Worley v. Iran, No. CIV. A. 12-2069 (D.D.C. Dec. 8, 2014) 

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Plaintiffs Worley and others filed suit against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security under section 1605A of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1605A,seeking to recover damages for injuries sustained in and after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing attack.  Section 1605A of the FSIA “furnishes a private right of action to victims of state-sponsored terrorism.” Defendants neither responded to Plaintiffs' original suit nor the instant motion for default judgment on liability. 

In granting the Plaintiffs’ motion for default judgment on liability, the court took judicial notice of findings of fact from previous, related FSIA cases, reviewed the legal basis for jurisdiction, confirmed that Plaintiffs satisfied the strict requirements of the FSIA, dismissed the claims filed under District of Columbia law, and appointed a special master to address damages and other issues identified in the ruling.

With regard to findings of fact, the court noted the FSIA’s requirement that a default judgment not be “entered against a foreign state or its political subdivision except upon ‘evidence satisfactory to the court.’”  The court adopted factual findings of previous Beirut bombing cases that it had adjudicated.  It observed that the type and substance of evidence previously presented in the cases was not subject to reasonable dispute.

In asserting jurisdiction over the case, the court noted that the FSIA is the “sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign state in our courts.” The court was required to decide whether the FSIA’s exception to immunity applied even though Defendants had not appeared or asserted an immunity defense.  The court found that the case satisfied all the requirements and conditions for jurisdiction in U.S. federal courts.  The district court also confirmed its personal jurisdiction over Defendants as service was properly made under the FSIA.

The court addressed what it described as a novel question: whether the limitations provisions under section 1605A are affirmative defenses or jurisdictional requirements that the court “must raise and consider [] sua sponte.”  If the limitations are affirmative defenses, they can be waived if not timely raised by a party.  If, however, the limitations are jurisdictional, they cannot be waived by the neglect or inaction of the parties.  The court’s legal analysis included a review of the text of the limitations provisions, the structure of the FSIA, and judicial precedent.  The court noted that “compliance with section 1605A’s statute of limitations is not required in order to assert subject matter jurisdiction.”  The holding relied to a great extent on recent Supreme Court jurisprudence indicating that courts “should be more cautious in finding that particular provisions are jurisdictional.”  The court then declined to use its discretionary authority to raise an affirmative defense of limitations on Defendants' behalf.

Finding Defendants liable under the FSIA, the court dismissed the District of Columbia claims and granted Plaintiffs’ motion to appoint a Special Master who would consider the appropriate damages and complete other duties as specified.

Sandina Green of the Washington DC office contributed to this summary.