Monday, September 27, 2010
Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that five properties located in the District of Columbia may not be used to satisfy a judgment against Iran for its support of the terrorist organization, Hamas. Plaintiffs in the suit are Michael and Linda Bennett, whose daughter, Marla Ann, was killed by a Hamas bombing while she was studying in Jerusalem. The Bennetts sued Iran in U.S. court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and California law, alleging that Iran provided support for Hamas and was therefore partially responsible for their daughters' death. In 2007, the Bennetts won a default judgment against Iran in excess of $12 million. Bennett v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 507 F.Supp.2d 117 (D.D.C. 2007).
To satisfy the judgment, the Bennetts obtained writs of attachment against Iran's former diplomatic properties in D.C., which have been in the custody of the United States government since 1980, which the U.S. broke off diplomatic ties with Iran over the seizing of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The Court of Appeals ruled that because these properties were used for diplomatic purposes, the United States has a continuing duty under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to preserve and protect the property of a foreign mission that has ceased conducting diplomatic activities in the United States. Thus, the properties are immune from attachment under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which generally allows the attachment of blocked properties to satisfy terrorism-related judgments, but which contains an exception for any diplomatic property protected by the Vienna Convention.