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U.S. Supreme Court Holds that a Provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Does Not Lift Immunity from Attachment of Iranian Artifacts

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently held unanimously that § 1610(g) of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) does not lift the immunity from attachment of certain artifacts belonging to Iran. The case, Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, stemmed from the petitioners’ attempt to satisfy a prior judgment against Iran for injuries sustained in Hamas suicide bombings in Jerusalem in 1997.

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1 Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 538 U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 816, 827 (2018). Justice Kagan did not participate in the decision. Id. at 827.

2 Id. at 820–21. In 2003, a federal district court granted a default judgment against Iran under the prior state-sponsored terrorism exception to the FSIA's establishment of jurisdictional immunity. Campuzano v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 281 F. Supp. 2d 258, 260, 269–70 (D.D.C. 2003). The court subsequently granted the petitioners’ motion to convert the judgment to one under 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, a more expansive exception to immunity for state-sponsored terrorism passed by Congress in 2008. 563 F. Supp. 2d 38, 39 n.3 (D.D.C. 2008). As part of their lengthy attempt to satisfy the judgment, petitioners sought to attach the artifacts at issue in this case. See Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Islam, 830 F.3d 470, 474–75 (7th Cir. 2016) (describing the procedural history).

3 Rubin, 138 S. Ct. at 820–21 (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1604, 1609).

4 Id. at 819–21.

5 Id. at 821.

6 28 U.S.C. § 1610.

7 28 U.S.C. § 1610(a).

8 Rubin, 830 F.3d at 479 (rejecting arguments that “a third party's commercial use of the property triggers § 1610(a)” and also expressing skepticism that “the University's academic study of the Persepolis Collection counts as a commercial use”); see also 137 S. Ct. 2326 (2017) (granting certiorari only with respect to the interpretation of § 1610(g)).

9 28 U.S.C. § 1610(g)(1).

10 Rubin, 138 S. Ct. at 824.

11 Id. at 823.

12 First Nat. City Bank v. Banco Para el Comercio Exterior de Cuba, 462 U.S. 611, 628 (1983).

13 Rubin, 138 S. Ct. at 823.

14 Id.

15 28 U.S.C. § 1610(g)(1); Rubin, 138 S. Ct. at 823.

16 Rubin, 138 S. Ct. at 823.

17 Id. at 823–25.

18 Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondents, Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran at 31–32, 538 U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 816 (2018) (No. 16-534).

19 Rubin, 138 S. Ct. at 825.

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American Journal of International Law
  • ISSN: 0002-9300
  • EISSN: 2161-7953
  • URL: /core/journals/american-journal-of-international-law
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