006, before the passage of
section 1605A, the FSIA does not retroactively authorize the
imposition of punitive damages here. Thus, the Court denies
Plaintiffs’ motion for entry of default judgment
regarding punitive damages.
Economic Damages for Wrongful Death Claim
Lelchook, acting as the legal representative of the Estate of
David Lelchook, seeks to recover for economic loss caused by
the death of David Lelchook in Defendant’s missile
attack. See Pls.’ Mem. 2. The FSIA
permits “[a] wrongful-death action” to be
“brought through the estate of the decedent
‘for economic losses which result from a
decedent’s premature death.’”
Valore, 700 F.Supp.2d at 78 (quoting Flatow v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 999 F.Supp. 1, 27 (D.D.C.
1998), abrogated on other grounds); see also
Murphy v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 740 F.Supp.2d 51, 74
(D.D.C. 2010). In a suit under the FSIA, “the report of
a forensic economist may provide a reasonable basis for
determining the amount of economic damages.”
Reed, 845 F.Supp.2d at 214; see also Belkin v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 667 F.Supp.2d 8, 24 (D.D.C.
2009) (relying on forensic economist’s report in
calculation of economic damages). Where a court relies upon
such a report, it is to consider the “reasonableness
and foundation of the assumptions relied upon by the
expert.” Roth, 78 F.Supp. 3d at 402 (citing
Reed, 845 F.Supp.2d at 214).
case, Plaintiffs offer an expert report compiled by Chad
Staller and Stephen Dripps, who serve as president and senior
economist at the Center for Forensic Economic Studies, as
evidence of economic loss sustained by the Estate of David
Lelchook. See Pls.’ Mem., Expert Report of
Chad Staller and Stephen Dripps (“Staller & Dripps
Expert Report”), ECF No. 29-1. This report establishes
that, based on the average retirement age of 67 for an
Israeli male, David Lelchook would have worked 15.3 more
years, id. at 2, and accrued 1, 889, 909₪ in
earnings, id. at 7. Upon retirement, he would have
been eligible for pension benefits until age 84.5, his
projected age at death based on statistical averages,
id. at 2, 4, and received 727, 200₪ in pension
benefits, id. at 7. The report also describes the
value of lost household services that David Lelchook would
have performed between the privatization of Kibbutz Saar in
2008 and the expected loss of his functional capacity at age
70 in the year 2024, id. at 4, amounting to a
predicted value of 315, 478₪, id. at 7. Based
on this forensic evidence, after accounting for personal
maintenance expenses, the net economic loss amounts to 1,
014, 790₪, which converts to $285, 665. Id. at
7. Finding these predictions to be based upon reasonable
assumptions and associated calculations, the Court awards
$285, 655 in economic damages for Ester Lelchook’s
wrongful death claim on behalf of David Lelchook’s
Compensatory Damages for IIED Claims
remaining four Plaintiffs-Michal Lelchook, Yael Lelchook,
Alexander Lelchook, and the Estate of Doris Lelchook-seek
compensatory damages for Defendant’s intentional
infliction of emotional distress. In the context of a suit
under the FSIA, courts in this Circuit have found IIED and
solatium claims to be “indistinguishable.”
Estate of Heiser v. Islamic Republic of Iran
(“Heiser II”), 659 F.Supp.2d 20, 27 n.4
(D.D.C. 2009) (quoting Surette v. Islamic Republic of
Iran, 231 F.Supp.2d 260, 267 (D.D.C. 2002) (quoting
Black’s Law Dictionary 1397 (7th ed. 1999))); see
also Flanagan v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 87 F.Supp. 3d
93, 115 (D.D.C. 2015). Thus, in calculating the appropriate
amount of compensatory damages, the Court considers only the
IIED theory of relief, although its analysis takes into
account “prior decisions awarding damages for