Reed v. Islamic Republic of Iran, Civil Action No. 03–2657 (RMU).

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation845 F.Supp.2d 204
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 03–2657 (RMU).
PartiesTarek A. REED, Plaintiff, v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN et al., Defendants.
Decision Date28 February 2012

845 F.Supp.2d 204

Tarek A. REED, Plaintiff,
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 03–2657 (RMU).

United States District Court,
District of Columbia.

Feb. 28, 2012.

[845 F.Supp.2d 207]

Emil Hirsch, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, Paul L. Knight, Nossaman LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment

RICARDO M. URBINA, District Judge.

The plaintiff in this matter is Tarek Reed, whose father was abducted, held and tortured by Lebanese terrorists over the course of three years. The plaintiff brings suit against the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iran's Ministry of Information and Security for their support of Hezbollah, the terrorist group that committed these acts. This matter now comes before the court on the plaintiff's motion for default judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Because the plaintiff has shown that he is entitled to relief under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the court grants in part the plaintiff's motion for default judgment. Because the plaintiff is not entitled to relief under state law or international law, however, the court denies in part the plaintiff's motion.

A. Factual Background

In the fall of 1986, Frank Reed was abducted in broad daylight.1 Pl.'s Proposed Findings of Fact at 2. At the time, he lived in Beirut, a city that—despite its moniker as the Paris of the Middle East—had already known a decade of civil war. See id. While driving on a public thoroughfare to see his wife, Reed's path was cut off by three gunmen. Id. at 5. The gunmen abducted Reed and threw him into the back of a car, where he was driven to a hideout and subsequently held in captivity for the next several years. Id.

Immediately after his abduction, Reed's captors repeatedly interrogated and beat him, demanding to know if he was an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. Id. at 5. During the following 1,330 days,

[845 F.Supp.2d 208]

Reed was subjected to routine torture. Id. at 6–7. Reed was kept in shackles and confined in a cell that was so small that he could not stand upright. Id. at 6. His health deteriorated, in part because his captors prevented him from receiving medical attention. Id. at 7. Reed was forced to wear a blindfold for so long that he suffered numerous eye infections. Id. He was subjected to electrocution, arsenic poisoning and countless beatings. Id. Nevertheless, Reed's greatest dread—in his words, “the worst thing that could happen to a man”—was the fear of dying alone. Id., Ex. B. at 113.

Reed's ultimate fear never came to pass. He was eventually released to a hospital, where he remained for several months. Id. at 6–7. By the time he was released, it was clear that he was a changed man. Id. The color had leached from his hair and his meager diet had caused his body to atrophy. Id. Reed's doctors were never able to determine whether it was the beatings or the poisoning that rendered him impotent. Id., Ex. B, at 117. To this day, Reed cannot walk. Id. at 7–8. The repercussions of Reed's captivity have endured far beyond his release, as he has been repeatedly re-hospitalized for severe depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Id.

The plaintiff was only six years old when his father was kidnapped. Id., Ex. C at 6. Throughout the years of Reed's detention, the plaintiff's mother never told the plaintiff that his father was kidnapped. Id. In 1989, three years after Frank Reed was abducted, the plaintiff and his mother left Beirut and resettled in Malden, Massachusetts. Id. at 13.

When Frank Reed was released from captivity, he promptly returned to the United States to rejoin his family. Id. at 8. His behavior had changed drastically following his return, however. Id. at 8–10. He started drinking excessively and rarely left his house. Id. at 14. He could not walk, run or dance—activities he regularly enjoyed prior to his abduction. Id. at 16.

The plaintiff claims that he was deeply affected by his father's actions. Id. at 15. Fellow students in school would taunt him for his father's increasingly erratic behavior. Id., Ex. L at 7. The plaintiff suffers from chronic feelings of anger and frustration because of his father's condition. Id. at 16. In addition, the plaintiff's academics were adversely affected by his father's return. Id., Ex. M at 3. According to the plaintiff, these academic difficulties affected him professionally and have limited his career choices. Id. at 9. The plaintiff consumed significant amounts of alcohol and marijuana while a junior and senior in high school, a time period that coincided with many of his father's most severe psychiatric difficulties. Id. at 6. The plaintiff attended a college part-time, but he dropped out due to chronic depression. Id., Ex. M at 9. The plaintiff states he continues to hold chronic feelings of helplessness and anger regarding his father's situation. Id. at 10.

B. Procedural Background

The plaintiff initially filed suit against the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran's Ministry of Information and Security (“MOIS”), the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corporation and several high-ranking Iranian officials in December 2003. See generally Compl. In June 2005, the plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal as to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corporation and the individual Iranian officials. See generally Notice of Voluntary Dismissal (June 13, 2005).

After the defendants failed to appear or otherwise respond to the plaintiff's complaint, the Clerk of the Court entered default in July 2004. See generally Entry of

[845 F.Supp.2d 209]

Default (July 15, 2004). In January 2009, the court granted the plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint to bring his claim under the recently enacted “state-sponsored terrorism” exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1605A.2See generally 2d Am. Compl. The Clerk of the Court entered default against the remaining defendants as to the second amended complaint on April 20, 2010. See generally Notice of Default (Apr. 20, 2010). The plaintiff then filed a motion for default judgment, seeking judgment against Iran and MOIS for his claims under federal law, Massachusetts law and international law. See generally Pl.'s Mot. for Default Judgment (“Pl.'s Mot.”). With that motion ripe for consideration, the court now turns to the relevant legal standards and the parties' arguments.

A. Legal Standard for Jurisdiction Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act presents the exclusive legal vehicle by which a plaintiff may bring suit against a foreign state. MacArthur Area Citizens Ass'n v. Republic of Peru, 809 F.2d 918, 919 (D.C.Cir.1987). 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.” Murphy v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 778 F.Supp.2d 70, 71 (D.D.C.2011). Among other things, the FSIA imposes numerous procedural hurdles to ensure that domestic courts will not harm foreign interests by failing to protect the foreign party against the swift entry of default judgments. See Sealift Bulkers, Inc. v. Republic of Armenia, 965 F.Supp. 81, 84 (D.D.C.1997). Before addressing the merits of a plaintiff's claim, however, the court must first establish that it has personal jurisdiction and subject-matter jurisdiction. See Tenet v. Doe, 544 U.S. 1, 5 n. 4, 125 S.Ct. 1230, 161 L.Ed.2d 82 (2005). The court therefore turns to the necessary jurisdictional analysis.

1. Personal Jurisdiction

In cases involving default judgment under the FSIA, personal jurisdiction exists if effective service of process has been made. 28 U.S.C. 1330(b); Price v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 294 F.3d 82, 89 (D.C.Cir.2002). It is now clear that a plaintiff may effectively serve Iran in a default judgment case under the procedures set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(4). Valore v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 700 F.Supp.2d 52, 69–70 (D.D.C.2010). Section 1608(a)(4) requires plaintiffs to request that the clerk of the court dispatch two copies of the summons, complaint and notice of suit (together with a translation of each into the foreign state's official language) to the Secretary of State, who then “shall transmit one copy of the papers through diplomatic channels to the foreign state and shall send to the clerk of the court a certified copy of the diplomatic note indicating when the papers were transmitted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(4); Ben–Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 540 F.Supp.2d 39, 52 n. 12 (D.D.C.2008).

Here, the plaintiff has satisfied these requirements by requesting that the clerk of the court dispatch two copies of the summons, complaint and notice of suit

[845 F.Supp.2d 210]

(translated into Farsi) to the Secretary of State. See generally Certificate of Mailing (Oct. 9, 2009). The clerk of the court subsequently dispatched these documents to the Department of State, and the Secretary of State transmitted one copy of the documents to Iran via a diplomatic note through the Embassy of the Swiss Confederation while returning the other copy to the clerk of the court. See generally Return of Service & Aff. (April 1, 2010). The court therefore concludes that the plaintiff has properly served the defendants under § 1608(a)(4), and personal jurisdiction therefore exists. Valore, 700 F.Supp.2d at 69–70.

2. Subject–Matter Jurisdiction

The FSIA confers subject-matter jurisdiction against foreign states only in certain limited circumstances. More precisely, the FSIA grants United States district courts subject-matter jurisdiction over (1) nonjury civil actions (2) against a foreign state ... (3) as to any claim for relief in personam, (4) provided that the foreign state is not entitled to immunity. 328 U.S.C. § 1330(a);...

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