March 13, 2015

Two family members of marines who were killed during  the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks terrorist attack in Beirut, Lebanon, and a survivor of the attack, have asked a Federal Court this week to distribute billions of dollars in Iranian assets on an equal basis to all of Iran’s victims—not just those who obtained early judgments. The 1983 suicide bombing in Lebanon, which killed 241 American service members and injured numerous others, was the deadliest state-sponsored terrorist attack against American citizens prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

The three Beirut bombing victims—Mark Boyd, John Relvas and John Kees—are seeking to intervene in two previously filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SNDY) in order to create a limited fund class action on behalf of all those killed or injured in Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks.   Kees was 11 years old when his father, Marion, was killed in the Beirut suicide bombing, while Relvas’s lost his brother, Rui, in the attack.  Boyd was a 19-year old Marine serving in Beirut who survived the attack but lost many friends and fellow service members.  They seek justice on behalf of all the victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism by providing a mechanism to fairly distribute billions of dollars of confiscated Iranian assets earmarked for a subset of Iran’s victims.

“The plaintiffs in this current lawsuit are victims of the very same terrorist attack as those who filed claims earlier. It is only right that these servicemembers who were injured and the families of those who died in this tragic attack also be compensated for their injuries and losses,” said plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel Theodore J. Leopold, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.

"All service members harmed by Iran's terrorist activities deserve justice, not just those who received early judgments," said Capt. Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.), Director of the Service Members Law Center of the Reserve Officers Association.

This motion is seeking to distribute funds to all American victims of Iranian terrorist activities. An earlier lawsuit involving several hundred plaintiffs – largely current and former members of various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families– was filed against Iran in a Washington, D.C. federal court in 2001.  The judge in that case, Peterson, et al. vs. Islamic Republic of Iran, entered a default judgment against Iran totaling $2.65 billion. 

The Peterson ruling largely rested on the plaintiffs’ arguments and corroborating evidence showing that several terrorist groups that participated in the deadly attack – including the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – had the backing of the Iranian government.

In 2008, the plaintiffs in the Peterson case sued Bank Markazi—the Central Bank of Iran—and Citibank in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to gain access to nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets.  In March 2013, the New York Court granted summary judgment to the Peterson plaintiffs and ordered that the frozen Iranian assets be transferred into a fund for some—but not all of Iran’s victims—that would be overseen by Stanley Sporkin. Iran appealed that decision, but in July 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the lower court judgment.  Bank Markazi is currently seeking review of that decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Several victims also filed a separate lawsuit in New York Federal Court arguing that an Iranian foundation called the Pahlavi Foundation, which owned a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue, was a front for the Iranian government.  The judge granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs in that case allowing the U.S. government and victims of Iranian terrorist attacks compensation from the sale of real estate and other property valued at over $1 billion. 

“We are optimistic that the Second Circuit’s ruling will stand and have faith in the judicial system that all victims of this horrific attack against U.S. military personnel – those who first filed the lawsuit against Iran, and those similarly situated claimants who have come forward since – will be able to rightfully share in the victims’ fund,” said plaintiffs’ co-counsel Jeremy McKenzie of Karsman, McKenzie & Hart.

Paul Hart, also plaintiffs’ co-counsel, further stated: “We represent a wonderful group of plaintiffs that come from a variety of backgrounds and geographic locations.  What the plaintiffs share in common is a serious loss due to a terrorist act.  Our duty is to make sure all victims are compensated for these losses.”

 In addition to Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, the plaintiffs inRelvas v. Islamic Republic of Iran, are represented by Paul Hart and Jeremy McKenzie at Karsman, McKenzie & Hart, Savannah, Ga.