Embassy Law Web Log   
Washington, DC, USA      

Claims Under State and Federal Law

In Francis Gates, et al., v. Syrian Arab Republic, et al., docket number 06-1500, the District Court for the District of Columbia held Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism responsible for actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq in the kidnapping and killing of two Americans. Relatives of both men brought the action against Syria under the new FSIA provision 28 USC §1605 a. The court awarded economic damages, constituting the present value of each man's anticipated earnings over the remainder of their lifetime, solatium for the relative's hurt feelings and grief relating the deaths, damages for pain and suffering of the victims before their death as well as punitive damages.

The merits were decided under the new FSIA provision of 28 USC §1605 a, although the action was originally brought under the Flatow Amendment. The latter, however, did not provide a private right of action against a foreign state itself, but only against the leaders of its government. The new provision confers such a right with regard to designated state sponsors of terrorism and sets forth enumerated types of damages recoverable. Congress eliminated earlier inconsistencies which arose when plaintiffs sued government leaders under different state law. Because the DC Circuit had dismissed other claims under the Flatow Amendment if brought under common law, the change was necessary. Under the old rules such claims could only be reviewed if a specific source of law was applicable.

Holding that the new 28 USC §1605 a provides the sole specific source of law now applicable to such cases, the court dismissed claims brought under state law. However, it did award damages arising from the federal cause of action under 28 USC §1605 a.

The new provision enhances relief for victims of state sponsored terrorism, not only by offering them the possibility to directly sue the sponsoring state itself rather than merely its government leaders. It also enables the court to award punitive damages, which in other circumstances is denied under 28 USC §1606. -- Axel Knabe, international fellow, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington, DC.