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Recent Supreme Court Decisions

In June, the Supreme Court refused to grant appeals to two separate cases involving the September 11th community. Because of our focus here at VOICES, we were interested in providing more in-depth coverage of the Supreme Court decisions. Having taken some law classes at Loyola and hoping to attend law school in the near future, I volunteered to research these cases more thoroughly. I have included a summary of the cases below.

O’Neill v. Al Rajhi Bank

In 2011, a group of family members of victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks, individual that had suffered injuries that day, and additional companies that incurred damages and losses as a result of the attack sued specific charities, financial institutions, and other individuals claiming they “provided support and resources to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.” The plaintiffs intended to pursue “the principal financial and operational supporters of al Qaeda.” At this time, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against the family members and survivors. The plaintiffs accordingly appealed the decision and the case was sent to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.

After hearing arguments in late 2012, the Second Circuit again ruled against the family members in 2013, citing faulty claims made against the foreign banks and organizations. The Anti-Terrorist Act, enacted in 1992, provides: “any national of the United States injured in his or her person, property, or business by reason of an act of international terrorism, or his or her estate, survivors, or heirs, may sue therefore in any appropriate district court of the United States and shall recover threefold the damages he or she sustains and the cost of the suit, including attorney’s fees.” However, this is no inclusion of “aiders and abettors” in the law’s definition. The Second Circuit found that the defendants did not proximately cause the injuries of the family members, survivors, or commercial entities. Because there is no evidence that the money donated to the charities was actually transferred to the terrorist organization and used for the attacks, there is no proof that the defendants provided money directly to al Qaeda. The plaintiffs also failed to show the defendants intended to harm the United States. There was not a close enough connection between the defendants and the terrorist activities for the families and survivors to sue.

The plaintiffs again appealed this decision, this time to the Supreme Court, and in December 2013, the Court invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the official views of the United States Justice Department. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli offered the Obama Administration’s stance to the Court, suggesting they reject the appeal. On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court denied the request for an appeal by the family members and survivors of the attacks. By refusing to hear the case, the Second Circuit’s decision was made final: the charities, banks, and individuals could not be held liable for the attacks.

 

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia v. Federal Insurance Co.

In 2003, a group of people that suffered losses on September 11th - survivors, families and representatives of victims of the attacks, insurers and property owners - sued the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina alleging the Saudi government provided money and logistical support to al Qaeda. Separate cases filed by individual families and property owners were later merged under the title In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001.

 The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the Saudis could not be sued, as a foreign state or an organization performing a duty on behalf of a federal agency is immune from the jurisdiction of the United States court system. Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed this decision, dismissing the claims against the Kingdom and SHC in 2008.

However, three years later in Doe v. Bin Laden, the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling that John Doe, husband of victim Jane Doe, had standing to sue Afghanistan for wrongful death and violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. At this time, the Bin Laden case had not been centralized as part of the Terrorist Attacks litigation and was decided as a separate case. Because its decision was inconsistent with the previous ruling in Terrorist Attacks by the Second Circuit, the judges on the Bin Laden panel circulated their findings to the members of the Terrorist Attacks judicial panel and received no objection to the opinion.

Upon reviewing these cases when the Second Circuit was deciding Kingdom of Saudi Arabia v. Federal Insurance Co., the judges realized the conflicting decisions for victims’ family members, survivors, and companies that had suffered losses: in one case, families were able to sue a foreign entity and in the other, they were not. Citing an “error of law” in their 2013 decision, the appellate court restored both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi High Commission as defendants in the case and remanded the case back to the District Court.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia disagreed with this order, claiming the appeals court was improperly reopening the case, and appealed to the Supreme Court. On June 30th, 2014, the Court denied this appeal. Because the Supreme Court did not object to the continuation of the case, both sides are expected to move forward with discovery of Saudi Arabian documents and depositions.

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