Doe v. Syrian Arab Republic, No. 18-cv-0066 (KBJ)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtKETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge
PartiesJOHN DOE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 18-cv-0066 (KBJ)
Decision Date10 September 2020

JOHN DOE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, et al., Defendants.

No. 18-cv-0066 (KBJ)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

September 10, 2020


MEMORANDUM OPINION ADOPTING REPORT & RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Plaintiff John Doe was transiting through the Brussels International Airport in March of 2016, when a local cell of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ("ISIS") detonated two explosives in the airport's departure hall. (See Compl., ECF No. 4, ¶¶ 19-22.) Doe survived this terrorist attack, but was allegedly severely injured. (See id. ¶ 20.) In the instant lawsuit—which has been filed against Defendants Syrian Arab Republic ("Syria") and the Syrian Military Intelligence ("SMI")—Doe, his wife, and their son (collectively "Plaintiffs") seek compensatory and punitive damages to account for the physical and mental injuries that they have suffered as a result of the horrific bombing. (See id. at 18-19 ("Prayer for Relief").)

Because Syria and SMI failed to appear to defend themselves against this legal action, Plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment. (See Pls.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Default J. ("Pls.' Mot."), ECF No. 31-1.) The Court referred this matter to a Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on that motion (see Min. Order of Jan. 16, 2020), and before this Court at present is the R&R that the assigned

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Magistrate Judge, G. Michael Harvey, has filed with respect to Plaintiffs' motion. (See Report and Recommendation, ECF No. 37.)1 The R&R reflects Magistrate Judge Harvey's opinion that Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment should be granted, and that this Court should award a total of $42,000,000 in punitive and compensatory damages. (See id. at 40.)

First, Magistrate Judge Harvey concludes that this Court has jurisdiction over this matter consistent with the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"). According to the R&R, this Court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to section 1330(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code (id. at 11-12), given that "this lawsuit falls within the FSIA's 'terrorism exception' because Defendants provided material support and resources to ISIS, causing Plaintiffs' personal injuries as a result of an extrajudicial killing" (id. at 12-13; see also id. at 13-25 (detailing the evidence that Plaintiffs have offered with respect to the allegation that Defendants provided material support to ISIS, and concluding that this support was a legally sufficient cause of the terrorist attack)). Additionally, Magistrate Judge Harvey explains that this Court has personal jurisdiction over Defendants pursuant to section 1330(b) of Title 28 of the United States Code, because effective service has been made through a diplomatic note in accordance with the FSIA requirements. (See id. at 25-27.)

Next, Magistrate Judge Harvey determines that Plaintiffs have established three substantive bases for liability under viable tort causes of action. (See id. at 28.) According to the R&R, the elements of an assault have been sufficiently established:

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"Defendants acted with intent to cause harmful contact and put John Doe in imminent apprehension" of such contact, and John Doe's "apprehension of harmful contact fully manifested itself" as a result of the explosions that "knocked him off his feet" and "caused him to lose consciousness." (Id. at 29.) In addition, Magistrate Judge Harvey concludes that John Doe has sufficiently established that Defendants are liable under a battery theory, because "acts of terrorism are, by their very nature, intended to harm[,]" and, "[a]s a result of the bombing, John Doe suffered from a wide array of injuries[.]" (Id. (cleaned up).) Magistrate Judge Harvey further explains that "Jane Doe and their son [have] experienced severe emotional distress resulting from the attack[,]" and that "immediate family members of terrorism victims may state a claim for [intentional infliction of emotional distress] even if they were not present when the attack occurred." (Id. at 30 (citing Republic of Sudan v. Owens, 194 A.3d 38, 42 (D.C. 2018)).)

Magistrate Judge Harvey also explains that Plaintiffs are entitled to compensatory damages (see id. at 31-36), and that punitive damages are proper in this case (see id. at 36-39). With respect to John Doe's damages, the R&R compares this case to others involving terrorist attacks (see id. (citing Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 515 F. Supp. 2d 25, 53 (D.D.C. 2007); Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 700 F. Supp. 2d 52, 84 (D.D.C. 2010); Wamai v. Republic of Sudan, 60 F. Supp. 3d 84, 92-93 (D.D.C. 2014)), and concludes that neither a downward departure nor an upward departure from the baseline award of $5,000,000 in compensatory damages that is routinely awarded to persons suffering substantial injuries in terrorist attacks is warranted (see id. at 34). Additionally, Magistrate Judge Harvey recommends a

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baseline solatium award of $4,000,000 to Jane Doe, for her "[m]ental anguish, bereavement, and grief resulting from John Doe's injuries, which is consistent with past awards to spouses of injured victims of terrorist attacks (id. (quoting Fraenkel v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 892 F.3d 348, 356-57 (D.C. Cir. 2018))), and a baseline solatium award of $1,500,000 to John and Jane Doe's son, which is also consistent with past awards to "children of surviving terrorism victims who experienced lasting emotional distress" (id. at 36 (citing Bland v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 831 F. Supp. 2d 150, 157 (D.D.C. 2011))). Citing other similar cases, Magistrate Judge Harvey also concludes that punitive damages are appropriate in this case (see id. at 37 (citing Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 879 F. Supp. 2d 44, 55 (D.D.C. 2012))), and recommends that the Court follow one of the three standard approaches to calculating such damages: "multiply the total compensatory-damages award by a factor of between one and five" (id. at 38 (citing Fritz v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 324 F. Supp 3d 54, 65 (D.D.C. 2018))). "Given the nature of the bombing, the Plaintiffs' injuries, and awards given in similar cases, the [Magistrate Judge] recommends . . . applying a multiplier of three[,]" for a total of $31,500,000 in punitive damages. (Id. at 39.)

In addition to articulating these conclusions, the R&R also advises the parties in this case that any of them may file written objections to the findings and recommendations of the Magistrate Judge (see id. at 41), and it further explains that the failure to file timely objections might result in waiver of review of the matters addressed therein (see id.). Under this Court's local rules, any party who objects to an R&R filed by a Magistrate Judge must file a written objection with the Clerk of the Court within 14 days of the party's receipt of the R&R. See LCvR 72.3(b). The due

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date for objections to Magistrate Judge Harvey's R&R in the instant case has passed, and none have been filed.

This Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Harvey's report, and agrees with its careful and thorough analysis and conclusions. Thus, the Court will ADOPT the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment will be GRANTED, and the Court will enter judgment by default against Defendants and in favor of Plaintiffs in the amount of $42,000,000. This award consists of: $5,000,000 as compensatory damages for John Doe's injuries; $4,000,000 for Jane Doe's injuries; $1,500,000 for injuries to John and Jane Doe's son; and $31,500,000 as punitive damages. A separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

DATE: September 10, 2020

/s/_________
KETANJI BROWN JACKSON
United States District Judge

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Civil Action No.: 1:18-cv-00066-KBJ

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

John Doe, Jane Doe2, and their son (together, "Plaintiffs") brought this action under the state sponsor of terrorism exception ("terrorism exception") to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"). 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. They seek compensatory and punitive damages to hold the Syrian Arab Republic ("Syria") and the Syrian Military Intelligence ("SMI") to account for the physical and mental injuries that they suffered as a result of the bombing of the Brussels International Airport on March 22, 2016. John Doe, a surviving victim of the airport bombing, seeks compensation for the physical injuries and pain and suffering he sustained as a result of the attack. His wife and son seek compensation for the emotional and psychological trauma the bombing caused them. Plaintiffs allege that the bombing was orchestrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ("ISIS") with material support and resources from Syria. Plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment when Syria and SMI failed to appear to defend this action. After

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thorough review of the record,3 the undersigned recommends that Plaintiffs' motion be granted and that they be awarded $42 million in damages.4

I. BACKGROUND

A. John Doe

John Doe is a United States citizen who serves as a [Redacted] ECF No. 30-1 at 31.5 On March 20, 2016, he arrived in Brussels, Belgium to testify [Redacted] Id. at 32. His wife and 4-year-old son stayed behind in the United States. Id. at 49, 195. He was scheduled to depart the Brussels-Zaventem Airport at 10:10 a.m. on March 22, 2016. Id. at 32. He arrived at the airport at 7:45 a.m.; at approximately 7:58 a.m., as he was checking in, he heard a small explosion. Id.

B. Brussels International Airport Bombing

On the morning of March 22, 2016, three individuals belonging to the Paris-Brussels ISIS cell detonated two explosives in the departure hall of the Brussels International Airport. ECF No.

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30-1 at 15. On the day of the Brussels attack, ISIS claimed responsibility through multiple print and online mediums. Id at 124-5. The airport bombing, along with a coordinated bombing of the Brussels Maelbeek Metro Station, killed over...

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