United States District Court, District of Columbia
THE ESTATE OF MAX STEINBERG, et al. Plaintiffs,
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN and THE SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, Defendants.
C. Lamberth, United States District Judge
Steinberg, an American citizen fighting for the Israeli army,
was ambushed and killed in Gaza City on July 20, 2014. Compl.
¶¶ 41-42, ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs-Max's estate,
parents, and siblings-have brought claims and seek damages
pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
("FSIA") against the Islamic Republic of Iran and
the Syrian Arab Republic. Id. ¶ 1. Pending
before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for default
judgment. ECF No. 18. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court concludes that the plaintiffs' motion will be
filed their original complaint on September 18, 2017. Compl.,
ECF No. 1. Their causes of action are premised on § 1605
A of the FSIA, as is this Court's jurisdiction. Iran was
served with process on May 16, 2018. ECF No. 12. Syria was
served with process on June 20, 2018. ECF No. 15. Neither
defendant made a response and neither has appeared in this
case'. The Clerk of the Court entered default against
Iran on July 25, 2018, and against Syria on October 15, 2018.
ECF Nos. 14, 17. Plaintiffs have now moved for entry of
default judgment against defendants, both as to liability and
damages. Mot. Default J., ECF No. 18.
Findings of Fact
1608(e) of the FSIA prohibits courts from entering a default
judgment "unless the claimant establishes his claim or
right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court."
28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). The Court cannot "simply
accept a complaint's unsupported allegations as
true," and must "inquire further before entering
judgment against parties in default." Rimkus v.
Islamic Republic of Iran, 750 F.Supp.2d 163, 171 (D.D.C.
2010) (internal quotations omitted). In considering evidence
and making findings of fact, the Court may rely on affidavits
and may take judicial notice of prior related proceedings.
20, 2014, Max's Israeli army unit initiated a mission to
discover and destroy underground tunnels used by Hamas, a
Palestinian terrorist organization. Dr. Ronni Shaked Expert
Decl. ¶¶ 55-56, ECF No. 18-2. During the
mission, Hamas terrorists launched rocket-propelled grenades
at an Israeli armored vehicle, killing Max and six of his
fellow soldiers. Id. ¶ 56. Following the
attack, Hamas kidnapped the body of Shaul Oron, a soldier
from Max's brigade who had also been killed. Id.
thereafter, Hamas took credit for the attack. Id.
¶ 58. It disseminated its claim of responsibility
through its website, where it claimed that "fighters of
the Izzadin Al-Qassam Battalions were able to ambush an
armored carrier and kill 14 soldiers." Id. In a
video clip broadcast on television, a Hamas spokesman
confirmed personal details of its dead captive, Oron.
Id. ¶ 59. The backdrop of the video displayed a
Hamas flag. Id. According to plaintiffs' expert
Dr. Shaked, "[o]fficial sources in Israel, the Prime
Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry and [the Israeli
army] Spokesman confirmed that Hamas carried out the
terrorist attack." Id. ¶ 65.
Defendants' Support of Hamas
is described by the State Department as "an outgrowth of
the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood" that
"has conducted anti-Israeli attacks, including suicide
bombings against civilian targets inside Israel." U.S.
Dep't of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2014 at 292
(2015) [hereinafter Country Reports on Terrorism].
It has been "the most successful of all [Palestinian]
terrorist organizations over the past 30 years," and
"strives to establish a Palestinian state founded on
Islamic law ... in place of the state of Israel." Dr.
Shaked Expert Decl. ¶ 34, ECF No. 18-2. "Hamas
sanctifies Jihad as the sole method of action to destroy the
State of Israel." Id.
has been designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism since
1984 "and continued its terrorist-related activity in
2014." Country Reports on Terrorism at 284.
"Iran has historically provided weapons, training, and
funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups
...." Id. at 285. Historical Iranian support of
Hamas is well-documented by the State Department and
acknowledged by this Court. See Roth v. Islamic Republic
of Iran, 78 F.Supp.3d 379, 388-89 (D.D.C. 2015). In
2012, however, relations between Hamas and Iran stalled. Dr.
Matthew Levitt Expert Decl. 26, ECF No. 18-3. Hamas's
refusal to support Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime
against rebellion distressed Assad's Iranian allies.
Id. at 26-27. Iran began to withhold substantial
funds from Hamas. Id. at 27. But relations appeared
to be on the mend the following year. Speaking in late 2014,
Iran's Supreme Leader "highlighted Iran's
military support to 'Palestinian brothers' in Gaza
and called for the West Bank to be similarly armed. In
December, 2014, Hamas Deputy Leader Moussa Abu Marzouk
announced bilateral relations with Iran and Hamas were
'back on track."' Country Reports on
Terrorism at 285. Plaintiffs' expert Dr. Levitt
claims that even in the midst of the political controversy,
Iran continued to fund Hamas's military wing. Dr. Levitt
Expert Decl. 27, ECF No. 18-3. Dr. Levitt also cites Iranian
officials in 2014 explicitly stating that "Iran is
supporting Hamas," and that "[m]uch of the arms
Hamas deployed were the products of the Islamic Republic of
Iran." Id. (quotations omitted). Six months
before Max's killing, an aide to a Hamas leader confirmed
that "relations between [Hamas and Iran] are now almost
back to how they were before [the crisis over Syria]. We
believe we will soon be back at that point."
Id. The State Department's report on terrorism
for 2014 summarized: "Since the conclusion of [an
Israeli military offensive], Iranian governmental officials
have publicly stated a willingness to resume Iran's
military support of Hamas, including arming Hamas in the West
Bank with the same weapons as in Gaza, but it remains unclear
whether efforts have resumed." Country Reports on
Terrorism at 173.
meanwhile, has been designated as a State Sponsor of
Terrorism since 1979. Country Reports on Terrorism
at 287. This Court has noted that "Hamas undertook to
carry out acts of extrajudicial killing and terrorism against
Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and in return Syria
undertook to provide Hamas with material support and
resources to carry out such extrajudicial killings and
terrorist attacks." Roth v. Syrian Arab
Republic, 2018 WL 4680270, at *3 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2018)
(quoting Braun v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 228
F.Supp.3d 64, 71 (D.D.C. 2017)). For years, Syria provided
safe haven to Hamas. Id. The terrorist group
operated its headquarters out of Damascus until 2012.
Id. "In fact, Syrian military intelligence
worked closely with Hamas military leaders in Syria, and
[instructions for terrorist attacks were transmitted directly
from Damascus to the terrorist cell that was to carry out the
attack." Id. (internal quotations omitted).
Through Syria, Hamas channeled financial support, smuggled
weapons, and conducted training. Id. Hamas and Syria
cut ties in 2012 following the aforementioned Syrian civil
war rift, but Hamas continued to benefit from the substantial
support that it had received from Syria up to that point. Dr.
Levitt Expert Decl. 26, 38, ECF No. 18-3.
Plaintiffs' Status and Injuries
Court now makes findings regarding each plaintiff, including
the injuries each plaintiff suffered as a result of Max
Steinberg's killing and each plaintiffs citizenship (as
is relevant to their entitlement to recover under § 1605
A of the FSIA).
Steinberg was killed in the July 20, 2014, attack. Dr. Shaked
Expert Decl. ¶ 56, ECF No. 18-2. He was 24 years old.
Id. ¶ 28. He is represented in this litigation
by his father, Stuart Steinberg, who serves as special
administrator of Max's estate. Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No.
1. Max was a United States citizen. Stuart Steinberg Decl.
¶ 19, ECF No. 18-7.
Steinberg is Max Steinberg's father. Stuart Steinberg
Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 18-7. He constantly reckons with the
reality that he will never see, hug, or speak with his son
ever again. Id. ¶ 6. To him, the loss is
incomparable. Id. Max's birth had coincided with
the loss of Stuart's own mother, and his love filled a
void that is once again empty. Id. ¶ 7. After
experiencing the paternal satisfaction of watching his son
grow from boy to man, Stuart then endured having to see his
son cut down in the prime of his youth. Id. ¶
11. His emotional trauma caused him to step'
down from a promotion and has hindered him financially.
Id. ¶ 13-14. He sees no end to his grief.
Id. ¶ 16.
Steinberg is Max Steinberg's mother. Evie Steinberg Decl.
¶ 3, ECF No. 18-6. Her declaration describes a
devastated woman, riddled with anxiety and victim to
sleeplessness and panic attacks. Id. ¶ 6. The
loss of her son has sapped her enjoyment of life and caused
her to mask her brokenness for the sake of her family.
Id. ¶ 7, 11. Holidays that were once eagerly
anticipated are now dreaded reminders of life without Max.
Id. ¶ 8. The emotional weight of the loss has
fostered neglect of her health, finances, and relationships.
Id. ¶ 10, 15, 16.
Steinberg is Max Steinberg's brother. Jake Steinberg
Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No.' 18-9. Jake describes health
issues stemming from his emotional trauma: hair loss, weight
fluctuations, and sleeplessness among them. Id.
¶ 6. He worked less and earned less. Id. His
law school ambitions faded away. Id. ¶ 7. To
Jake, the future looks much less bright without Max in it.
Id. ¶ 10.
Steinberg is Max Steinberg's sister. Paige Steinberg
Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 18-8. Since Max's death she has
felt robbed of peace and unable to relax. Id. ¶
7. To cope with the loss she moved from her home in the
United States to Israel, where Max was killed. Id.
¶ 5. She sought out lower paying jobs that offered more
flexibility so she would have personal time to attempt to
heal. Id. ¶ 9. She attributes her seemingly
constant illness to the stress brought on by Max's death.
Id. ¶ 8.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
FSIA 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). Foreign sovereign immunity is "a matter of grace
and comity on the part of the United States, and not a
restriction imposed by the Constitution." Verlinden
B. V. v. Central Bank of Nigeria,461 U.S. 480, 486
(1983). Only specifically enumerated exceptions to that
principle may authorize a district court to assert subject
matter jurisdiction over claims against a foreign state.
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