Even if the antiquities qualify as "assets of" Iran under the 2002 terrorism law, a 1981 executive order by President Carter would have unblocked them, he wrote. The executive order followed the 1981 Algiers Accords, through which the United States and Iran resolved the crisis stemming from 52 Americans being held hostage for 444 days in Iran. The order unblocked most Iranian assets in the United States at the time.
"Because the plaintiffs have relied on no other authority to support their claim that the antiquities are 'blocked' within the meaning of [the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act], we conclude that the antiquities are not attachable under that statute," Stahl wrote.
Meir Katz, of counsel to Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Berkman Law Office, who argued for the plaintiffs, referred inquiries to his colleague Robert Tolchin.
"It's very unfortunate that the court has found a technicality rather than reaching the merits and truly deciding the issue," Tolchin said. "The court found a technicality [prevented it] from making the victims of heinous terrorism from making a recovery."
Boston-based Looney & Grossman also represented the plaintiffs.
The Harvard defendants' lawyer, Paul Wolfson, a Washington partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, declined to comment. The Harvard defendants did not respond.
The Museum of Fine Arts' lawyer, Simon Frankel, a San Francisco partner at Washington-based Covington & Burling, deferred to a museum statement.
In a statement issued through its lawyers, the Museum of Fine Arts said most of the objects in its collection from what is now Iran were excavated during official expeditions in the 1930s: "Although sympathetic to the plaintiffs, the MFA affirms that these objects are the property of the Museum and is pleased that the First Circuit has upheld this ruling."
Sherin and Lodgen of Boston also represented the museum.