Case of the Day: Alimanestianu v. United States
Posted on May 9, 2018
The case of the day is Alimanestianu v. United States (Fed. Cir. 2018). I have written about the case twice before, first on the decision on the motion to dismiss in December 2015, then on the decision on the motion for summary judgment in January 2017. Here was my description from the prior post:
The plaintiffs are relatives of Mihai Alimanestianu, an American citizen who was killed aboard an airplane that exploded over Niger in 1989. The explosion was due to a terrorist act sponsored by the Libyan government.
In 1996, Congress amended the FSIA to eliminate foreign sovereign immunity in cases of personal injury cause by acts of state-sponsored terrorism. In 2002, the plaintiffs sued Libya and several officials. The district court granted a summary judgment in their favor in 2008 for approximately $1.3 billion in damages. Libya and its officials appealed.
On the date Libya appealed, the United States and Libya entered into a claim settlement agreement. Under the agreement, Libya was no longer within the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the FSIA. The agreement also terminated all pending suits, including suits that had gone to judgment but were still on appeal, and precluded future suits alleging Libyan state-sponsored terrorism. The agreement also established a “humanitarian settlement fund,” into which Libya deposited $1.5 billion to compensate US claimants, and the US deposited $300 million to compensate Libyan claimants. The US and Libya agreed, for themselves and their nationals, that the fund would be a full and final settlement of all claims. Congress then enacted the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, which implemented the agreement. The United States then moved to intervene in the Alimanesianu case and moved to vacate the judgment. The Court of Appeals granted the motion and ordered the district court to dismiss the case with prejudice. The relatives received just over $10 million from the US government from the $1.5 billion contributed by Libya.
The relatives sued the government, claiming that it had effected a taking of their property when it entered into the claim settlement agreement.
The lower court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the requirement to pay just compensation in per se takings cases did not apply to cases where the government espouses claims against foreign sovereigns. Instead, the case had to be analyzed as a regulatory takings case and found no reasonable expectation to recover from Libya, since at the time of the injury, Libya claimed sovereign immunity, and thus any recovery was speculative.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed, but on different grounds. It held that there was no taking at all, even though the plaintiffs had a property interest in their causes of action and the non-final judgment against Libya. To constitute a regulatory taking, the government’s action must have “gone too far.” But in light of the government’s longstanding historic role in espousing and settling claims against foreign governments on behalf of citizens, and in light of the facts that the plaintiffs were intended beneficiaries of the settlement the government reached and that they had no investment-backed expectations in their claims, the court found that no regulatory taking had occurred.