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Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: February 28, 2012
Case #: 11-88
634 F.3d 604 (DC Cir. 2011)
Full Text Opinion: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-dc-circuit/1560163.html

Tort Law: Whether the Torture Victim Protection Act includes corporations or organizations as possible defendants.

During a visit to the West Bank in 1995, Azzam Rahim was taken into custody by several men who identified themselves as security police. The men took Rahim, a U.S. citizen, to a prison where he was tortured and eventually killed. A report issued by the U.S. State Department in 1996 stated that Rahim died while in the custody of Palestinian Authority intelligence officers. Rahim’s son, Asid Mohamad, on behalf of his family, filed suit against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, claiming Rahim was killed in violation of the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) and federal common law. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a default judgment against the defendants in 2007. Following a motion by the defendants to vacate the judgment and dismiss the claim for lack of personal jurisdiction, the court granted Mohamad’s motion to transfer the case to the District Court for the District of Columbia. The district court set aside the default judgment and dismissed the case, finding that Mohamad had no cause of action under either the TVPA or federal common law. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that only an individual can be found liable under the TVPA, excluding organizations or corporations as defendants.

On appeal, Petitioner argues that the purpose of the TVPA was to provide relief for torture victims, and excluding organizations as defendants defeats that purpose. Further, Petitioner argues that by creating a tort action, the TVPA raises a presumption that actions of an agent result in liability for an organization. Lastly, Petitioner argues that the legislative history shows that Congress only intended to exclude states, not non-sovereign organizations, as defendants under the TVPA.