WASHINGTON (CN) – A court that awarded $200 million to a man who claimed he was tortured in Cuba exceeded its authority, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
Nilo Jerez, now a U.S. citizen, won the $200 million judgment under the Torture Victim Protection Act, after Cuba, Fidel Castro and others did not appear in a Florida court to defend against claims that they tortured Jerez in the 1960s and ’70s.
Echoing the Armando Valladares memoir “Against All Hope,” Jerez claimed he was subjected to electric-shock sessions, forced to live surrounded by his own urine and feces, and purposefully injected him with the hepatitis C virus.
Jerez registered the judgment in Washington and sought to satisfy it by applying for writs of attachment against certain patents and trademark registrations held by alleged agencies and instrumentalities of Cuba.
Camara de Comercio, which manages the trademark on Cuban cigars, intervened along with these agencies to vacate Jerez’s writs.
Both a federal magistrate and a district judge then found that the Florida courts never had the jurisdiction to grant their judgments under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Jerez, who lives with cirrhosis because of his hepatitis C, argued that he had two statutory exceptions to the FSIA: the noncommercial tort exception and the terrorism exception.
Though the noncommercial-tort exception to the FSIA provides jurisdiction if personal injury was involved, the courts said these did not apply because the personal injury and the act precipitating the injury had to occur within the United States.
Jerez’s alleged torture occurred in Cuba, but he argued on appeal that the hepatitis C virus continues to replicate within his body while he is now in the U.S.
A three-judge panel with the D.C. Circuit affirmed on Dec. 30 that the acts of torture occurred only in Cuba.
Under the terrorism exception to the FSIA, the acts of torture must have been committed by a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism at the time of the torture, and the victim must have been a U.S. citizen at the time. Cuba is now designated a state sponsor of terrorism, and Jerez is now a U.S. citizen, but neither conditions were met at the time of the alleged torture.
“Because no statutory exception to sovereign immunity under the FSIA applies, the Florida state court and the Florida district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction,” Senior Judge Stephen Williams wrote for the court.
Jerez is represented by Richard Oparil. Michael Krinsky represents the Cuba appellees.
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