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Rubin v. Iran (Argument Dec. 4, 2017)


This case has been decided! Click here to view the decision.

The Trump administration supports Iran’s position in this case which could influence foreign relations.

The law at issue in this case – the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act – took into account international diplomacy in deciding when people can sue a foreign government. That’s because pulling a foreign government into United States courts is, in effect, the U.S. stating authority over that government – an assumption that the foreign government will be controlled by the United States government – at least for the purposes of the case.

Like many countries, the United States is thoughtful when it declares its right to pull a foreign government into court.

Iran has already been pulled into U.S. court in this case. It was found to have sponsored a terrorist attack. The plaintiffs are victims of that attack to whom the court decided Iran should pay $71.5 million in damages.

The problem for the plaintiffs came after the court ruled Iran should pay: how can they get paid?

United States courts have authority over assets in the United States. However, like the decision to pull a foreign government into court, the decision on whether our government will freeze/seize its assets to satisfy court judgments required careful diplomacy considerations too.

This case is about whether a particular provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows the plaintiffs to seize some of Iran’s artifacts which are held at the University of Chicago and Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

The basic dispute is over a provision which determines in what instances plaintiffs can attach a foreign government’s property to satisfy their judgments. Both parties agree there is a specific exception in cases of state-sponsored terrorism, but they disagree on the strength of that exception.

We are providing several links here in case you wish to access more information. Most instructive (and admittedly compelling) was the 7th Circuit’s decision to rule in favor of Iran, based on its consideration of the Bancec rule (comparing the text of the provision at issue with the Bancec rule at pp. 22-23).

More Information:

  • To read the provision in full (without our paraphrasing) see here: 28 U.S.C. 1610(g).
  • To read more about the facts of the case, see SCOTUSblog’s Argument Preview.
  • To read why the lower court decided in favor of Iran in light of the Bancec rule, see pages 22-23 of the 7th Circuit opinion.
  • To read the U.S. government’s brief supporting Iran, click here.

About the Author

Mariam Morshedi

Mariam Morshedi

Mariam Morshedi is the Founder and Executive Director of Subscript Law. Before starting Subscript Law, she practiced civil rights law for AARP Foundation, where she litigated housing, consumer and disability rights issues.

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