Case of the Day: Murphy v. Islamic Republic of Iran

The Case of the Day is Murphy v. Islamic Republic of Iran (D.D.C. 2011). The claims arose out of the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983. The plaintiffs sued Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security and invoked 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, the provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that creates an exception to sovereign immunity in state-sponsored terrorism cases. The plaintiffs obtained a default judgment.

The FSIA provides that a default judgment “shall be sent to the foreign state or political subdivision in the manner prescribed for service in this section.” In this case, service had to be made through the diplomatic channel. The court gave the plaintiffs 21 days to proceed. After the deadline passed, the plaintiffs asked the court for leave to serve only Iran, not the Ministry of Information and Security, and they represented that they would seek to enforce the judgment only against Iran itself. The apparent motivation for the request was the State Department’s $2,275 fee for transmitting the papers through the diplomatic channel, which, according to the court, was a per defendant fee.

The judge denied the motion on the grounds that the statute made service on all defendants mandatory. But the court went on to berate the State Department for charging what it characterized as an exorbitant fee. The fee does seem high, but the judge’s reaction also seems a little over-the-top, given the typical costs of federal civil litigation.

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