Collett v. Socialist Peoples' Libyan Arab Jamah.

Decision Date24 March 2005
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 01-2103 (RMU).
Citation362 F.Supp.2d 230
PartiesElaine L. COLLETT et al., Plaintiffs, v. SOCIALIST PEOPLES' LIBYAN ARAB JAMAHIRIYA et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

John Joseph McDermott, Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson, Paul G. Gaston, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Arman Dabiri Abkenari, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


URBINA, District Judge.


This matter comes before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The plaintiffs allege that Libya, the ESO (an intelligence agency of Libya), Colonel Muammar Qadhafi (the dictator of Libya), and various unnamed officials, employees, and agents of Libya (collectively, the "defendants") provided support to a terrorist group, the Abu Nidal Organization, which kidnaped, tortured, and killed Alec Collett, a husband and father to the respective plaintiffs. Because the court awaits a potentially dispositive statement from the Executive Branch on head-of-state immunity, the court denies without prejudice the defendants' arguments for dismissal of claims against Qadhafi. As to the other defendants, the court orders discovery on whether Libya provided material support to Abu Nidal, holds that it has personal jurisdiction over Libya and the ESO, and holds that the plaintiffs state certain claims on which relief can be granted. Accordingly, the court grants in part and denies in part the defendants' motion to dismiss.

A. Factual Background

Alec Collett, a journalist and British subject, worked for the United Nations Bureau of the Associated Press on assignment with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in 1985. Am. Compl. ¶ 21. In March of that year, the "Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims" (also known as the Abu Nidal Organization) abducted Collett in Beirut, Lebanon. Id. ¶¶ 17, 22.1 While captive, Collett appeared on two videotapes to convey the demands of his captors and to send messages to his family. Id. ¶ 24; Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot.") at 16 (stating that the terrorists demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in Great Britain).

On April 15, 1986, the United States and England attacked Libya in retaliation for a bombing in West Berlin that killed American servicemen. Am. Compl. ¶ 25. A few days after the bombing, a videotape of a hanging surfaced with a note stating that the hanged man was Alec Collett "and that he had been executed in retaliation for the United States raid on Libya." Id. ¶ 27. Although the videotape is of poor quality and Alec Collett's remains have not been retrieved, Collett's family accept the videotape as authentic. Id. ¶¶ 27-29. The plaintiffs generally claim that the money, camps, and training provided by Libya, the ESO, and Qadhafi to the Abu Nidal Organization helped bring about the various injuries to and death of Alec Collett. Id. ¶ 19.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiffs filed their first complaint on October 9, 2001. On November 13, 2002, the court granted a motion to stay pending jurisdictional discovery. On May 15, 2003, the defendants moved to dismiss. On March 16, 2004, the court issued an order denying without prejudice the defendants' motion to dismiss and granting the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to comply with Cicippio-Puleo v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 353 F.3d 1024 (D.C.Cir.2004). On April 16, 2004, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint seeking recovery of economic and punitive damages under international law, federal statutory causes of action, and state common-law torts of false imprisonment, wrongful death, survival, loss of consortium and solatium, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. See generally Am. Compl. On May 16, 2004, Libya, Qadhafi, and the ESO filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and failure to state a claim. See generally Defs.' Mot. To aid the court in determining the validity of the plaintiffs' claims against Qadhafi, on March 1, 2005 the court requested that the Executive Branch file a suggestion of head-of-state immunity.

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
1. Legal Standard for a Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss Under the FSIA

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("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, 109 S.Ct. 683, 102 L.Ed.2d 818 (1989). The basic premise of the FSIA is that foreign sovereigns are immune from suit in the United States unless the action falls under one of the specific exceptions enumerated in the statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1604; Price v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 389 F.3d 192, 196 (D.C.Cir.2004) ("Price II"). If the foreign sovereign is not immune, the federal district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1604; Daliberti v. Republic of Iraq, 97 F.Supp.2d 38, 42 (D.D.C.2000) (citing Amerada Hess, 488 U.S. at 434-35, 109 S.Ct. 683).

Under the FSIA, the foreign sovereign has "immunity from trial and the attendant burdens of litigation, and not just a defense to liability on the merits." Phoenix Consulting, Inc. v. Republic of Angola, 216 F.3d 36, 39 (D.C.Cir.2000) (quoting Foremost-McKesson, Inc. v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 905 F.2d 438, 443 (D.C.Cir.1990)). The special circumstances of a foreign sovereign require the court to engage in more than the usual pretrial factual and legal determinations. Foremost-McKesson, 905 F.2d at 449. The D.C. Circuit has noted that it is particularly important that the court "satisfy itself of its authority to hear the case" before trial. Id. (quoting Prakash v. Am. Univ., 727 F.2d 1174, 1179 (D.C.Cir.1984)).

Once a foreign-sovereign defendant asserts immunity, the plaintiff bears the burden of producing evidence to show that there is no immunity and that the court therefore has jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims. Daliberti, 97 F.Supp.2d at 42 (citations omitted). A court may dismiss a complaint brought under the FSIA only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims that would entitle him to relief. Id. (citations omitted). Once the plaintiff has shown that the foreign defendant is not immune from suit, the defendant bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff's allegations do not bring the case within one of the statutory exceptions to immunity. Phoenix Consulting, 216 F.3d at 40.

The exception to foreign sovereign immunity at issue in this case is the state-sponsored terrorism exception, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7), that Congress enacted as part of the comprehensive Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), Pub.L. No. 104-132, § 221(a), 110 Stat. 1214 (Apr. 24, 1996), which provides that foreign sovereigns are not immune when

[m]oney damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material support or resources ... for such an act if such act or provision of material resources is engaged in by an official, employee, or agent of such foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency[.]

28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7). The statute gives three additional requirements for the exception to apply: (1) the foreign state must be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism at the time the act occurred or was designated as such as a result of such an act; (2) the plaintiff must afford the foreign state a reasonable opportunity to arbitrate the dispute if the act occurred within that state's territory; and (3) either the claimant or the victim must have been a United States national at the time the act occurred. 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7)(A)-(B).

On a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss in an FSIA case, the defendant may challenge either the legal sufficiency or the factual underpinning of an exception. Phoenix Consulting, 216 F.3d at 40. Given that a foreign-state actor's entitlement to immunity from suit is a critical preliminary determination, the parties have the responsibility, and must be afforded a fair opportunity, to define issues of fact and law, and to submit evidence necessary to the resolution of the issues. Foremost-McKesson, 905 F.2d at 449 (citing Gould, Inc. v. Pechiney Ugine Kuhlmann & Trefimetaux, 853 F.2d 445, 451 (6th Cir.1988)). Thus, the court must resolve the substantive immunity-law issues of § 1605 before reaching a decision on subject matter jurisdiction. Id. (citations omitted).

If the defendant challenges the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's jurisdictional allegations, the court should accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and determine whether such facts bring the case within any of the exceptions to foreign-state immunity invoked by the plaintiff. Id. This standard is similar to that of Rule 12(b)(6), under which dismissal is warranted if no plausible inferences can be drawn from the facts alleged that, if proven, would provide grounds for relief. Price v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 294 F.3d 82, 93 (D.C.Cir.2002) ("Price I"). The plaintiff need not set out all of the precise facts on which he bases his claim to survive a motion to dismiss. Id.

If the defendant challenges the factual basis of the court's jurisdiction, however, the court may not deny the motion to dismiss merely by assuming the truth of the facts alleged by the plaintiff. Phoenix Consulting, 216 F.3d at 40. Instead, the court must resolve any disputed issues of fact, the resolution of which is necessary to a ruling upon the motion to dismiss. Id.; Price I, 294 F.3d...

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