Rux v. Republic of Sudan

Citation495 F.Supp.2d 541
Decision Date25 July 2007
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:04cv428.
PartiesOlivia RUX, et al., Plaintiffs, v. The REPUBLIC OF SUDAN, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Hall, Hall David & Joseph PA, Miami, FL, James Davis Cooper-Hill, James Cooper-Hill PC, Rockport, TX, Mary Jane Hall, Kaufman & Canoles PC, Norfolk, VA, Nelson Marion Jones, III, Nicholas & Jones LLP, Houston, TX, for Plaintiffs.

Carl David Gray, Gregory N. Stillman, Hunton & Williams, Norfolk, VA, Douglas Knox Bemis, Jr., Hunton & Williams LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

DOUMAR, District Judge.

This action arises from the October 12, 2000, terrorist bombing of the American warship U.S.S. Cole during a temporary refueling stop in the Port of Aden, Yemen, in which seventeen American sailors were killed. Plaintiffs Olivia Rux, et al. ("Plaintiffs"), more than fifty surviving family members of the deceased sailors, allege that Defendant Republic of Sudan ("Sudan") is liable for damages from the attack because it provided material support and assistance to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization whose operatives planned and carried out the attack. Plaintiffs have brought this action pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), inter alia, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7), which establishes subject matter jurisdiction for personal injury or death resulting from acts of state-sponsored terrorism. Upon evidence adduced at a non jury trial before this Court on March 13-14, 2007, the Court concludes that judgment shall be entered for Plaintiffs.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs initiated this action against Sudan on July 16, 2004. Sudan failed to appear to defend the suit, and a default was entered on February 16, 2005. The Court vacated the entry of default after Sudan made a general appearance and Sudan filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. This Court denied the motion on August 26, 2005.1 On September 1, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed this Court's denial of Sudan's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Rux v. Republic of Sudan, 461 F.3d 461, 465-66 (4th Cir.2006), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1325, 167 L.Ed.2d 78 (2007). Pursuant to this Court's August 26, 2005, order, Sudan was required to answer the Complaint not more than three days from the date of the issuance of the mandate from the Court of Appeals. After failing to have Plaintiffs' Complaint dismissed in its entirety, Sudan notified the Court by letter on October 25, 2006, that it would "not defend or otherwise participate in this proceeding on the merits." Def.'s Letter of Oct. 25, 2006. The deadline to file an Answer expired on October 27, 2006, without a response from Sudan. On November 2, 2006, this Court ordered Sudan to file an Answer or other responsive pleading within twenty-one days. Sudan again did not respond. In light of Sudan's refusal to participate, the clerk entered default against Sudan on February 2, 2007. However, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e), Plaintiffs were required to submit evidence "satisfactory to the court" before a default judgment against Sudan could be entered. 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e).

Prior to trial, Plaintiffs amended their Complaint to add claims under the Death on the High Seas Act ("DOHSA"), 46 U.S.C. app. §§ 761-767, and assert claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and maritime wrongful death. Sudan filed a motion to dismiss the intentional infliction and maritime wrongful death claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted on grounds that DOHSA provides an exclusive remedy. The Court denied Sudan's motion at that time and reserved ruling on the choice of law and exclusivity of remedy questions. The case was tried to this Court, sitting without a jury, on March 13-14, 2007. Counsel for Sudan attended the trial but did not participate other than to make a brief argument at the end of trial regarding damages and to renew its motion to dismiss. (Tr. 201:25-202:3). The Court concluded at the end of trial that there existed sufficient evidence to enter default judgment against Sudan pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). This Opinion and Order details the Court's factual findings and conclusions of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).

II. FINDINGS OF FACT
A. Legal Standard for FSIA Default Judgment

The FSIA requires that a default judgment against a foreign state be entered only after a plaintiff "establishes his claim or right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e). This provision requires the court to satisfy itself that there exists an adequate legal and factual basis for plaintiffs' claims. Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 374 F.Supp.2d 1, 8-9 (D.D.C.2005). In default judgment proceedings, plaintiffs may present evidence in the form of affidavits. Bodoff v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 424 F.Supp.2d 74, 82 (D.D.C.2006); Campuzano v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 281 F.Supp.2d 258, 268 (D.D.C.2003). Upon evaluation, the court "may accept plaintiffs' uncontroverted evidence as true." Id.

In accordance with this relaxed evidentiary standard, the Court finds the following facts based on Plaintiffs' uncontroverted evidence, which consists of 183 exhibits including various depositions and live witness testimony. The exhibits relevant to the Court's finding of liability include transcripts of depositions taken by Plaintiffs of terrorism experts. R. James Woolsey was an expert who appeared voluntarily without compensation. Mr. Woolsey was the Director of U.S. Central Intelligence from 1993 to 1995 and is now a Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean, Virginia. Douglas Farah, the President of IBI Consultants, LLC, and a former reporter for the Washington Post in West Africa who has studied and written extensively on terror finance and radical Islamic groups, was another expert. Also deposed were Steven Emerson, Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism and an expert on Islamic extremist networks, and Lorenzo Vidino, a Research Program Manager at the Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies at The Fletcher School of Tufts University. The evidence also includes unclassified U.S. Department of State reports; the 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States ("the 9/11 Commission Report"); a five-volume U.S. Department of the Navy report documenting the Navy's investigation into the Cole attack (the "Navy Report"); and a transcript of federal criminal proceedings against Osama Bin Laden in 2001.

B. The Attack on the U.S.S. Cole in the Port of Aden, Yemen'2

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on October 12, 2000, the U.S.S. Cole ("Cole") entered the Port of Aden, Yemen, to temporarily stop for refueling. The Republic of Yemen is a country of 203,850 square miles located on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Aden is a city of approximately 440,000 located on Yemen's south coast. The Port of Aden is a natural harbor with a deep draft in most areas and natural land protection on all sides. In February 1999, the Navy began using Aden instead of Djibouti as the primary refueling stop for American ships during their 3,000-mile journey to the Arabian Gulf from the Mediterranean Sea. Under a contract entered into between the United States and Yemen, U.S. Navy vessels could obtain fuel at one of two fueling "dolphins" located near the mouth of the harbor without going to the pier.

The Cole, an Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer, was the twenty-fifth Navy ship' to stop in Aden Harbor for refueling over the previous nineteen months. As of October 2000, the ship had a crew of twenty-six officers and 270 enlisted personnel. The Cole departed from its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, on August 8, 2000, before patrolling the Mediterranean Sea. On October 9, 2000, the ship transited the Suez Canal and headed for Yemen. At the time that the ship entered the Port of Aden on October 12, 2000, the U.S. Department of Defense terrorist threat level in Aden was "Threat Condition (THREATCON) BRVO," which indicated an "increased and more predictable threat of terrorist activity."

At approximately 8:49 a.m., the Cole moored starboard side to Refueling Dolphin Seven, near the mouth of the harbor. The ship began refueling at approximately 10:31 a.m. At approximately 11:10 a.m., one of the sailors standing watch over the refueling noticed a small boat heading "fast and hard" toward the Cole from the direction of the city. The boat, painted white with fire red trim, was about thirtyfive feet long and six to seven feet wide and had a shallow V-hull. It looked "brand new." (Ex. 158 at 70.) The boat was similar in size and shape to many other small vessels in the harbor, including the service craft that had been alongside the Cole. The boat was manned by two males, both of whom appeared to be in their early thirties. The two men slowed the boat as they approached the Cole, maneuvered it parallel to the ship and came down the port side headed aft. As they did so, the two men in the boat were smiling, and waved to the crew. Some crew members returned the greeting. Seconds later, the boat exploded.

The explosion occurred between approximately 11:15 and 11:18 a.m., just as some of the crew was sitting down for lunch. The blast ripped a thirty-two-by thirty-six-foot hole in the port side. One sailor sleeping in his bed "was awakened by a loud explosion and thrown upward about three inches. I didn't know what happened, but I knew that anything that could throw me out of my rack had to be bad." (Id. Encl. 66 at 1.) Smoke, dust, and fuel vapors filled the air. The main engine room, auxiliary machine room, and the dry provisions storeroom were flooded. Several chambers, including the Crew and Chief Petty Officer's Galley, were structurally destroyed. The blast and its...

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