Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

Statutory Interpretation - Plain Language Reading of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Precludes Terrorist Victims from Retribution

Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

Statutory Interpretation - Plain Language Reading of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Precludes Terrorist Victims from Retribution

Article excerpt

STATUTORY INTERPRETATION--Plain Language Reading of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Precludes Terrorist Victims from Retribution--Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 830 F.3d 470 (7th Cir. 2016).

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) provides the foundation for procuring jurisdiction over foreign states, most importantly foreign state sponsors of terrorism, in the federal and state courts of the United States. (1) Plaintiffs can attach the assets of foreign state within the United States upon execution of a judgment, unless a statutory immunity provision applies. (2) In Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, (3) the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals contemplated whether the execution and attachment of Iranian assets in possession of the University of Chicago was enforceable. (4) The Seventh Circuit held that the Iranian assets, loaned to the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, could not be used to execute their judgment because, despite being used for commercial activity in the United States, the Persepolis collection was not placed into commercial activity by Iran itself, thus making it immune to attachment and execution. (5) In 1937, University Chicago's Oriental Institute, an archaeology museum, received the Persepolis Collection from Iran for research purposes. (6) The terms of the loan agreement between Iran and the University of Chicago were that the University would retain a small portion of the artifacts once the research was completed and upon completion, the remainder would be returned to Iran. (7) Despite the additions and donations of several other related artifacts from Iran and other countries throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Persepolis collection remained with the Oriental Institute for cataloguing purposes and was never returned to Iran. (8)

On September 4, 1997, eight U.S. students were gravely injured by an explosion in Jerusalem caused by three suicide bombers with ties to Hamas. (9) On September 9, 2000, the victims of the suicide bombing in Jerusalem along with fellow family members filed a civil action suit against Iran in the United States District Court of the District of Columbia. (10) The plaintiffs argued the Iranian government was subject to suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act as a state sponsor of terrorism as it provided Hamas with material support and resources to both the organization and its operatives. (11) On September 10, 2003, the survivors were awarded a USD 71,500,000.00 judgment for punitive and compensatory damages based on the Iranian government's sponsorship of the terrorist attack. (12)

The plaintiffs took immediate action in an effort to collect on their judgment but instead underwent a decade's worth of litigation as the victims were denied several writs of attachment on bank accounts and artifacts in the possession of the Iranian government. (13) In 2011, the victims registered their judgment in Illinois in an attempt to attach the Persepolis Collection but the Northern District Court of Illinois granted the Iranian government's motion for summary judgment. (14) The court held the artifacts fell within the scope of immunity and were not subject to execution because they were not placed into commercial activity by Iran. (15) On August 23, 2015, the victims filed an appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, who affirmed the district court's decision and held that the Iranian assets were immune from attachment. (16)

Prior to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, foreign states were immune from jurisdiction within the United States solely due to the United States' desire to maintain positive relations with other countries. (17) With the codification of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the United States offered its citizens an opportunity to bring suit against a foreign nation in the courts of the United States. (18) Despite this, in order to procure jurisdiction over a foreign state, a provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act must authorize the plaintiff to do so. …

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