The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday declined to allow [opinion, PDF] victims of a terrorist attack to collect damages from Iran through attaching government property present in the US.
The case, Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran [SCOTUSblog materials], stems from a 1997 terrorist attack in Israel carried out by Iranian-backed Hamas militants. Several of the injured were American citizens.
Under normal circumstances, foreign states are immune from suits in federal courts. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [text] created exceptions to the general rule for state sponsors of terrorism at 28 USC § 1605A. Plaintiffs brought suit under this provision and were awarded damages. Because the Islamic Republic of Iran did not submit to the court’s jurisdiction, however, plaintiffs sought to collect their monetary award by seizing Iranian government-owned antiquities currently in the possession of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Section 1610 of the same act outlines when a foreign state’s property may be attached in a suit to recover damages.
Specifically, § 1610(g) provides additional circumstances allowing for the attachment of property for plaintiffs recovering from a judgement under § 1605A. In an opinion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court held unanimously that the phrase “as provided in this section” in § 1610(g) limits the provisions therein to property already exempt from immunity under another part of § 1610. This affirms an earlier ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, forbidding the antiquities in question from being used to pay the judgment.
Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the consideration of the case.