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WULTZ V. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN: Expanding the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction of American Courts Under the State-Sponsored Terrorism Exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Written by  Paul Greco

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66593 (D.D.C. 2012)


The heightened threat and increased public awareness of international terrorism, particularly in the wake of domestic catastrophes like the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the September 11th terrorist attacks, has motivated legislative efforts to rein in the financial support behind terrorist organizations.Since the early 90’s, legislation drafted with the specific aim of creating a private cause of action against terrorist organizations and supporters of terrorism worldwide have included the Antiterrorism Act of 1991 (ATA), the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA), and provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The state-sponsor of terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) has also developed through federal statutes subsequent to AEDPA and case precedent5 to become an effective means of targeting states that financially support acts of terrorism.

The recent decision in Wultz v. Islamic Republic of Iran tested this new provision as well as the rapid expansion of the exception that has occurred in the past fifteen years. In Wultz, the District Court for the District of Columbia entered a default judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, the estate, and the family of a sixteen-year-old American citizen killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The case was brought under the private cause of action provision of § 1605A against Iran and Syria for supporting the terrorist organization that carried out the attack and vicariously committing an extrajudicial murder. The court ultimately awarded plaintiffs $332,068,634 in compensatory and punitive damages. The decision in Wultz demonstrates the Court’s agreement with Congress as to the statute’s aim of holding state supporters of terrorism accountable for their actions. It also demonstrates the merits underpinning the concern that lack of cooperation on the part of Iran, Syria, and other defendants in future cases brought under § 1605A will likely hinder the more concrete goals of compensating victims of terrorism and cutting off sources of funding for terror.

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