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Syria, Bank Can’t Dodge|Suicide Bombing Claims

WASHINGTON (CN) - The family of an American 16-year-old killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv can pursue a $300 million lawsuit accusing Syria and the Bank of China of providing material support to a terrorist organization, a federal judge ruled.

Daniel Wultz was killed and his father was injured in Israel after a Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a restaurant on April 17, 2006.

Wultz's estate and family are suing Iran, Syria, the Bank of China (BoC) and several other defendants for $300 million in damages. They filed suit under the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), claiming the defendants provided material support and resources to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

In separate rulings, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth rejected motions to dismiss filed by Syria and the bank, and denied the family leave to take deposition of the bank's Israeli-law experts.

Syria claimed that the terrorism exception to FSIA violates the principle of sovereign equality of nations of the United Nations Charter and the separation-of-powers principles of the Constitution. It also argued that the case presented political questions barring jurisdiction, and that the Wultzes failed to plead sufficient cause.

The Bank of China similarly argued that the case raised political questions, and claimed that the Wultzes lack standing and make duplicative claims. The bank also said federal court is the improper jurisdiction and venue.

Lamberth allowed the claims against Syria and the bank to proceed and preemptively ruled that the bank is not entitled to immunity from suit as an instrumentality of China, even though the bank did not raise that claim.

The Wultzes claim that between 2003 and the date of the attack, the Bank of China used its American branches to transfer millions of dollars to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, fund that were allegedly used to plan, prepare and execute terrorist attacks.

"Notably, the transfers allegedly continued even after Israel notified the People's Republic of China of the transfers and demanded that China force BOC to cease any further transfers," Lamberth wrote. "Plaintiffs base their claim on a chain-of-corporations theory, alleging that BOC intentionally and knowingly provided financial services to an agent of the PIJ, thereby proximately causing plaintiffs' injury."

Lamberth rejected the bank's claim that the Wultzes' secondary-liability claim -- that the bank is liable for aiding and abetting the acts of others -- is duplicative of their primary-liability claim that the bank is liable for its own acts.

"If plaintiffs fail to succeed on the merits of their primary-liability claim ... they might still succeed on their secondary-liability claim, which does not require a primary-liability chain-of-incorporations analysis with respect to BOC's own acts," Lamberth wrote.

He also called three-quarters of Syria's arguments "utterly meritless, as the salient issues have already been dispensed with by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit."

"Despite the Syrian defendants' arguments to the contrary, which have been repeatedly rejected by the courts of this circuit, the FSIA terrorism exception does not violate the principle of sovereign equality, does not raise political questions, and does not violate the separation of powers," the judge wrote.

"The Syrian defendants' argument, utterly without merit and having been repeatedly ruled against in this circuit, now flirts with frivolity."

Lamberth explained that the Wultzes have grounds for their causation claim, but the Wultzes "adequately alleged that the Syrian defendants' provision of material support and resources to the PIJ caused plaintiffs' injuries."

"The alleged provision of resources and services no doubt contributed to PIJ operational and tactical ability to carry out terrorist attacks, including the one alleged here," the ruling states. "It is therefore reasonable to conclude that these resources and services proximately caused plaintiffs' injuries. The court therefore rejects the Syrian defendants' arguments concerning causation."

Lamberth wrote in both rulings that the Wultzes' claims do not raise "nonjusticiable political questions."

In a separate order, the judge denied the family's motion for leave to take deposition from the Bank of China's Israeli-law experts.

"Courts should grant such leave only for good cause," Lamberth wrote. "Plaintiffs argue that they should be permitted to depose BOC's experts because the two sides' experts 'are at total loggerheads about the substance of Israeli law.' ... The court is confident that, through consideration of both the parties' briefs and additional third-party sources, it can rule on whether plaintiffs have stated Israeli-law claims upon which relief can be granted."

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