Friday, July 6, 2012

Court finds against Iran and awards $813 million to victims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

A Washington federal judge has awarded $813 million to victims of the 1983 terrorist bombing at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, the latest in a string of large money judgments awarded against Iran for its role in the attack.  The case is called Brown v. Islamic Republic of Iran and the opinion is available here.  The claim was brought under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows Americans to sue foreign states if it can be shown that the injury was caused by an act of terrorism sponsored by that foreign state.  The Blog of the Legal Times has more details here. This type of ruling is not unusual.  In fact, as the court states in its conclusion "Iran is racking up quite a bill from its sponsorship of terrorism. After this opinion, this Court will have issued over $8.8 billion in judgments against Iran as a result of the 1983 Beirut bombing."

Unfortunately, however, it is almost impossible for the victims to actually collect the money awarded. 

In one recent case on this issue called Estate of Heiser v Iran (DDC 2011), the court discusses how difficult it is for plaintiffs in cases like these to recover.  In that case, the plaintiffs went after Sprint to attempt to get Sprint to pay them money it owed to Iran's communications agency.  After discussing the issue in detail the court did order Sprint to give the funds to the plaintiffs, but then it concluded that
“...this decision represents renewed hope for long-suffering victims of state-sponsored terrorism. . . .But the bleak reality is that today’s decision comes after more than a year of litigation and results in a turnover of funds amounting to less than one-tenth of one-percent of what plaintiffs are entitled to in these consolidated cases.  And this infinitesimal sum is dwarfed by even greater magnitudes when compared to the endless agony and suffering befalling these victims.  A step in the right direction, to be sure.  But a very small one.”

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