United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Saeed Abedini has spent 1, 268 days of his life in captivity.
In July 2012, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps took him
hostage and detained him until January 2016. For three and a
half years, Abedini was interrogated, tortured, and beaten.
He and his sister, Zibandeh Abedini Galangashy, now come
before this Court seeking recompense for their injuries and
punishment for Defendants, the Islamic Republic of Iran and
its instrumentalities. Specifically, Plaintiffs seek to hold
Iran liable for damages under the terrorism exception to the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. As Iran failed to appear,
default was entered last year. It now falls to the Court to
determine whether to award default judgment and, if so, what
damages are appropriate.
Plaintiffs have complied with all procedural prerequisites,
the first task is easy: a default judgment is appropriate in
this case. Determining the fair amount of damages,
conversely, requires a difficult weighing of relative
injuries. The Court ultimately holds that respective sums of
$44, 621, 460 to Abedini and $2, 547, 716 to Galangashy are
appropriate, yielding a total of $47, 169, 176.
was born and raised in Iran, where he converted to
Christianity as a young adult and became a pastor in the
home-church movement. See ECF No. 18 (Memorandum in
Support of Motion for Default Judgment) at 2. He later moved
to the United States with his wife - a U.S. national - where
they raised their two children. Id. at 3-4. In the
summer of 2012, Abedini returned to Iran to help oversee an
orphanage there. Id., Exh. A (Declaration of Saeed
Abedini), ¶ 18. During this trip, on July 28, the
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized Abedini and took him
hostage. See Default J. Memo at 2; Abedini Decl.,
¶ 18. Throughout his confinement, Abedini suffered
unbearable conditions, including frequent threats and
torture. For over three years, he was housed in Evin Prison
and Rajai Shahr Prison. See Abedini Decl.,
¶¶ 62, 89, 94. He was commonly forced to live in
cells covered in human waste, id., ¶¶ 31,
102, and he was denied proper nourishment and medical
treatment. Id., ¶¶ 43-45, 93, 101. Often,
he was surrounded by inmates who repeatedly beat him.
Id., ¶¶ 96-97, 104.
in his confinement, Abedini faced trial without a lawyer.
See Default J. Memo at 5. He was sentenced to death
for “being a United States spy and for his Christian
faith.” Id.; see also id. at 12-13.
After his trial, he lived in constant fear of his impending
execution. See Abedini Decl., ¶¶ 80,
117-18. When he refused to confess to these alleged crimes -
or refused to name others involved in the home-church
movement in Iran - IRGC guards would beat him. Id.,
¶¶ 36, 47-51, 55, 65, 68-69. He was whipped on his
back and feet, shocked using a taser gun on his kidneys, and
hung by handcuffs from the ceiling. Id.,
¶¶ 51, 57. IRGC guards would threaten to rape,
imprison, and kill his family. Id., ¶¶
52-53. As part of the torture, Abedini was forced into a
“living grave” - a drawer with no light, food,
water, or space to move. Id., ¶ 69.
survived these conditions, Abedini was finally released on
January 16, 2016, with four other American prisoners in
exchange for clemency for seven Iranians who had been
indicted or imprisoned in the U.S. See Default J.
Memo at 19. After his release, his marriage crumbled, and he
moved from city to city in constant fear that agents of Iran
would come after him again. Id. at 20-21.
her brother's captivity, Galangashy worried that she,
too, would be targeted by Iran. Id. at 24-25.
Fearing for her own safety, she moved to the U.S. in 2013,
forcing her to fall behind in her pursuit of a B.A. in
Psychology. Id. at 25-26. After learning of her
brother's confinement and death sentence, she constantly
feared for his life. Id. at 26. Following his
release, she ultimately continued her studies in Lynchburg,
Virginia, where she now lives with him. Id. at
filed this suit on March 16, 2018, and named Iran and
“Its Ministries, Agencies, and Instrumentalities”
as Defendants. See ECF No. 1. (The Court will refer
to Defendants collectively as Iran.) Plaintiffs effected
service on October 1, 2018. See ECF No. 22 (Service
Opinion) at 6. Iran failed to answer the Complaint, and
Plaintiffs requested an entry of default on December 3, 2018,
which was granted one week later. See ECF Nos. 10,
14. Plaintiffs then moved for default judgment. This Court
held an evidentiary hearing on September 20, 2019, where it
heard testimony from both Plaintiffs, as well as from their
psychological and political experts. Having carefully
considered their written statements and oral testimony, the
Court now decides both liability and damages.
defendant is “totally unresponsive, ” the Court
may enter default judgment if the default is plainly willful
- as reflected by a defendant's failure to respond to the
summons and complaint, the entry of default, or the motion
for default judgment. Gutierrez v. Berg Contracting
Inc., No. 99-3044, 2000 WL 331721, at *1 (D.D.C. March
20, 2000) (quoting Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831,
836 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). In the “‘absence of any
request to set aside the default or suggestion by the
defendant that it has a meritorious defense,' it is clear
that the standard for default judgment has been
satisfied.” Int'l Painters & Allied Trades
Indus. Pension Fund v. Auxier Drywall, LLC, 531
F.Supp.2d 56, 57 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Gutierrez,
2000 WL 331721, at *1).
obtain a default judgment in such an action, plaintiffs must
establish their claims “by evidence satisfactory to the
court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). Those who are
successful may then recover damages by showing “that
the projected consequences are reasonably certain (i.e., more
likely than not) to occur, and [proving] the amount of
damages by a reasonable estimate.” Fraenkel v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 892 F.3d 348, 353 (D.C. Cir.
2018) (quoting Hill v. Republic of Iraq, 328 F.3d
680, 684 (D.C. Cir. 2003)). While these requirements create
“some protection against an unfounded default judgment,
” plaintiffs need not produce “more or different
evidence than [a court] would ordinarily receive; indeed, the
quantum and quality of evidence that might satisfy a court
can be less than that normally required.” Id.
(alteration in original) (quoting Owens v. Republic of
Sudan, 864 F.3d 751, 785 (D.C. Cir. 2017)). In any
event, when a foreign state fails to make an appearance, the
court must still determine that an exception to immunity
applies and that the plaintiff has a sufficient legal and
factual basis for his claims. See Jerez v. Republic of
Cuba, 777 F.Supp.2d 6, 18-19 (D.D.C. 2011).
Court will proceed in three steps. It begins by addressing
jurisdictional prerequisites, then evaluates Defendants'
liability, and finishes by determining appropriate damage
states are generally immune from suit in U.S. federal court.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1604. “[T]he FSIA [is]
the sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign
state in federal court, ” Argentine Republic v.
Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428, 439 (1989),
and it grants “a federal district court . . . personal
and subject matter jurisdiction over a foreign entity in
certain circumstances.” Owens v. Republic of
Sudan, 826 F.Supp.2d 128, 148 (D.D.C. 2011).
1.Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Those
circumstances are codified in the FSIA. See 28
U.S.C. §§ 1330(a), 1604. Relevant here is §
1605A, the so-called “terrorism exception.”
See Fraenkel, 892 F.3d at 352. Plaintiffs may
establish subject-matter jurisdiction under this exception by
showing that (a) the foreign state lacks immunity and (b)
their claim may be heard in a U.S. court. See 28
U.S.C. § 1605A(a)(1)-(2).
terrorism exception provides that “[a] foreign state
shall not be immune from the jurisdiction” of U.S.
courts where (1) “money damages are sought” (2)
“against a foreign state” for (3) “personal
injury or death” that (4) “was caused” (5)
“by an act of torture, . . . hostage taking, or the
provision of material support or resources for such an
act.” Id at § 1605A(a)(1); see also
Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 879 F.Supp.2d 44,
51 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting this language); Wultz v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 864 F.Supp.2d 24, 32 (D.D.C.
Plaintiffs' claims meet all five conditions. First, they
seek only money damages. See ECF No. 17 (Motion
Default Judgment) at 2. Second, they lodge their claim
against Iran and its “Ministries, Agencies, and
Instrumentalities.” Compl. at 1. Third, Plaintiffs
allege extensive personal injuries including physical harm
and mental anguish. Id., ¶¶ 16-64. Fourth,
the IRGC caused Plaintiffs' injuries. See
Abedini Decl., ¶ 18 (naming IRGC as perpetrator);
see also Schertzman Cohen v. Islamic Republic of
Iran, No. 17-1214, 2019 WL 3037868, at *3 (D.D.C. July
11, 2019) (holding IRGC “is part of the Iranian
government”). Fifth, and finally, Iran both (i)
tortured Abedini and (ii) took him hostage within the meaning
of the FSIA, as the Court now explains in more detail.
FSIA adopts the definition of “torture” found in
Section 3 of the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1605(h)(7) (citing id.
§ 1350 note (TVPA)). The TVPA, in turn, defines
any act, directed against an individual in the offender's
custody or physical control, by which severe pain or
suffering[, ] . . . whether physical or mental, is
intentionally inflicted on that individual for such purposes
as obtaining from that individual or a third person
information or a confession, punishing that individual[, ] .
. . intimidating or coercing that individual or a third
person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any
TVPA § 3(a)(1).
definition encompasses “prolonged mental harm”
caused by threats of immediate bodily injury, death threats,
and threats against family members. Id. §
3(a)(2)(A)-(D). When identifying what conduct constitutes
torture, our Circuit uses two measures: (1) “the degree
of pain and suffering that the alleged torturer intended to,
and actually did, inflict upon the victim”; and (2) the
extent to which the “production of pain and suffering
is purposive.” Price v. Socialist People's
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 294 F.3d 82, 93 (D.C. Cir. 2002)
one, acts of torture must be “sufficiently extreme and
outrageous to warrant . . . universal condemnation.”
Id. at 92. The IRGC certainly inflicted such severe
mental and physical pain and suffering upon Abedini. See,
e.g., id. at 92-93 (“‘[T]orture . .
. is usually reserved for extreme, deliberate and unusually
cruel practices, for example, sustained systematic beating,
application of electric currents to sensitive parts of the
body, and tying up or hanging in positions that cause extreme
pain.' . . . The more intense, lasting, or heinous the
agony, the more likely it is to be torture.”) (quoting
S. Exec. Rep. No. 101-30, at 14 (1990)); Azadeh v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 16-1467, 2018 WL 4232913,
at *11-12 (D.D.C. Sept. 5, 2018) (finding Iranian actors
tortured plaintiff at Evin Prison by confining her in small
cell with poor light and toilet facilities, denying her
medical care, and endlessly interrogating and threatening her
each day); Daliberti v. Republic of Iraq, 146
F.Supp.2d 19, 25 (D.D.C. 2001) (finding torture where
plaintiff was incarcerated with inadequate sanitary
facilities and no medical care).
his confinement, Iranian guards repeatedly beat, shocked, and
whipped Abedini. See Default J. Memo at 5-7. They
kept him in “stress positions” - hung from the
ceiling by handcuffs, id. at 7, and forced into a
“drawer” with “no space to move.”
Id. at 10. He was repeatedly denied medical
treatment and consequently suffered from severe physical
ailments. Id. at 9, 14, 17. The IRGC also tormented
Abedini, ordering his execution shortly after his confinement
and frequently taunting him about his impending death.
Id. at 5, 18. Every day he woke up not knowing when
or how he might be executed. Id. Abedini suffered
through nearly three and a half years of systematic abuse.
The IRGC's actions are undoubtedly “extreme and
outrageous” conduct amounting to torture under the
to constitute torture, conduct must be “intentional and
malicious, ” “not merely haphazard.”
Price I, 294 F.3d at 93. The Court has no difficulty
concluding that the IRGC deliberately and purposefully abused
Abedini while he was in captivity. See Daliberti,
146 F.Supp.2d at 25 (finding intentional torture where
plaintiff was threatened for refusing to give false
confession). Like in Daliberti, Defendants wanted
Abedini to falsely confess that he was a CIA spy “on a
mission to overthrow the Iranian government.” Default
J. Memo at 5. When he refused, the guards beat him.
Id. at 6-7. Likewise, guards punished him for
refusing to ...