Court Picks a Winner in Battle for Syrian Assets
CHICAGO (CN) - Under a "winner-take-all-system," the 7th Circuit prioritized a lien on Syrian assets brought by victims of Syrian-sponsored Iraqi insurgents.
The ruling stems from two separate lawsuits brought by those who lost family members because of the Syrian Arab Republic's support of terrorists.
Patrick Scott Baker led the action over the 1985 hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 648 by Palestinian terrorist group Abu Nidal. Baker and another plaintiff, Jackie Pflug, were both shot in the head but survived, though 58 of the 95 passengers perished in the standoff.
In the other action led by Francis Gates, Syria faced claims over the kidnapping of Olin Armstrong and Jack Hensley, two civilian contractors working with the U.S. military in Iraq. The insurgents behind the kidnapping videotaped Armstrong and Hensley's slow, gruesome murders and released that footage to the public.
Both sets of plaintiffs won multimillion dollar judgments against Syria, and asserted liens over Syrian assets in Illinois. U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall ultimately found in a series of decisions that the Gates liens have priority over the Baker liens.
The 7th Circuit upheld this finding for the Gates plaintiffs on Wednesday because they filed their judgment with the Illinois federal court days before the Baker plaintiffs did the same.
The Baker plaintiffs failed to undermine the ruling by showing that the Gates plaintiffs had not sought a new order in Illinois under Section 1610 of Title 28, which governs the execution of judgments against assets found in the United States. Instead the Gates plaintiffs had filed the Section 1610 order that they had obtained months earlier in Washington, D.C.
The 7th Circuit saw no issue with that decision,
"Where such a determination is required, one suffices for attachment efforts throughout the United States," Judge David Hamilton wrote for the three-judge panel. "There is no reason for later courts to revisit an earlier determination that sufficient time has passed to allow attachment. Time's arrow always moves in the same direction."
The Baker plaintiffs also should not be allowed to pursue a duplicative action that they filed in the Southern District of New York, according to the ruling.
"The Gates plaintiffs have complied with the requirements of the FSIA and have established a priority lien on the Syrian funds at issue in these appeals," Hamilton wrote. "Under the winner-take-all system established by the applicable legislation and legal principles, we affirm both of the District Court's orders to have Syrian assets turned over to the Gates plaintiffs."