This decision is the latest setback for efforts to hold foreign entities liable in US courts for damages related to terrorism.
Photo credit: MDA/Channel 2 News
The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan threw out the $655.5 million verdict against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization for damages suffered American families by terrorist attacks in Israel.
The appeals court ordered that the civil lawsuit, which began in January 2004, be dismissed. This decision is the latest setback for efforts to hold foreign entities liable in US courts for damages related to terrorism.
The court in New York ruled that the lower court which issued the February 2015 verdict did not have jurisdiction over the case.
In February 2015, a US jury found the PA and the PLO liable under the US Anti-Terrorism Act (18 U.S.C. § 2331 et seq.), which permits US citizens injured by acts of international terrorism to pursue damages in federal court. The appeal was won with the judges recognizing the horrors, while denying the jurisdiction to weigh in on the case.
Judge John Koeltl wrote: “The terror machine gun attacks and suicide bombings that triggered this suit and victimized these plaintiffs were unquestionably horrific. But the federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiffs’ claims.”
10 families had won the verdict sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets American victims of international terrorism sue in US courts.
The families had sought to hold PLO and the Palestinian Authority liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002-4 in Israel in which 33 people were killed, including several Americans, and wounded more than 450.
The families said late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and his agents routinely arranged for payments to attackers and to families of attackers who died. But the defendants have said they condemned the attacks and blamed them on rogue employees who acted on their own, Reuters reports.
In February 2015, after a six-week trial, a federal jury in Manhattan awarded the families $218.5 million, which was tripled automatically to $655.5 million under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The appeals court said the trial judge, George Daniels, erred in letting the case proceed at all.
Koeltl said the attacks occurred “entirely outside” U.S. territory, and found no evidence that Americans were targeted.
He also said that while the Palestinian groups maintained a mission in Washington, D.C., and promoted their cause within the country, this did not make them “essentially at home” in the United States.
Last August, add Reuters, without taking a position in the case, the U.S. government said it strongly supported the right of terrorism victims to pursue damages in federal court. It nonetheless told Daniels that requiring the defendants to post a high bond during their appeal could impede their operations and further destabilize the region.
On Wednesday, after the initial verdict was thrown out, the families attorney Kent Yalowitz said it was a “cruel decision” of the appeals court.
“The very terrorists who prompted the law have now hidden behind the US Constitution to avoid responsibility for their crimes,” Yalowitz said in a statement to The New York Times. “This cruel decision must be corrected so that these families may receive justice.”
The attorney said the families were considering taking the case to the full appeals court, or even asking the Supreme Court to hear it.