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Gates v. Syrian Arab Republic

    Brief Fact Summary. Because of Syria’s (D) active support of the al-Qaeda in Iraq, the families (P) of U.S. civilian contractors, Armstrong and Hensley, who were slain by al-Qaeda by beheading, alleged that the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) (D), its president  (D) and its intelligence minister (D) were liable under the FSIA for money damages for the beheadings.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. (1) in a situation where the plaintiffs asserts that they are victims of state sponsored terrorism; State-law claims must be dismissed.
    (2) Where a sovereign shows that terrorist acts against U.S. citizens were committed by terrorists knowingly supported by it to advance its policy objectives, such a sovereign may be held liable under the FSIA state-sponsored terrorism exception.
    (3) For a state known to sponsor terrorism for outrageous acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens committed by terrorists supported by the state sponsor, money damages for economic damages, solatium, pain and suffering, and punitive damages maybe awarded under the FSIA against such state.

    Facts. Two U.S. contractors named Armstrong and Hensley were beheaded by the al-Qaeda in Iraq. The loss of these men prompted their families to file charges against the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) (D), its president (D) and its intelligence minister (D). The families also sought damages under the FSIA and asserted state-law claims for battery, assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful death, survival damages, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting.
    The allegation which the plaintiffs had against the defendants was that they provided material support and resources to al-Qaeda in Iraq and its leader Zarqawi. The court proceeded to a default setting which was required under the FSIA as a requirement of an entry of a default judgment against a non-responding foreign state where the claimant proves its case beyond reasonable doubt. The court had to take this part because none of the defendants appeared before it.
    The court however concluded that support for Zarqawi and his al-Qaeda network from the Syrian territory or Syrian government actors could have been accomplished without the authorization of the Syrian government and its military intelligence. But whether Syria (D) could be held accountable for money damages under the FSIA for the beheading of Armstrong and Hensley was given adequate attention by the court.

    Issue. (1) in a situation where the plaintiffs asserts that they are victims of state sponsored terrorism; should state-law claims be dismissed?
    (2) Where a sovereign shows that terrorist acts against the U.S. citizens were committed by terrorists knowingly supported by it to advance its policy objectives, will such a sovereign be held liable under the FSIA state-sponsored terrorism exception?
    (3) For a state known to sponsor terrorism for outrageous acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens, would money damages for economic damages, solatium, pain and suffering and punitive damages be awarded under the FSIA against such state?

    Held. (Judge not stated in casebook excerpt)
    (1)  Yes. In a situation where the plaintiffs asserts that they are victims of state sponsored terrorism; State-law claims must be dismissed. U.S. citizens who are victims of state-sponsored terrorism are empowered under the FSIA S 1605A(c) to sue the state responsible for such act. In the case, the families of the deceased brought suit against Syria (D) because they opined that the named defendants should be treated as foreign state itself. The federal cause of action is the only cause of action permissible against the FSIA and the state-law must be dismissed.
    (2)  Yes. Where a sovereign shows that terrorist acts against U.S. citizens were committed by terrorists knowingly supported by it to advance its policy objectives, such a sovereign may be held liable under the FSIA state-sponsored terrorism exception. The death of Armstrong and Hensley could be attributable to Syria’s (D) support and aid to Zarqawi and the al-Qaeda in Iraq, and jurisdiction to support damages against Syria exists under the FSIA.
    (3)  For a state known to sponsor terrorism for outrageous acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens, money damages for economic damages, solatium, pain and suffering and punitive damages may be awarded against such sovereign state under the FSIA. Hence, the default judgment against Syria (D) were in the following amount; for Armstrong family; economic damages of $1,051,377; pain and suffering of $30,000,000; punitive damages of $150,000,000; punitive damages of $150,000,000 and solatium of $4,500,000. The family of Hensley was awarded $1,358,210 for economic damages, $$50,000,000 for pain and suffering, $150,000,000 for punitive damages and $6,000,000 for solatium.

    Discussion. The damages provision S 1605A (c) which was enacted in 2008 in an effort by Congress to assist victims in satisfying their judgments against state sponsors of terrorism contained the damages which the court used to award various money damages in this case. The provision also removes all forms of ambiguity on the applicability of a cause of action provided in the terrorist-state exception to agents, employees or officials of the state sponsor and to the state itself.


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