Owens v. Republic Of Sudan

864 F.3d 751 (D.C.Cir. 2017)


On August 7, 1998 truck bombs exploded outside the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. More than 200 people were killed more than a thousand were injured. Many of the victims of the attacks were U.S. citizens, government employees, or contractors. The bombings were the work of al Qaeda who maintained a base of operations in Sudan. They developed the terrorist cells in Kenya and Tanzania that would later launch the embassy attacks holding D liable for the personal injuries suffered by victims of the embassy bombings and their family members. James Owens filed the first lawsuit against D and Iran for his personal injuries. Other plaintiffs joined the action. The complaint alleged that the embassy bombings were 'extrajudicial killings' under FSIA and that D provided material support for the bombings by sheltering and protecting al Qaeda during the 1990s. D failed to appear. The district court entered an order of default in May 2003. D secured counsel and in March 2004 moved to vacate the default and to dismiss the action. The district court granted, in part, D's motion to dismiss and vacated the order of default. After amendments to the complaint, the district court denied D's motion to dismiss in its entirety. Eventually, D nor its counsel participated in the litigation again until after the 2014 entry of final judgment. After entering new orders of defaults against D in several of the pending actions, the court held a consolidated evidentiary hearing in order to satisfy a requirement in the FSIA that 'the claimant establish[] his claim or right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the court.' The district court heard expert testimony and reviewed exhibits detailing the relationship between both Iran and D and al Qaeda during the 1990s. Shortly after this hearing, the district court held both defendants liable for materially supporting the embassy bombings. The district court found D had provided al Qaeda a safe harbor from which it could establish and direct its terrorist cells in Kenya and Tanzania. If found D provided financial, military, and intelligence assistance to the terrorist group, which allowed al Qaeda to avoid disruption by hostile governments while it developed its capabilities in the 1990s. The district court then referred the cases to special masters to hear evidence and recommend the amounts of damages to be awarded. In 2014 the district court entered final judgments in favor of the various plaintiffs. All told, the damages awarded against Sudan came to more than $10.2 billion. D retained counsel and reappeared in the district court. D appealed each case and filed motions in the district court to vacate the default judgments under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). In part, D attacked Ps' evidence. It argued the judgments were void because they rested solely upon inadmissible evidence to prove jurisdictional facts, which D argued was impermissible under § 1608(e). It also argued the evidence did not show it proximately caused the bombings because al Qaeda did not become a serious terrorist threat until after Sudan had expelled bin Laden in 1996. The district court denied the motions to vacate in all respects. D appealed. D attacks in part the reliability of the factual bases for the experts' testimony.