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Lelchook v. Islamic Republic of Iran

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 20, 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

         David Lelchook, an American citizen, was killed by a rocket fired by Hezbollah into northern Israel during the summer of 2006. His relatives, the plaintiffs here, allege that the defendants -- 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”) -- helped wire money to Hezbollah. The plaintiffs have brought claims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq., and the Antiterrorism Act (“ATA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2331 et seq., as well as supplemental tort claims under Israeli and Massachusetts law. BSPLC now moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court DENIES the defendant's motion (Docket No. 88) and TRANSFERS the case to the Eastern District of New York pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case has traversed a long and torturous path. The plaintiffs initially filed this lawsuit in the District Court for 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 brought the same set of claims against the same four defendants. See Kaplan v. Cent. Bank of the Islamic Republic 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. at 188. The Kaplan court dismissed all claims against BSPLC and BSI, including the claims against BSPLC at issue here: that BSPLC had violated the ATA by aiding and abetting, or directly engaging in, international terrorism. Id. at 206. The court reasoned that the ATA's “act of war” exception precluded liability against BSPLC. Id. at 199-201; see also 18 U.S.C. § 2336(a) (“No action shall be maintained . . . for injury or loss by reason of an act of war.”). The court did not address whether it had personal jurisdiction over BSPLC at the time of its dismissal.

         Citing its decision in Kaplan, but without affording the Lelchook I plaintiffs a separate opportunity to brief the applicability of the “act of war” exception, the court dismissed all of the plaintiffs' claims against BSI and BSPLC. See Lelchook I, slip op. at 2. Specifically, the court dismissed “plaintiffs' FSIA claims against BSI, ” “all of plaintiffs' ATA claims” against BSPLC, and all “Israeli Tort claims against BSI and BSPLC.” Id. Again, the court did not address personal jurisdiction with respect to BSPLC.

         After this adverse ruling in the District of Columbia, the plaintiffs refiled the case here on November 2, 2015. BSPLC then moved to transfer this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) back to the District of Columbia. After extensive briefing and two hearings, the Court denied BSPLC's motion to transfer. Lelchook v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. CV 15-13715-PBS, 2016 WL 4203415, at *1 (D. Mass. Aug. 9, 2016). The Court incorporates and assumes familiarity with that opinion.

         The plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint. This latest iteration provides two bases for personal jurisdiction: First, the plaintiffs argue that the rocket attack that killed David Lelchook was directed at the United States. Second, the plaintiffs assert that some or all of the $50 million transferred between BSPLC and its parent bank -- and that was ultimately wired to Hezbollah -- was processed through the United States. BSPLC now moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction asserting that neither theory provides a basis for jurisdiction.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         On a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the Court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 50 (1st Cir. 2002). “When a district court rules on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without holding an evidentiary hearing, as in this case, the ‘prima facie' standard governs its determination.” United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 274 F.3d 610, 618 (1st Cir. 2001) (“Swiss Am. Bank III”). The prima facie standard “permits the district court to consider only whether the plaintiff has proffered evidence that, if credited, is enough to support findings of all facts essential to personal jurisdiction.” Daynard, 290 F.3d at 51 (quotation marks omitted). The Court “must accept the plaintiff's (properly documented) evidentiary proffers as true, ” and “construe them in the light most congenial to the plaintiff's jurisdictional claim.” Adelson v. Hananel, 510 F.3d 43, 48 (1st Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted). The facts put forward by the defendants “become part of the mix only to the extent that they are uncontradicted.” Id.

         II. First Theory of Jurisdiction: Rocket Attack Targeted Forum

         The plaintiffs' first theory is that the rocket that Hezbollah fired from Lebanon into Israel directly targeted the United States.

         In federal question cases, like this one, “the constitutional limits of the court's personal jurisdiction are drawn in the first instance with reference to the due process clause of the fifth amendment.” Lorelei Corp. v. Cnty. of Guadalupe, 940 F.2d 717, 719 (1st Cir. 1991). “In such circumstances, the Constitution requires only that the defendant have the requisite ‘minimum contacts' with the United States, rather than with the particular forum state (as would be required in a diversity case).” United Elec., Radio & Mach. Workers of Am. v. 163 Pleasant St. Corp., 960 F.2d 1080, 1085 (1st Cir. 1992). “The defendant's national contacts take center stage because the rule applies only to situations in which federal courts draw jurisdictional authority from the federal sovereign (unreinforced by ‘borrowed' state statutes), and, thus, the applicable constitutional requirements devolve from the Fifth rather than the Fourteenth Amendment.” United Statesv. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 191 F.3d 30, 36 (1st Cir. 1999) (“SwissAm. Bank I”). The analysis under the two due process clauses is otherwise the same. See Waldman v. Palestine Liberation Org., 835 F.3d 317, 331 (2d Cir. 2016) (“[W]e ...


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