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Lelchook v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 9, 2016

ESTER LELCHOOK, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of David Martin Lelchook; MICHAEL LELCHOOK; YAEL LELCHOOK; ALEXANDER LELCHOOK; and DORIS LELCHOOK, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN; THE CENTRAL BANK OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN; BANK SADERAT IRAN; and BANK SADERAT, PLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PATTI B. SARIS Chief United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         This case involves the death of David Lelchook, an American citizen, killed by a rocket fired by Hezbollah into northern Israel during the summer of 2006. Plaintiffs, the decedent’s relatives, allege that the defendants-Iran, the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Bank Saderat Iran, and Bank Saderat, PLC-helped funnel money to Hezbollah. Plaintiffs have brought claims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq., and the Antiterrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2331 et seq., as well as supplemental tort claims under Israeli and Massachusetts law.

         Defendant Bank Saderat, PLC (BSPLC), has moved to transfer this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to the District of Columbia. After hearing and supplemental briefing, the Court concluded that it must find that the District of Columbia has personal jurisdiction over BSPLC before transferring the case there. Docket No. 54. Both parties argue that the District Court for the District of Columbia lacks personal jurisdiction over BSPLC. Nonetheless, BSPLC maintains the equitable doctrine of judicial estoppel provides an alternative basis for transfer. Finding that judicial estoppel does not apply here, the Court DENIES the defendant’s motion to transfer (Docket No. 21).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         I. The Present Case

         Between July 12 and August 14, 2006, Hezbollah[1] fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel. On August 2, 2006, one of these rockets killed David Lelchook, a 52-year-old American citizen, while he was riding his bicycle in Kibbutz Saar. Plaintiffs here are the estate, widow, daughters, brother, and mother of Mr. Lelchook.[2]

         Defendants are the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran), the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CBI), Bank Saderat Iran (BSI), and Bank Saderat, PLC (BSPLC). CBI is a political subdivision of Iran and its central bank. BSI is a bank incorporated in Iran and one of the country’s largest commercial banks. At the time of the rocket attack in question, BSI was wholly owned and controlled by the Iranian government.[3] BSPLC is a bank incorporated in England and Wales, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BSI. The plaintiffs allege-and BSPLC disputes-that the defendants provided extensive, material support and resources to Hezbollah that enabled it to fire the rocket that killed Mr. Lelchook. Specifically, the plaintiffs assert that Iran utilizes CBI, BSI, and BSPLC to transfer funds to its terrorist proxies, including Hezbollah.

         The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges seven separate counts. Counts I and II are against Iran and CBI, and allege violations of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq. (FSIA). Counts III and IV are against BSI and BSPLC, and allege violations of the Antiterrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2331 et seq. (ATA). Counts V and VI are against all four defendants, and allege violations of Israeli tort law. Count VII is against all four defendants, and alleges a violation of Massachusetts tort law.

         Plaintiffs have attempted service on all four defendants. BSPLC is the sole defendant moving to transfer venue. None of the other defendants answered or filed any other motion. The Clerk has entered notices of default as to BSI (Docket No. 44) and CBI (Docket No. 65). The Court has not entered a default judgment against any defendant.

         II. The D.C. Litigation

         On July 9, 2010, the same plaintiffs sued the same defendants over the death of the same individual in the District of Columbia. See Lelchook v. Cent. Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Civ. No. 10-1184 (RCL) (D.D.C. Aug. 20, 2013) (“Lelchook I”). In that case, the plaintiffs brought the same claims as those brought here: FSIA claims, ATA claims, and Israeli tort claims.

         While the plaintiffs’ claims were pending in Lelchook I, another group of plaintiffs sued the same four defendants: Iran, CBI, BSI, and BSPLC. See Kaplan v. Cent. Bank of the IslamicRepublic of Iran, 961 F.Supp.2d 185, 190 (D.D.C. 2013). The claims at issue in Kaplan involved different rocket attacks during the same 34-day conflict along the border between Israel and Lebanon. Id. The plaintiffs brought FSIA, ATA, and Israeli tort law claims. Id. At 190-91. The court dismissed all claims against BSPLC and BSI, including the same ...


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