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April 2, 2018 9:52 am

US Top Court Will Not Revive Verdict Against Palestinian Authority, PLO

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The aftermath of a terrorist attack that took place in Israel. Photo: Magen David Adom.

The US Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider reinstating a $655.5 million jury award won against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization in a case brought by 11 American families over terrorist attacks in Israel.

The court declined to hear the families’ appeal of a lower court’s 2016 ruling that threw out the jury award secured in a lawsuit under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a law that lets American victims of international terrorism seek damages in US courts.

President Donald Trump’s administration had sided with the Palestinian Authority and PLO in the dispute, urging the justices not to take up the case while still noting that private lawsuits under the Anti-Terrorism Act are “an important means of fighting terrorism and providing redress for the victims of terrorist attacks and their families.”

The families had sought to hold the Palestinian Authority and PLO liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002 and 2004 in the Jerusalem area. The attacks killed 33 people, including several Americans, and wounded more than 450. They have been attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas.

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Lead plaintiff Mark Sokolow, his wife and their two daughters were injured in a 2002 suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

The New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that the civil lawsuit, which began in January 2004, be dismissed. The appeals court said the attacks occurred “entirely outside” US territory, and found no evidence that Americans were targeted. As a result, American courts do not have jurisdiction to hear the claims, the appeals court said.

The families said late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, and his agents routinely arranged for payments to attackers and to families of terrorists who died. The Palestinian Authority and PLO have said they condemned the attacks and blamed them on rogue individuals within the organizations acting on their own.

In 2015, after a six-week trial, a federal jury in Manhattan awarded the families $218.5 million, which was tripled automatically to $655.5 million under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the appeals court decision “eviscerates the Anti-Terrorism Act” by severely limiting what cases can be heard in US courts. They argued that Congress wrote the law specifically to apply to attacks that took place outside the United States in which US citizens were injured or killed, whether or not Americans were specifically targeted.

In a separate case on a similar theme, the Supreme Court in February blocked a group of Americans injured in a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem from seizing ancient Persian artifacts from a Chicago museum to satisfy a $71.5 million court judgment against Iran, which they had accused of complicity in the attack.

The Supreme Court in another case is weighing whether Jordan-based Arab Bank Plc can be sued over legal claims that it helped finance terrorist attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories. A ruling is due by the end of June.

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