Supreme Court Awards Huge Victory to Iran Terror Victims

In a 6-2 decision released today, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed lower court rulings that awarded nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian government assets to victims of terrorism.

The money, frozen in 2008 in New York accounts controlled by Clearstream Banking S.A. of Luxembourg, ultimately belonged to Bank Markazi Iran, the Central Bank of Iran.

The chain of ownership was somewhat complicated.

As part of its foreign currency reserves, Bank Markazi held $1.75 billion in security entitlements in foreign government and supranational bonds at Banca UBAE S.p.A., an Italian bank. App., infra, 2a; C.A. App. 1329-1332, 1779. UBAE, in turn, held corresponding security entitlements in an account with another intermediary, Clearstream Banking, S.A., in Luxembourg. App., infra, 2a,57a-59a. Clearstream then held corresponding security entitlements in an omnibus account at Citibank, N.A., in New York. Id. at 2a.

At issue at the Supreme Court was not this chain of ownership, which the lower courts affirmed, but simply whether Congress had overstepped its bounds in singling out the case in a provision of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, 22 U.S.C. §8772 intended to facilitate the collection of these assets on behalf of the 16 groups of terror victim plaintiffs.

In her Opinion, Justice Ginsberg found that Section 8772 was not a “one-case-only regime,” that applied to just one case and just one asset.

Rather, it covers a category of postjudgment execution claims filed by numerous plaintiffs who, in multiple civil actions, obtained evidence-based judgments against Iran together amounting to billions of dollars. Section 8772 subjects the designated assets to execution “to satisfy any judgment” against Iran for damages caused by specified acts of terrorism. §8772(a)(1) (emphasis added).

In this potentially far-reaching opinion, the Court today affirmed the authority of Congress and the President to exercise “control over claims against foreign governments, as well as foreign-government-owned property in the United States.”