Last Tuesday a federal jury handed down a rare plaintiffs victory in a trial involving claims under the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act. After a two-day trial and a little more than two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, a jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., awarded Nayeem Mehtab Chowdhury $1.5 million in actual damages and $250,000 in punitives in a case stemming from his torture at the hands of the Rapid Action Battalion in Bangladesh.
The Litigation Daily caught up with Mark Robertson of Fulbright & Jaworski, who represented the plaintiff along with senior associate Peter Guirguis. Roberston said the case resulted from “a business dispute that got out of control” with defendants Amjad Khan and the company WorldTel Bangladesh Holding Ltd. As described in Chowdhury’s lawsuit, Khan filed a complaint in late 2007 that led to his arrest and torture at the hands of the Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary group.
According to the complaint, Chowdhury was held in a room with more than 10 other men, and watched as guards hoisted prisoners by their arms and legs using a pulley system and beat them. During captivity, he was handcuffed, blindfolded, removed from his cell and electrocuted. Chowdhury spent three weeks in the prison hospital recovering. His mother testified that Khan told her the morning after her son was tortured that the torture would stop if her son would leave Bangladesh and turn over control of his company to Khan.
“The difficult question in these cases is how do you connect the defendant to the bad acts by the government?” says Robertson. In this case, Robertson says, he had one exhibit — an incriminating e-mail sent by the defendant — and the testimony of his client’s mother. “I think the jury believed her and didn’t believe [the defendant], and it was really because of the emotional nature of the testimony,” he says.
The plaintiff had originally asked for $5 million, but Robertson says his client is happy with the outcome. “When you’ve been through [what he's been through], you’ll probably be calm about a lot of different things,” he says.
Khan’s lawyer, J. Eric Charlton of Hiscock & Barclay in Syracuse, N.Y., said his client maintains his innocence and plans to appeal.
Robertson says his client is staying with family in Queens, N.Y., but he plans to return to Bangladesh. “I told him it’s crazy. ‘Why in the hell are you going back?’ But he’s got a business to run,” Robertson says.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.