Barry v. Islamic Republic of Iran

Citation410 F.Supp.3d 161
Decision Date04 September 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 16-1625 (RC)
Parties Kevin BARRY, et al., Plaintiffs, v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Steven Marc Schneebaum, Steven M. Schneebaum, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs Kevin Barry, Alan Bigler, John Mckennan, Michael Milroy, Patrick Ruefle, Bernard J. Woerz, Jeremy S. Zeikel.

Aryeh S. Portnoy, Crowell & Moring, LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff All Smith Plaintiffs.


RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge


On September 20, 1984, an explosive-laden van was detonated at the U.S. Embassy Annex ("Annex") in East Beirut, Lebanon, targeting the American servicemembers and embassy employees stationed at that location. The courts of this Circuit have contended with the tragic impact of this attack, which killed fourteen individuals and injured over fifty individuals, in a number of mass tort lawsuits brought under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The 1984 Annex attack continues to resonate before this Court. Among the individuals serving at the Annex at the time of the bombing were foreign service officers Kevin Barry, Alan Bigler, John McKennan, Bernard Woerz, and Jeremy Zeikel; State Department employee Michael Milroy; and U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Patrick Ruefle, who seek compensatory, economic, and punitive damages pursuant to the FSIA. Defendant Iran has not entered an appearance in the more than three years since the suit was filed. This Court must now decide whether to enter default judgment on liability and damages on behalf of these seven Plaintiffs.


A. Factual History1

This suit stems from the September 20, 1984, terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy Annex in East Beirut, Lebanon. On the morning of the attack, a suicide bomber drove a vehicle loaded with explosives toward the building. See Brewer , 664 F. Supp. 2d at 47 (citing Wagner , 172 F. Supp. 2d at 132 ). Avoiding the concrete barriers intended to prevent just such an approach, the driver refused orders to stop—leading both Lebanese National Guards and British bodyguards on site to open fire. See Wagner , 172 F. Supp. 2d. at 132. Before the vehicle could reach the underground garage, thought to be the driver's destination, the bomb detonated at the front of the Embassy. See id. ; see also Brewer , 664 F. Supp. 2d at 47. The bomb, which was estimated to contain "some 1500 kilograms of explosives, demolished the embassy building." Wagner , 172 F. Supp. 2d at 132. This explosion killed over ten individuals, including two American servicemembers, and injured over fifty others. See Estate of Doe , 808 F. Supp. 2d at 8. Among those affected by the blast were the seven Plaintiffs who originally filed the instant suit ("Barry Plaintiffs").2

The seven Barry Plaintiffs were acting in their official duties as employees of the U.S. government or active members of the U.S. Marine Corps at the time of the attack. Pls.' Mot. Default J. 7, ECF No. 13. Plaintiffs Kevin Barry, Alan Bigler, John McKennan, Bernard Woerz, and Jeremy Zeikel were employed as Foreign Service Officers at the Embassy Annex. Id. at 4; see also Pls.' Mot. Default J., Attach. A, Declaration of Kevin M. Barry ("Barry Decl.") ¶ 6, ECF No. 13-1; id. , Attach. B, Declaration of Alan Bigler ("Bigler Decl.") ¶ 5, ECF No. 13-2; id. , Attach. C, Declaration of John McKennan ("McKennan Decl.") ¶ 5, ECF No. 13-3; id. , Attach. F, Declaration of Bernard J. Woerz ("Woerz Decl.") ¶ 5, ECF No. 13-6; id. , Attach. G, Declaration of Jeremy S. Zeikel ("Zeikel Decl.") ¶ 6, ECF No. 13-7. Plaintiff Michael Milroy was an employee of the State Department employed at the Embassy Annex alongside his wife. Id. at 4; see also id. , Attach. D, Declaration of Michael Milroy ("Milroy Decl.") ¶ 5, ECF No. 13-4. Plaintiff Ruefle was serving in the United States Marine Corps and assigned to guard the Embassy Annex. Id. at 4; see also id. , Attach. E, Declaration of Patrick Ruefle ("Ruefle Decl.") ¶ 6, ECF No. 13-5.

When the bomb detonated, the Barry Plaintiffs were positioned at locations throughout the Annex. Four of the men were located on the second floor of the building. See Pls.' Mot. Default J. 5. Mr. Barry and Mr. McKennan were working together in an office. Id. ; Barry Decl. ¶ 8; McKennan Decl. ¶ 6. The men were "propelled out of their chairs," Pls.' Mot. Default J. 5, by the force of the explosion, and Mr. Barry was knocked unconscious, Barry Decl. ¶ 9. Both individuals required immediate medical attention and ongoing medical care to redress their physical injuries as well as lingering psychological effects. See Pls.' Mot. Default J. 5; Barry Decl. ¶¶ 17–19; McKennan Decl. ¶¶ 14–17. Another two of the men, Mr. Woerz and Mr. Milroy, were conferring in Mr. Woerz's office on the second floor of the Annex when they heard shots fired. Woerz Decl. ¶¶ 9–11; Milroy Decl. ¶ 6. Shortly after the gunfire concluded, the bomb exploded. Woerz Decl. ¶ 11. Mr. Woerz was "blown out of [his] chair" and knocked unconscious. Id. He required treatment at the local hospital, id. ¶¶ 12–13, subsequent evacuation to the Israeli military hospital in Tel Aviv, and, upon his return to the U.S., ongoing medical attention for physical and psychological injuries. Id. ¶¶ 17–20. Mr. Milroy was injured by the same blast, which knocked him to the ground. Milroy Decl. ¶ 6. His injuries required immediate medical treatment, evacuation to the Tel Aviv military hospital, and ongoing medical care for physical and psychological injuries upon his subsequent return to the U.S. Id. ¶¶ 7–9.

The remaining three Plaintiffs were at other locations in the Annex at the time of the explosion. Mr. Bigler and Mr. Zeikel were meeting in the Annex's cafeteria when the bomb denotated. Pls.' Mot. Default J. 5; Bigler Decl. ¶ 6; Zeikel Decl. ¶ 7. Mr. Bigler was injured so severely that he was initially presumed dead, placed in a body bag, and loaded onto a truck to be taken to the morgue. Bigler Decl. ¶ 7. His physical recovery required extensive medical treatment and surgeries over the following year, id. , and his physical and psychological suffering were ongoing, id. ¶¶ 12–14. Mr. Zeikel was initially knocked unconscious by the blast and, upon awakening, discovered the bodies of friends and colleagues. Pl.'s Mot. Default J. 5; Zeikel Decl. ¶¶ 7, 9. He received medical attention at the scene, id. ¶ 12, was diagnosed with "severe shock" and ordered to depart Lebanon, id. ¶ 14, and thereafter continued to suffer physical and psychological symptoms, id. ¶¶ 16–19. Mr. Ruefle, a U.S. Marine on guard duty at the Annex, was on roving patrol on the morning of the attack. Ruefle Decl. ¶¶ 6–7. He was patrolling in the cafeteria when the bomb detonated, in the same room as Mr. Bigler and Mr. Zeikel. Id. ¶ 7. After the explosion, he immediately felt that his ears had been injured but went back into the building and assisted Mr. Bigler as well as other victims. Id. ¶ 8. He continued to suffer residual physical and psychological injuries thereafter, id. ¶¶ 9–10, and ultimately made the difficult determination that "what happened in Beirut left [him] scared and scarred inside," such that he "knew [he] could not continue to serve," id. ¶ 12.

All seven of the Plaintiffs, in short, were directly affected by the tragic events of September 20, 1984, and brought suit against Defendant Iran seeking compensatory, economic, and punitive damages. The Barry Plaintiffs raise both a private right of action under the FSIA and a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Iran has not entered an appearance in this action since its commencement over three years ago. The question now before the Court is whether it is appropriate to enter default judgment regarding liability and damages, as a matter of law, based on the Barry Plaintiffs' claims of mental anguish and emotional pain and suffering. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will enter default judgment and award compensatory damages for each of the seven Barry Plaintiffs, but deny economic damages for Plaintiff Ruefle and deny punitive damages for all Plaintiffs.

A. Default Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 sets forth a two-step process for a party seeking default judgment: entry of default, followed by entry of default judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55 ; see also Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indust. Pension Fund v. Rose City Glass Co., Inc. , 729 F. Supp. 2d 336, 338 n.3 (D.D.C. 2010) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 55 ; Eitel v. McCool , 782 F.2d 1470, 1471 (9th Cir. 1986) ; Meehan v. Snow , 652 F.2d 274, 276 (2d Cir. 1981) ). First, after a defendant has failed to plead or otherwise defend against an action, the plaintiff may request that the clerk of the court enter default against that defendant. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Second, following the clerk's entry of default, and where the plaintiff's claim is not for a sum certain, Rule 55(b)(2) permits the plaintiff to apply to the court for entry of default judgment. Id. 55(b)(2). By providing for a two-step process, Rule 55 provides the defendant an opportunity to move the court to set aside the default before the court enters default judgment. Id. 55(b), (c).

Although entry of default judgment may at times be appropriate, it is "not automatic." Braun v. Islamic Republic of Iran , 228 F. Supp. 3d 64, 74 (D.D.C. 2017) (footnote omitted) (quoting Mwani v. bin Laden , 417 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C. Cir. 2005) ). Because "strong policies favor the resolution of disputes on their merits[,]" the court "normally" must view the default judgment as "available only when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party." Jackson v. Beech , 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (quoting H. F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe , 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970) ...

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