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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Rips Red Tape in West Bank Attack Case

(CN) - A federal judge offered some relief to the grieving mother of a slain infant who says that an airline and Iranian banks sponsored the attack by Islamist militants.

Batsheva Shoham claims that members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade threw stones that killed her 5-month old son as she was driving in the West Bank.

Two years ago, she joined a lawsuit with victims of similar attacks and their families, who were suing Iran, Syria and other entities under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, or FSIA.

That law, signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, established the minimum standards necessary to serve foreign nations and their agencies with a lawsuit in the United States.

In the early stages of litigation, Shoham's case was shuffled among a series of federal judges. The first extracted her case from the group, and the second threatened to dismiss the case if she could not successfully serve the defendants.

To save the case, Shoham argued that she should benefit from the fact that former co-plaintiffs successfully served Iran, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and the al-Quds Force.

Although he rejected that reasoning, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth opened a new avenue last week for Shoham to revive her lawsuit.

"Because Mrs. Shoham has filed a new action, she must effect service of process of the new complaint on all defendants as required under the FSIA, and the court will order her to do so," the 11-page opinion states.

Lamberth acknowledged that this would not be easy.

"The court is not unsympathetic to Mrs. Shoham's position," he wrote. "The U.S. Department of State apparently charges a substantial fee for victims of terrorism who must use the State Department to serve Iran with FSIA-related papers. ... The imposition of these substantial fees imposes a significant burden upon victims of terrorism, particularly given that successful enforcement of these judgments is notoriously difficult and the prospects for recovering damages rather bleak."

As he has done before, Lamberth slammed such policies as burdensome and exploitative.

"The federal government has promised victims of terrorism a forum and opportunity to seek compensation for their devastating losses, then apparently exploited this glimmer of hope to extract exorbitant fees from those victims, and then actively undermined those victims' efforts to obtain satisfaction of legal and valid judgments in order to protect its own coffers," he wrote. "Several years ago, this court observed that 'the great travesty in all this is that our political branches have essentially told victims of terrorism to continue their long march to justice down a path that leads to nowhere.' ... The government now taxes those victims for their travails, as well."

Shoham must be allowed to serve three Iranian companies - Bank Melli, Bank Saderat and Iran Air - by registered mail, return receipt requested, in countries where they operate that are subject to the Hague Convention on service.

They include Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

"Mrs. Shoham has attempted unsuccessfully to serve each of these three defendants via international registered mail at their headquarters in Iran," the opinion states.

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