A Washington federal judge revived litigation in a $300 million terrorism case yesterday against the Palestinian Authority - currently known as the Palestinian National Authority - and the Palestine Liberation Organization, vacating (PDF) a default entry against the two groups from 2005.
The Palestinian groups were sued in 2002 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the families of U.S. citizens killed in a terrorist bombing earlier that year at a West Bank pizzeria. The suit (PDF) accuses the PLO of carrying out the attack, and the Palestinian Authority of providing material support.
Although the Palestinian defendants were active litigants in the beginning, their participation waned several years in. In April 2005, the court entered a default (PDF) against them. Two years later, the plaintiffs moved for default judgment. They are seeking $300 million in compensatory damages plus other punitive damages and attorney fees, and that number could surpass $900 million if they win a request for treble damages.
The Palestinian groups objected, arguing in a motion to vacate (PDF) the default entry that they had hired new counsel and were committed to the litigation. They claimed that the lack of participation wasn’t intentional, saying it was due to “extraordinary political turmoil” and a lack of institutional decision-making power at the time.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said that while he didn’t buy the argument that the Palestinian defendants were unable to defend because of regional instability, he did believe that they were prepared to participate now.
“I am not persuaded in the least bit by the defendants’ arguments,” Leon wrote. “Those arguments are flatly contradicted not only by their counsel’s own statements…but also by defendants’ conduct in parallel case.” The defendants have faced similar litigation in at least four other cases.
Noting that a default judgment would place substantial strain on the financially-struggling Palestinian Authority, Leon said he did not take the prospect of a major monetary liability lightly.
“Although the default was willful at the time, they have clearly demonstrated their commitment to engaging in this litigation,” he wrote.
The suit originally named the government of Syria and various Syrian officials as defendants, alleging they provided terrorist training and other material support in connection with the bombing, but they were dropped several years ago as the plaintiffs narrowed their case.
The plaintiffs are being represented by David Strachman of McIntyre, Tate & Lynch in Providence, RI, who could not immediately be reached for comment this morning. Miller & Chevalier’s Mark Rochon, an attorney for the defendants, declined to comment.