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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Supposed Beirut Bomb Victims Have Ways to Go

WASHINGTON (CN) - A new group of supposed victims of the 1983 bombing of a barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, cannot have a default judgment of liability against Iran, a federal judge ruled.

Hezbollah carried out the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which left 241 U.S. service members dead and injured many more, making it the deadliest state-sponsored terrorist attack until Sept. 11, 2001.

To date, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has issued more than $9.5 billion in judgments against Iran for the bombing.

Kenneth Spencer and 31 named plaintiffs in this case filed their federal complaint in January 2012. They identify themselves as members of the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy injured in that blast, as well as several surviving family members of deceased servicemen.

Though the court clerk entered default against Iran, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Wednesday that the plaintiffs have not proven that they deserve default judgment as to liability.

The plaintiffs had noted that the court had entered default judgment against Iran over the same bombing some 10 years earlier, but Lamberth said the evidence from that case, Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, "appears to be insufficient for a finding of liability in this action because it fails to establish that the present plaintiffs meet several statutory requirements."

"There is no evidence in the record that plaintiffs were present at the site and suffered 'personal injury or death caused by' this blast," Lamberth wrote (emphasis in original). "Nor have plaintiffs provided any evidence that they meet the status requirements. ... Upon the present record, the court is not able to find defendant liable and will deny plaintiffs' motion for default judgment without prejudice."

The ruling also distinguishes Spencer's case from a April 2012 decision in which Lamberth took judicial notice of Peterson and held Iran liable to Evan Fain and his family for the Beirut bombing.

In that case, Fain had submitted an affidavit "establishing his presence at the site of the bombing and various resulting injuries caused by the defendants' actions," Lamberth noted.

"Unlike Fain, the plaintiffs here have attempted to rely entirely upon the Peterson case," he added (emphasis in original). "This is inadequate here."

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