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Because they were not “immediate family” members, the nieces and nephews of Rev. Lawrence Jenco — the American Catholic priest kidnapped in 1985 by Beirut-based Islamic terrorists backed by Iran –cannot recover damages from the Iranian government, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decided on Jan. 17. Bettis v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 01-7147. The director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut, Lebanon, Jenco was captured by the Hezbollah group while on his way to work. Held and tortured for 564 days, his kidnapping helped trigger the Reagan administration’s arms-for-hostages Iran-Contra scandal. Jenco died in 1996. Two years ago, Jenco’s estate and members of his family sued Iran for damages resulting from the kidnapping. Iran was a proper defendant, the D.C. Circuit said, because there was “weighty evidence in the record” confirming its involvement in Jenco’s kidnapping. The suits were filed under 1996 amendments to the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that permit suits against nations designated as state sponsors of terrorism. When terrorist states are stripped of their sovereign immunity under the act, the law states, “the foreign state shall be liable in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” The estate and Jenco’s siblings obtained a $314 million default judgment in a D.C. court. But that court rejected the nieces’ and nephews’ claims, holding that they could not recover because they were not immediate family. Relying on the Restatement of Torts (Second), the D.C. Circuit affirmed, holding that the nieces and nephews could not recover because they did not fall within the immediate-family definition. The court explained that the nieces and nephews could not recover because they were neither direct victims of Iran under � 46(1) of the Restatement, nor were they immediate family under Restatement � 46(2). The lower court had defined “immediate family” as one’s “spouse, parents, siblings, and children.” Because Iran’s government did not appear, the circuit court appointed the Georgetown University Law Center’s Appellate Litigation Clinic to serve as amicus in support of the lower court ruling. Georgetown’s Abigail Carter, who appeared as amicus, said, “There’s very little case law in the area because, in most cases, there’s a default judgment and, thus, no appeal.” The family, represented by Washington, D.C.’s Steven Perles, argued that the nieces and nephews were direct victims under � 46(1) because Iran was holding the hostages to manipulate the families. “The Iranians’ objective was to manipulate the families into pressuring the U.S. government into giving them what they wanted — surface-to-air missiles,” Perles said. But adopting the amicus’ “slippery slope” response to the family’s argument, the court said, “If any person that Iran hoped to distress by holding and torturing Fr. Jenco could recover under section 46(1) as a direct victim of Iran’s conduct, virtually anyone claiming he or she was affected could recover.” The family also argue that the nieces and nephews, as “near relatives,” satisfied � 46(2)’s immediate family requirement, adding that the provision should be construed to afford “situational justice.” The court said, however, that nieces and nephews clearly were not immediate family, and that it could not change the law to achieve such situational justice. “As much as we sympathize with appellants’ claims, we have no authority to stretch the law beyond its clear bounds to satisfy our sense of justice.”

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