U.S. citizens Diana Campuzano, Avi Elishis, and Greg Salzman were injured in a terrorist suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1997 and sought to punish the attackers in U.S. court.
Campuzano, Elishis, and Salzman, who were American students, are still trying to seek justice—now turning to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to push their case against Iran. The plaintiffs face an uphill battle.
In 2003, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina awarded $37.5 million in punitive damages for each plaintiff in a judgment against the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Pasdaran, and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. But Urbina denied an award against the third defendant, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The defendants never responded to the complaint and did not show up for a hearing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Since then, the plaintiffs have collected not a dime of the award.
Earlier this year, the plaintiffs’ appellate attorney, D.C. solo practitioner Paul Gaston, urged Urbina to reconsider hitting Iran with punitive damages under recent amendments to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that allow a plaintiff to seek supplemental relief—including punitive damages against a state sponsor of terrorism—for claims that have previously been brought in court. Campuzano, Elishis, and Salzman are seeking another $37.5 million each in a judgment against Iran.
But to apply those amendments, an action must be pending in court “in any form,” including on appeal or under a motion. Urbina rendered final judgment in the Campuzano case in September 2003. Gaston argues in court papers that the Campuzano case, which was filed in 2000, is before the court “in any form” in the sense that the plaintiffs are still trying to collect the award.
“This is plainly not what Congress meant by ‘before the court in any form,’ ” Urbina said in an order this July. Gaston is now appealing that order to the D.C. Circuit for guidance on defining “in any form.” He declined to talk about the case.