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Case of the Day: Aviation & General Insurance Co. v. United States

Wreckage of Pam Am Flight 103
The wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103. Credit: Air Accident Investigation Branch

The case of the day is Aviation & General Insurance Co. v. United States (Fed. Cl. 2016). I first wrote about the case in June 2015, in connection with the decision denying the government’s motion to dismiss. Here was my description from the prior post:

The plaintiffs were insurance and reinsurance companies that had insured the aircraft hulls used on EgyptAir flight 648 and PanAm flight 103, two flights that were victims of terrorist attacks that, the United States determined, were sponsored by the government of Libya.

In 1996, Congress amended the FSIA to create a “state-sponsored terrorism” exception to sovereign immunity. The insurers then brought suit against Libya. But in 2008, Congress enacted the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, which allowed the government to restore Libya’s immunity. The United States and Libya entered into a claims settlement agreement, and the government, pursuant to the 2008 statute, terminated the pending lawsuits against Libya, including the insurers’ suit. The insurers had the right to seek compensation in the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, an agency of the Department of Justice. But the insurers’ claims were unsuccessful for various reasons.

The question in today’s case is whether the government’s actions amounted to a taking of property for which the insurers are entitled to compensation under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which provides: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The court denied the government’s motion to dismiss, rejecting the claim that the plaintiffs’ choses in action were not property that could be taken and that the question was a nonjusticiable political question. Today’s decision deals with the proceedings on summary judgment.
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Case of the Day: Topsnik v. United States

Internal Revenue Service sign
Don’t mess with the IRS. Credit: Joshua Doubek

The case of the day is Topsnik v. United States (Fed. Cl. 2016). Gerd Topsnik was “a German resident who formerly had business interests in the United States.” He brought claims for damages, asserting that the government had wrongfully levied taxes on him. (In fact, his claims should have been brought as claims for a refund of taxes, for jurisdictional reasons that the judge explained but that I won’t go into here). The root of the claim was that the statute of limitations barred the government from collecting the taxes.
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Case of the Day: Alimanestianu v. United States

The case of the day is Alimanestianu v. United States (Fed. Cl. 2015). 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 Apppeals 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.
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