Murphy v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 06–cv–596 (RCL).

Citation778 F.Supp.2d 70
Decision Date21 April 2011
Docket NumberNo. 06–cv–596 (RCL).,06–cv–596 (RCL).
PartiesElizabeth MURPHY, et al., Plaintiffs,v.ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)

778 F.Supp.2d 70

Elizabeth MURPHY, et al., Plaintiffs,
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, et al., Defendants.

No. 06–cv–596 (RCL).

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

April 21, 2011.

[778 F.Supp.2d 71]

John W. Karr, Theodore S. Allison, Karr & Allison, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.Alan Lee Balaran, Law Office of Alan L. Balaran, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


Plaintiffs hold a default judgment against defendants Islamic Republic of Iran (“Iran”) and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (“MOIS”) under the “state-sponsored terrorism” exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. Order & Judgment, Sep. 24, 2010 [66], 740 F.Supp.2d 51 (D.D.C.2010). Under the FSIA, entry of default judgment against a foreign state or its instrumentalities must be accompanied by service of that judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). By Order dated March 8, 2011, the Court granted plaintiffs' request to use diplomatic means to execute such service, and ordered plaintiffs to proceed, absent good cause, within twenty-one days. Order Concerning Service of Final Judgment, Mar. 8, 2011[71]. Nearly a month later and after the deadline had passed, plaintiffs filed a motion with the Court requesting that it clarify or amend its prior Order; specifically, plaintiffs request that they be permitted to serve only defendant Iran, and not defendant MOIS, as they intend to pursue execution of their judgment only against property in which Iran has any interest. Motion for Clarification (or Modification) of Order Authorizing Service Through Diplomatic Channels, Apr. 5, 2011 [72] (“Mtn.”). Plaintiffs' request shall be denied for the reasons that follow.

As a law that codifies sovereign immunity with limited exceptions, the FSIA envisions a process for litigating against foreign powers that respects the independence and dignity of every foreign state as a matter of international law while providing a forum for legitimate grievances. To accomplish this goal, the Act sets forth numerous procedural hurdles imposed on persons suing foreign states to ensure that state and federal courts will not harm foreign interests—or United States foreign relations—by acting hastily or failing to provide the foreign parties an adequate opportunity to respond. See Sealift Bulkers, Inc. v. Republic of Arm., 965 F.Supp. 81, 84 (D.D.C.1997) (“The FSIA provides special protections to foreign states against the swift entry of default judgments.”). Several of these hurdles are in play here.

First, the provision of the FSIA that governs default judgments provides that no entry of default judgment “shall be entered ... unless the claimant establishes his claim or right to relief by evidence

[778 F.Supp.2d 72]

satisfactory to the court,” and also instructs that “[a] copy of any such default judgment shall be sent to the foreign state or political subdivision in the manner prescribed for in this section.” 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). The use of “shall” in each of these clauses indicates that they are mandatory conditions for the entry of a default judgment. Ass'n of Civilian Technicians, Mont. Air Chapter No. 29 v. FLRA, 22 F.3d 1150, 1153 (D.C.Cir.1994). The mandatory nature of these procedures is unsurprising, as this particular provision is designed both to ensure that having been served with an initial complaint and declining to participate in litigation—a foreign state or entity remains protected by the requirement that a plaintiff substantiate her claim, and to preserve foreign property interests by insisting upon prompt notification of any entry of judgment that might put such interests at risk. And nothing in this subsection suggests that plaintiffs in FSIA actions may obtain a default judgment against multiple foreign parties and then selectively choose which of those defendants to inform of that decision.

Second, the Court rejects plaintiffs' contention that because the Court previously held that MOIS was, for FSIA purposes, equivalent to the foreign state of Iran, Memorandum Opinion 13, Sep. 24, 2010[65], service on Iran alone is sufficient to satisfy § 1608(e). Mtn. at 1–2. The Court's prior holding was contingent upon the definition of a foreign state in the FSIA, which “includes a political subdivision ... or an agency or instrumentality” as the foreign state. 28 U.S.C. § 1603(a). This definition, however, explicitly states that it applies “except as used in section 1608 of this title.” Id. Section 1608 of the Act concerns service and default, and thus the plain language of the FSIA is clear that the broad understanding of the term “foreign state” does not apply in this context. This exclusion represents another procedural protection which ensures that foreign...

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