Appeal court voids $655m verdict against PLO & PA
Jonathan Stempel, Ali Sawafta, Reuters, Aug 31 2016
NEW YORK/ RAMALLAH – A Pindo appeals court on Wednesday threw out a $655.5m verdict against the PA and the PLO for damages suffered by USraeli families from terrorist attacks in Israel. By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a lower court judge erred in concluding he had jurisdiction over the case. The appeals court ordered that the civil lawsuit, which began in Jan 2004, be dismissed. Judge John Koeltl wrote for the appeals court:
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.
Wednesday’s decision is the latest setback for efforts to hold foreign entities liable in Pindo courts for damages related to terrorism. The 10 families who had won the verdict had sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets Pindostani victims of international terrorism sue in Pindo courts. Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the families, said in an email:
The very terrorists who prompted the law have now hidden behind the Pindosi Constitution to avoid responsibility for their crimes. This cruel decision must be corrected. Congress and the State Dept should intervene so that these families may receive justice.
PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said in an interview:
This is a Palestinian victory that should not be underestimated and it is a big blow to anyone who attempts to blackmail us. We have drawn a red line under it.
Gassan Baloul, a lawyer for the defendants, said in an email they were gratified with the court’s findings on jurisdiction. The families had sought to hold the PA and PLO liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002 and 2004 in the Jerusalem area. The attacks killed 33 people, including several USraelis, and wounded more than 450. They have been attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. The families said that 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 (sic – RB) who acted on their own.
In Feb 2015, after a six-week trial, a federal jury in Manhattan awarded the families $218.5m, which was tripled automatically to $655.5m 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” Pindo territory, and found no evidence that Pindosis were targeted. He also said that while the Palestinian groups maintained a mission in Washington DC and promoted their cause within the country, this did not make them “essentially at home” in Pindostan. Last August, without taking a position in the case, the Pindosi 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.
Wednesday’s decision is the second in eight days by the Manhattan appeals court against victims of attacks in Israel. On Aug 24, the court said it lacked jurisdiction to hold Lebanese Canadian Bank SAL liable under the Alien Tort Statute to victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks, for allegedly helping finance that group through a New York bank account. In December, the court said thousands of non-Pindostani citizens could not sue Jordan’s Arab Bank PLC for allegedly providing support to Hamas, al-Aqsa and others for attacks in Israel. Arab Bank settled separate litigation under the Anti-Terrorism Act last August over its responsibility for attacks in Israel. That accord is conditioned on an appeal of a Brooklyn jury’s underlying liability verdict from 2014. The case is Sokolow et al vs PLO et al, 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, #15-3135.