Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Klayman founded Judicial Watch in 1994 and served as its Chairman and General Counsel until 2003. Klayman claims he left voluntarily. Judicial Watch (JW) claims it forced Klayman to resign based on misconduct. During negotiations over Klayman’s departure, JW prepared its newsletter, which was mailed to donors with a letter signed by Klayman as “Chairman and General Counsel.” While the newsletter was at the printer, the parties executed a severance agreement. Klayman resigned; the parties were prohibited from disparaging each other. Klayman was prohibited from access to donor lists and agreed to pay outstanding personal expenses. JW paid Klayman $600,000. Klayman ran to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate. His campaign used the vendor that JW used for its mailings and use the names of JW’s donors for campaign solicitations. Klayman lost the election, then launched “Saving Judicial Watch,” with a fundraising effort directed at JW donors using names obtained for his Senate run. In promotional materials, Klayman asserted that he resigned to run for Senate, that the JW leadership team had mismanaged and the organization, and that Klayman should be reinstated.Klayman filed a complaint against JW, asserting violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1), by publishing a false endorsement when it sent the newsletter identifying him as “Chairman and General Counsel” after he had left JW. Klayman also alleged that JW breached the non-disparagement agreement by preventing him from making fair comments about JW and that JW defamed him. During the 15 years of ensuing litigation, Klayman lost several claims at summary judgment and lost the remaining claims at trial. The jury awarded JW $2.3 million. The D.C. Circuit rejected all of Klayman’s claims on appeal. View "Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc." on Justia Law

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On May 16, 2017, Turkish security forces clashed with protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s Washington, D.C. residence. Injured protesters sued the Republic of Turkey, claiming that President Erdogan ordered the attack. They asserted various tort claims, violation of D.C. Code 22-3704, which creates a civil action for injuries that demonstrate an accused’s prejudice based on the victim’s race or national origin, and civil claims under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act and under the Alien Tort Statute.After reviewing the videotape of the incident, the district court stated: [T]he protesters remained standing on the designated sidewalk. Turkish security forces ... crossed a police line to attack the protesters. The protesters ... either fell to the ground, where Turkish security forces continued to kick and hit them or ran away."The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of Turkey's motion to dismiss. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. 1602, a foreign state is “presumptively immune" from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts but a “tortious acts exception,” strips immunity if money damages are sought for personal injury or death, or damage to property, occurring in the U.S. and caused by the tortious act of a foreign state. The court rejected Turkey's argument that the “discretionary function” exception preserved its sovereign immunity. Although the Turkish security detail had a right to protect President Erdogan, Turkey did not have the discretion to commit criminal assaults. The decisions giving rise to the lawsuit were not “‘fraught with’ economic, political, or social judgments.” View "Usoyan v. Republic of Turkey" on Justia Law

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Inna Khodorkovskaya sued the director and the playwright of Kleptocracy, a play that ran for a month in 2019 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. She alleged false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Inna, who was a character in Kleptocracy, alleges that the play falsely depicted her as a prostitute and murderer. Inna’s husband was persecuted because of his opposition to Vladimir Putin; the two obtained asylum in the U.K.The district court dismissed her complaint, reasoning that Kleptocracy is a fictional play, even if inspired by historical events, and that the play employed various dramatic devices underscoring its fictional character so that no reasonable audience member would understand the play to communicate that the real-life Inna was a prostitute or murderer. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. “Kleptocracy is not journalism; it is theater. It is, in particular, a theatrical production for a live audience, a genre in which drama and dramatic license are generally the coin of the realm.” The play’s use of a fictional and metaphorical tiger, of Vladimir Putin reciting poetry, and of a ghost reinforce to the reasonable audience member that the play’s contents cannot be taken literally. View "Khodorkovskaya v. Gay" on Justia Law

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Appellant, a resident of the District of Columbia and a dual citizen of the United States and the Russian Federation, filed a defamation action in district court against appellee, a nonresident alien and citizen of the United Kingdom. Because appellee made his allegedly defamatory statements outside of the District of Columbia, appellant sought to establish personal jurisdiction over appellee under the District's long-arm jurisdiction statute, D.C. CODE 13-423(a)(4). The district court granted appellee's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.The DC Circuit vacated, concluding that it cannot determine whether appellee's non-government contacts with the District satisfy any of the three "plus factors" required under the long-arm statute. In this case, the district court relied on an overly broad construction of the government contacts exception in granting judgment for appellee and denying jurisdictional discovery. Accordingly, the court has no sound basis upon which to credit the district court's judgment. The court remanded for jurisdictional discovery. View "Akhmetshin v. Browder" on Justia Law

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After originally hearing this appeal, the DC Circuit certified to the DC Court of Appeals the following question regarding plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claims: "Must a claimant alleging emotional distress arising from a terrorist attack that killed or injured a family member have been present at the scene of the attack in order to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress?" The DC Court of Appeals answered the question in the negative.The court rejected Sudan's arguments and affirmed the default judgments with respect to plaintiffs' IIED claims. In this case, Sudan's objections to the DC court's exception to the presence requirement all presume that DC law treats state actors differently from non-state actors. The court rejected Sudan's interpretation of the DC court's holding and did not reach the substantive question whether it would be impermissible for the DC court to single out certain foreign sovereigns for IIED liability in terrorism cases. View "Owens v. Republic of Sudan" on Justia Law

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In this consolidated opinion, the DC Circuit addressed cases arising from the Beirut, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam terrorist attacks. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the district court's dismissals of their claims against Iran, contending that the district courts erred in raising the statute of limitations sua sponte and in dismissing their complaints as untimely. One group of plaintiffs challenged the denial of motions for relief from judgment that they filed after their claims were dismissed.The DC Circuit did not reach the statute of limitations issue or the postjudgment motions. Rather, the court held that the district court lacks authority to sua sponte raise a forfeited statute of limitations defense in a Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) terrorism exception case, at least where the defendant sovereign fails to appear. Accordingly, the court reversed the district courts' judgments, vacated the dismissals of the complaint, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Maalouf v. Islamic Republic of Iran" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an American citizen, filed suit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA), against two foreign officials from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for alleged torture. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the foreign official immunity doctrine.The DC Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal and held that defendants were not entitled to conduct-based foreign official immunity under the common law. In this case, defendants were being sued in their individual capacities and plaintiff was not seeking compensation of state funds. The court explained that, in cases like this one, in which the plaintiff pursues an individual-capacity claim seeking relief against an official in a personal capacity, exercising jurisdiction did not enforce a rule against the foreign state. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lewis v. Mutond" on Justia Law

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United States nationals, victims of al Qaeda attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, filed suit against the French bank BNP Paribas for damages under the AntiTerrorism Act (ATA), alleging that the bank provided financial assistance to Sudan, which in turn funded and otherwise supported al Qaeda's attack. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the suit based on failure to state a claim, holding that the victims failed to adequately allege that they were injured "by reason of" the bank's acts and could not state a claim for relief based on a theory of primary liability under the ATA. The court also held that the ATA did not permit recovery for claims premised on aiding and abetting liability. View "Owens v. BNP Paribas, SA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Hezbollah and two foreign banks for injuries sustained during the attacks in northern Israel in 2006. In one action, American plaintiffs allege that Hezbollah's rocket attacks amounted to acts of international terrorism, in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). In a second action, all plaintiffs accused the banks of funding Hezbollah's attacks, in violation of both the ATA and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).The DC Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the ATA claims, holding that the district court must first determine that it has personal jurisdiction over the defendants before applying the statute's act-of-war exception. The court affirmed the dismissal of claims under the ATS based on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, 138 S. Ct. 1386 (2018), which held that foreign corporations (like the bank defendants here) were not subject to liability under that statute. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Kaplan v. Central Bank of Iran" on Justia Law

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After sixteen-year-old Yaakov Naftali Fraenkel and two of his classmates were taken hostage and killed by members of Hamas, his family filed suit in district court against Iran and Syria under the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1605A. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants provided material support to Hamas. The district court eventually entered a default judgment for plaintiffs and plaintiffs challenged the amount of damages awarded to them. The DC Circuit rejected plaintiffs' claim that the district court erred in failing to determine the solatium damages awards in conformity with the remedial scheme established in Estate of Heiser v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 466 F. Supp. 2d 229 (D.D.C. 2006). The court held that Heiser was a useful reference point, but not binding precedent. The court further held that the district court abused its discretion in awarding solatium damages because its judgment was based on impermissible considerations and clearly erroneous findings of fact. Accordingly, the court reversed in part and remanded. The court affirmed the punitive damages and pain-and-suffering awards because the judgments with respect to those awards were consistent with the applicable law, adequately reasoned, and supported by the evidence. View "Fraenkel v. Islamic Republic of Iran" on Justia Law